Upper School History

Menlo School history students hold a debate and mock election.

Exploring the past to impact the future.

The History Department seeks to give students a sense of the importance of the past, the present, and the future, and their connection and responsibility to all three. By the time of graduation, students are prepared to understand and appreciate past peoples, ideas, and events, as well as to maintain an informed understanding of current events for the rest of his or her life. It is our hope that our students will become critical, active participants in the community, nation, and world.

Course Catalog

  • Modern World History (9th Grade)

    The course begins with a look at how global trade led to an explosion of wealth and cultural production in the Ottoman Empire, Mughal India, Qing China, and Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. We then examine how 19th-century world history was shaped by topics such as Enlightenment ideals, nationalism, industrialization, imperialism, and reactions against these developments. The second semester focuses on the 20th century and the continuing tension between integration in a global, mostly Western-dominated system and the preservation of local traditions. The two world wars, decolonization, and the challenges facing the world in the 21st century are major topics. Emphasis is placed on developing students’ skills in discussion, analytical writing, and conducting research.

  • US History (10th)

    This course examines the factors that led to America’s transformation from a relatively weak, divided, and isolated collection of colonies into the dominant nation of the twentieth century. In this course we will study the foundations of the United States; The Civil War and Reconstruction; Industrialization and Immigration at the turn of the 20th century; U.S. Imperialism; the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression; the impact of both World Wars on America’s government, economy, and society; the Cold War; and the Civil Rights Movement. Readings and class activities are structured to provide students with an opportunity to hear a variety of voices, explore differing and often opposing interpretations of history, and develop the tools necessary to define and support their own point of view. Special emphasis is placed on historical thinking and reading skills, media literacy, and the careful analysis of primary and secondary sources, as well as historical writing. Course requirements include several analytical essays and an independent research project.

  • AP US History (10th)

    Covering the United States from the first inhabitants to the present, this course addresses social, political, economic, geographic, and cultural topics. The course considers such major themes as the evolution of American democracy, race relations, and America’s changing role in the world. Emphasis is placed on the careful analysis of primary and secondary sources and analytical writing. Long-form essays and a major research paper are required. The Advanced Placement version of this course offers a more extensive independent research project than the non-AP option. In addition, it prepares students for the AP exam each May.

    Just because a student can take AP US History does not mean they should. AP courses are demanding: the bar is set high and the pace is unremitting. One way for students to frame the choice of whether or not to take AP US History is to ask, “Does the subject matter interest me enough that I am willing to put in substantial extra work all year?” Alternatively, consider these comments from prior students. According to past AP students, you should take AP US History if you…

    ·        “Can learn from your mistakes.”

    ·        “Can manage your time and keep yourself organized.”

    ·        “LOVE history.”

    ·        “Are not just doing it for the AP.”

    ·        “Want to improve your research and writing skills.”

    ·        “Enjoy analyzing documents and writing analytical essays in short periods of time.”

    ·        “Want a challenging but rewarding class.”

    ·        “Are less focused on what grade you get and more focused on what you learn.”

  • AP Economics

    Note: This course does not satisfy Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

     

    The fall semester looks at microeconomics—how individuals and companies make decisions. Students examine basic market theory and consumer decision making. The bulk of the semester covers the theory of the firm. Topics include perfect competition, oligopoly, monopolistic competition and monopoly. The role of government is also considered. The semester ends with a brief overview of the history of American economic history. The second semester is the study of macroeconomics—how the nation’s economy functions. The course looks at how to measure the size of an economy, unemployment and inflation. Most of the semester is spent on understanding the tools the government has at its disposal to manage the economy. The unit on international economics includes trade and currency exchange rates. Keeping up with current economic events is an on-going part of the course.

    Prerequisites: Complete Honors Pre-Calc or earn a B+ in Analytic Pre-Calc or earn an A in Principles of Pre-Calculus. Open to seniors, and juniors on a space-available basis.

  • AP Government & Politics

    Note: This course does not satisfy Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

     

    This introduction to American and politics is the equivalent of Political Science 101 at many universities and colleges. The course examines the enormous power and control various governments have over their citizens and what affects this has on politics in general. It is designed to help students understand not only the nature and function of government, but also their relationship to it. Students are given an introduction to constitutional theory, analyze the institutions and policies of the United States, and debate the current issues affecting their lives as Americans.

    Prerequisites: Earn AT LEAST an A- in U.S. History or AT LEAST a B in AP U.S. History. Open to seniors, and juniors on a space-available basis.

  • Contemporary American Issues/2S

    Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Citizenship & Leadership IP certification. This course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    Trying to #StayWoke? Wondering about rising economic inequality, the national debt, mass incarceration, transgender rights, immigration and the rule of law, the “gig” economy, fake news and the fate of facts, and other pressing contemporary American issues? Interested in discussing how President Trump’s agenda squares with economic justice, human rights, and the Constitution? Do you want to learn how to address your representatives with your informed views in the clearest ways possible? Or reach out to the rural, blue-collar worker who has seen his livelihood vanish overnight, and understand his world? We will consult liberal and conservative thinkers – using film, field trip, and focused readings – to understand what it means to be American in the twenty-first century.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Global Issues for Global Citizens/1S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification.

    Calling all future politicians, diplomats, business persons, philanthropists, lawyers, scholars, and activists. This course, which satisfies the prerequisite for the Global Scholars Program and is available for honors credit, will prepare you to be a knowledgeable leader in an increasingly globally-connected world. You will study the Global Chessboard to understand all the stakeholders in international affairs, the United Nations along with the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, and global issues such as poverty, education, gender equality, health, environment, and development. You will participate in the HAND Foundation Youth Philanthropy Project - a unique opportunity to advocate for a cause you are passionate about in collaboration with an NGO of your choosing. Our class activities, along with guest speakers, will help us understand that there is no “one size fits all” to the vexing issues that face our planet and us.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Global Scholars Research/2S

    Note: This is an honors course that satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP Certification.  This course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    By early October of their Junior of Senior year, Global Scholars commit to the certification requirement by submitting an abstract of a major research proposal to be completed at the end of the spring semester. This honors course provides a forum for the completion of this interdisciplinary research project, the final step leading to Global Scholars certification. Students will modify and advance their chosen topics, applying a global lens, and honing habits of good writing, research and presentation along the way. Students will study examples of interdisciplinary approaches relevant to them, including the conducting of ethnographic research. They will consult with outside experts, participate in and sometimes guide seminar lessons, discussions and activities.

    Prerequisites: Completion of one or more Global Scholars courses AND instructor permission.

  • Ideology (Modern Political Thought)/1S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification.

    Why do political conversations and disagreements engender such strong feelings? Why do so many of us avoid political conversation entirely? How can we best talk about politics with those who disagree with us? The purpose of this course at the juncture of history, philosophy, politics, and psychology is to answer these and related questions by examining the often unexpressed or unconscious views and feelings that frame analyses of current affairs. We will do this, first, by studying the history and continuing development of the world’s major ideologies, such as liberalism and conservatism, including ideological ideals, obstacles, and explanations of social reality. We will also examine the distinct assumptions about democracy, freedom, and human nature that each ideological ism contains. Finally, we will apply our knowledge of ideology to understanding major current events.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Philosophy/1S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Arts & Letters IP certification.

    First Semester Philosophy–The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates) In this course we examine such questions as:

    - What is the meaning of life?  The purpose of life?  Who decides and how do we do so?

    - What is the connection between my mind and body (and soul?)? What does it mean to be an “authentic” person?

    - How do I know whether God exists? Can this be proven? What is the role of belief and faith in examining this issue?

    - What is art? What is good art?

    - What do I know and how can I know it?

    - How does language frame our reality?

    - In what way am I truly free to choose what I do? What factors influence my choices, i.e. advertising, nature & nurture, my DNA, etc.?

    - What is “fairness”?  How can we maintain a just and fair society? What does it mean to behave ethically?

    In exploring these and other issues the student will learn the approach taken by some of the greatest thinkers throughout history. Likewise—and more importantly—the student will learn to think critically about issues and arguments as well as to develop their own position on many of the topics.

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Philosophy/2S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Arts & Letters IP certification.

    In this course we examine such questions as:

    - What is the meaning of life?  The purpose of life?  Who decides and how do we do so?

    - What is the connection between my mind and body (and soul?)? What does it mean to be an “authentic” person?

    - How do I know whether God exists? Can this be proven? What is the role of belief and faith in examining this issue?

    - What is art? What is good art?

    - What do I know and how can I know it?

    - How does language frame our reality?

    - In what way am I truly free to choose what I do? What factors influence my choices, i.e. advertising, nature & nurture, my DNA, etc.?

    - What is “fairness”?  How can we maintain a just and fair society? What does it mean to behave ethically?

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.  

  • Modern World History (11th Grade)

    Note: Yearlong elective. Honors option available. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification. This course also contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    The course begins with a look at how global trade led to an explosion of wealth and cultural production in the Ottoman Empire, Mughal India, Qing China, and Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. We then examine how 19th-century world history was shaped by topics such as Enlightenment ideals, nationalism, industrialization, imperialism, and reactions against these developments. The second semester focuses on the 20th century and the continuing tension between integration in a global, mostly Western-dominated system and the preservation of local traditions. The two world wars, decolonization, and the challenges facing the world in the 21st century are major topics. Emphasis is placed on developing students’ skills in discussion, analytical writing, and conducting research.

    Prerequisites: Open only to juniors.

  • The World Economy Since 1700 1S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification.

    This course introduces students to the emergence and development of the modern world economy from its beginnings in the agricultural and industrial revolutions. We will study legal and economic changes that dramatically increased farm output in Western Europe and the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries; varieties of modern economic growth; the long period of instability in the early 20th century; the postwar boom; urbanization; globalization, and the rise of modern China. The course will combine concepts from several academic disciplines including history, geography, economics, statistics, and moviemaking. Students will learn to collect economic data from a variety of sources (academic scholarship, government publications, and current journalism), analyze it in historical perspective, synthesize it and present it in a visually compelling way.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Case Studies in Leadership and Democracy

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for the Leadership/Citizenship IP certification. When taken in the spring semester, this course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

      

    How does American democracy work in practice? When different people want different things, who gets to decide? In this class you will use the case-study method developed at Harvard Business School to discuss and debate what you think about controversial decisions in American history ranging from constitutional politics to public education to same-sex marriage. If you are curious about how real people make big decisions, this class is designed to put you in their shoes and let you relate to them in a way that textbooks often do not. If you wonder what the case-study method is like, talk to someone in APUSH or someone who took it last year.

     

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • U.S. Foreign Policy 2S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification. This course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    The United States has long had a twin reputation for idealism and self-interest in its international relations. This course will introduce you to major theories of international relations and themes related to the history of U.S. foreign policy, as it has been debated both by Americans and members of the international community. The course will begin by addressing Henry Kissinger’s question, “Does America need a foreign policy?” The course will then focus on diplomatic and military relations with foreign countries as well as topics such as immigration, economic relations, missionary activity, and links between foreign policy and domestic politics. Special attention will also be devoted to neighborly relations with Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. While this course is a History course that emphasizes primary and secondary source readings, in-class writing, and the completion of an independent research project, it will also cover concepts from political science, economics, literature, and communications.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Ethnic Studies/ 1S or 2S

    Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Citizenship & Leadership IP certification. When taken in the spring semester, this course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    Ethnic/Identity Studies operates from the consideration that race and racism have been, and continue to be, profoundly powerful social and cultural forces in American society. This course focuses on the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanas/os and Latinas/os, Native Americans, and other racialized peoples in the US. We will base our work on the concrete situations of people of color, and examine both the structural and cultural dimensions of race. The purpose of this course is to educate students to be politically, socially, and economically conscious about their personal connections to local and national history. We will focus on themes of social justice, social responsibility, and social change. The course will explore both historical content and current events, allowing students to identify broad patterns and qualities of social injustice. This course will also include an “identity” unit where students will consider concepts related to their own personal, group, and/or national identity.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors, juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Introduction to Law/ 1S or 2S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Citizenship & Leadership IP certification. When taken in the spring semester, this course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    The Introduction to Law course has several purposes.  First, the course introduces some of the basic concepts, theories and vocabulary related to criminal and civil law and the legal system of the United States. Second, it analyzes some of the core underpinnings of the American political system, specifically constitutional law and the interaction between the government and its citizens regarding civil liberties and rights.  Third, it provides students an opportunity to learn practical information and “survival” skills that can provide a road map to our law-saturated society. Finally, the course will allow students to think critically about the legal issues, laws and public policies that affect the world they live in. The course involves substantial reading and writing. Students also participate in trial simulations, debates, and have opportunities to work with legal professionals.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors, juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Modern Political Rhetoric/ 1S or 2S

    Bad Hombres & Deplorables

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars and Citizenship & Leadership IP certification. When taken in the spring semester, this course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    Calling all of you “bad hombres,” “deplorables,” and “nasty women” along with “makers and takers,” “gang-bangers,” “red-necks,” “Feminazis,” “yuppies,” “Jesus freaks,” “commies,” and “robber-barons.”  America has experienced increasing political gridlock since the 1990s, and has hit new levels of extremism since the 2016 presidential election. Political rhetoric, the art of political persuasion, has contributed substantially to the gridlock in Washington and the nation as a whole. In this class we will: study the modern history of political rhetoric (of comedians, religious leaders, activists, and politicians); learn how to package political ideas in their most persuasive form; practice rhetorical strategies with each other and another school; and engage in civic advocacy.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Swords & Ploughshares/ 1S or 2S

    History and Theory of Non-Violence

     

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification. When taken in the spring semester, this course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    Students will investigate horrendous evils and abominable acts in history, art, and film; and pose the question: How can we end such things in our world? We will first explore perspectives of human nature. Then, we will look at wars, psycho/sociopaths, genocide, and evil deeds in light of psychological, philosophical, and historical research. For instance, the Jewish Holocaust will figure significantly into our study with Philip Zimbardo’s seminal text, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil and Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. Finally we will study Just War Theory to determine if international conflict is morally justifiable, and explore theories of non-violence, especially in collective action, asking together: Can all war, conflict, and violence be overcome through non-violent means (especially in an age of global terror)?   

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • War and Peace: the Modern Middle East/ 1S or 2S

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. This course satisfies a requirement for Global Scholars IP certification. When taken in the spring semester, this course contains a research component that satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    What is it with the Middle East? The whole region seems to brim with conflict over territory, ethnic strife, and diplomatic conundrums. Some suggest the combustibility of the region is a result of European imperialism (politics), and others point to the centrality of the oil market (economics). Still others identify religious difference (social/cultural factors) as the culprit as. On top of this, the complex combination of forces in play is only half of the problem for anyone trying to understand the Middle East. There is also the problem of how to navigate the different assumptions and biases that have influenced Western understanding (and misunderstanding) of the Middle East over time. This class is designed to face both of these challenges head-on. Students who take this course will explore key events in the history of the modern Middle East, develop a nuanced picture of the forces at work today, and try to imagine what is possible in the future. They will also sharpen primary source analysis skills, expand their argumentative writing toolkit, and conduct independent research.

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

Course Sequence

  • All ninth grade students take World Religions.
  • All 10th grade students take Modern World History.
  • All 11th grade students take either U.S. History or Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH). Grades of at least B+ in tenth grade English and A- in Modern World History are required for automatic admission to APUSH. Students who do not earn these qualifying grades may be admitted on a case-by-case basis if additional places become available. Both courses include formal research papers. APUSH is designed to be a college-level course, and expectations of students’ ability to work independently are correspondingly higher.
  • There is no requirement to take a History class in the 12th grade. Seniors are given priority in signing up for 12th grade electives, but some courses are also open to juniors and sophomores when space permits. Many electives are divisible at the semester, but others (such as AP Micro- and Macro-economics) are available only as a two-semester sequence.