MENLO SCHOOL • SINCE 1915

Matthew Nelson's Global Issues class plays an international trade game to simulate free markets.

Academics

Upper School History

The History Department aims to instill in students an appreciation for the significance of the past, present, and future, and their interconnectedness and responsibility towards them.

Video: History at Menlo

Exploring the past to impact the future.

The Upper School History Department strives for students to become active and discerning participants in their local and global communities and empowers them to critically analyze and engage with the world around them.

By the time of graduation, students will possess the knowledge and skills to understand and appreciate past peoples, ideas, and events, while also maintaining an informed understanding of current events throughout their lives.

Upper School History Course Sequence

  • 9th grade: All students take Modern World History.
  • 10th grade: All students take U.S. History.
  • 11th grade: Juniors take two semesters of coursework from the History Department’s wide range of elective offerings (see courses below). 
  • 12th grade: There is no requirement to take a History class senior year although many students choose to take an additional history elective during this year. 

Upper School History Course Offerings

Grade: 1112

AP European History

When comedian Eddie Izzard is asked about her background, she says “I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.” Take this class if you want to step up for some in-depth (and fun) analysis of the politics, ideas, conflicts, societies, and cultures of Europe since the Renaissance. This course has a lot to offer the history lover. The AP syllabus we cover is laden with rich, challenging topics. It demands patience for rigorous skill exercise in reading and evaluating sources, attending to the narrative details of 600 years of Europe’s history, conducting research and frequent analytical writing assignments. Students will be expected to commit to energetic class participation. The course is designed to prepare you for an AP exam next May, but the ultimate purpose of the class is larger than your exam results. We will engage critically with people and ideas of the past so as to be able to enhance the future, as informed individuals and as members of ever wider global communities.

Instructor: Mrs. Hanson

Juniors need to have earned at least an A- in RUSH, or a B+ in APUSH.

Grade: 12

AP Government & Politics

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.

Note: This course satisfies a requirement for Citizenship & Leadership IP certification. This course does not satisfy Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

Prerequisites:  A- or higher in the non-honors version of any fall History Department elective, or a B+ or higher in the honors version of any fall History elective. A student who does not automatically qualify for enrollment may be added to a waitlist and admitted on a space-available basis. Open to seniors.

Grade: 101112

Contemporary American Issues (2S)

Our country may never be the same after January 6, 2021. On that fateful day, we learned that the health of our republic may be more in doubt than at any point since the Civil War. This course allows you to study carefully and thoughtfully the significant issues facing our country. We will search for an American identity. We will ask the painful questions about our national character and virtue. We will doggedly pursue rank American injustice and breaches of our Constitutional trust. We will find hope in each other, those we interview, and that which we research “in order to form a more perfect union.” We will call ourselves to account for our obligations as citizens in this pluralistic democracy of ours to be better neighbors, scholars, and citizens. Get ready for a wild ride through: the American exceptionalism debate; the Black Lives Matter movement; queer politics; the immigration debate, affirmative action, free speech on college campuses; gentrification and displacement in urban centers; the “gig” economy and economic inequality; and on and on. You will learn that there are no easy answers when studying different conflicts within the United States, but in examining these issues you are participating in a critical study of contemporary American society. This class may be taken for honors credit.

Instructor: Mr. Nelson

Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

Criminal Justice (1S or 2S)

The course Introduction to the American Justice System will help students understand the basics of how our courts and trial processes work, and the roles people and the media play throughout this process. We will then dive into topics like mass incarceration, recidivism, the death penalty, the juvenile justice system, and other contemporary issues our justice system currently faces. We will learn about the history of how class, race, and where someone is accused of a crime impacts arrests, convictions, and sentencing. We will also focus on current efforts being made to solve issues within our justice system, and focus on themes of social responsibility and change. Class will be discussion based, and there will be numerous writing, research, and presentation opportunities throughout the course. An honors option will be available for juniors and seniors. FALL or SPRING

Instructor: Katina Balllantyne

Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores if space is available. .

Grade: 101112

Current Affairs and Civil Discourse (2S)

We are living through history, and they say journalism is the first draft of history writing. So we’ll try to understand the period we are living through – the pandemic, political ferment and polarization, racial reckoning, etc – as first-draft historians. Most of the readings will be from newspapers and periodicals, and we will listen to podcasts and TV news segments. The course will end with a research project of the student’s choosing. The main goals in this class are to:

  • Help make you deeply knowledgeable about the topics we cover in class – and you will have a large say in the topics we cover
  • Get you to engage with different perspectives both in the readings and in discussions
  • Guide you through a major research project.  
  • Help you become a more confident, cogent, and concise writer
  • Offer you a highly relevant learning experience

Instructor: Mr. Schafer

Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

Economic Theory (1S)

Are you interested in applying your analytical skills to the ways businesses and consumers make decisions about production and consumption? Are you curious about how governments try to influence inflation, unemployment, economic growth, and international trade? We’ll explore the first of these questions, also known as microeconomics, in the first quarter of the class. The second question concerns macroeconomics, which we’ll focus on in the second quarter. Together they will prepare you for an introductory-level college class. They will also give you the tools you need to learn about environmental and development economics if you decide to continue with Menlo’s spring-semester economics class.

Instructor: Dr. Hanson

Honors option available to juniors and seniors. Juniors who use the class to fulfill their History graduation requirement will perform independent research projects culminating in a formal research paper.

Open to seniors and juniors.

Grade: 101112

Environmental and Development Economics (2S)

This class will teach you to apply basic microeconomic and macroeconomic theory to some of the most pressing real-world economic problems of our time. Environmental economics covers the past, present, and likely future costs and benefits of policies that seek to limit the environmental impact of human economic activity. Through looking at a series of case studies, you will learn to compare the cost of taking action to the cost of failing to do so. Development Economics focuses on how different countries, and different groups of people within them, grow richer or poorer over time. We will also examine the ways that governments act to increase or restrict opportunities for economic mobility in areas like taxation, education, and migration.

Instructor: Dr. Hanson

Honors option available to juniors and seniors. Juniors who use the class to fulfill their History graduation requirement will perform independent research projects culminating in a formal research paper.

Open to seniors and juniors. Prerequisite: Economic Theory

Grade: 101112

Ethnic Studies I: An Introduction to the Study of Minority Groups in the United States (1S)

Are you interested in learning from your peers’ personal experiences? Do you enjoy frequent discussion and debate in a safe classroom environment? Ethnic 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 first semester will focus on key issues such as prejudice and discrimination, assimilation and group membership, Americanization, class, racial and ethnic identity, and gender roles that have shaped relations in American society. We will investigate the origins of white identity and white privilege and the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanas/os and Latinas/os, and Native Americans. We will base our work on the concrete situations of people of color and use a methodological framing that emphasizes both the structural dimensions of race and racism and the associated cultural dimensions. 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 spans from past to present, from politics to social reform, allowing students to identify similar social patterns and universal qualities present in other societies, including their own. Former students have said this course helped them develop as writers, researchers, and presenters while helping them to both challenge and clarify their personal beliefs surrounding identity, citizenship, and belonging in American society. An honors option is available.

Instructor: Ms. Borbon

Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

Ethnic Studies II: Challenges for the Present and Future (2S)

Are you interested in learning from your peers’ personal experiences? Do you enjoy frequent discussion and debate in a safe classroom environment? Ethnic 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 second semester will focus on key issues such as immigration, citizenship, the patriarchy, and what it means to be an American. We will investigate the challenges faced by new immigrants from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, the push for LGBTQIA acceptance and inclusion, the importance of intersectionality, and the battle for gender parity. 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 spans from past to present, from politics to social reform, allowing students to identify similar social patterns and universal qualities present in other societies, including their own. Former students have said this course helped them develop as writers, researchers, and presenters while helping them to both challenge and clarify their personal beliefs surrounding identity, citizenship, and belonging in American society. An honors option is available.

Instructor: Ms. Borbon

Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

From Caliphs to Coffee: A History of the Pre-Modern Middle East and North Africa (1S)

What do coffee, algebra, and hospitals have in common? They were all invented and popularized in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This elective will explore the history of the MENA region from the 7th to the 18th centuries, during which a number of powerful empires prospered, including the Umayyads, Abbasids, Mamluks, Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. At the heart of these empires were communities, out of which emerged dynamic ideas, a robust exchange of goods, and a wealth of cultural production. This focus will enrich popular understandings of the postcolonial MENA region, which is largely viewed through the themes of violence and instability. Upon taking the elective, students will sharpen their primary source analysis skills, expand their argumentative writing toolkit, and conduct independent research. Honors students will become experts in the history of the MENA region by reading and presenting selections from additional readings and will consult substantially more sources than non-Honors students in the culminating research projects.

Instructor: Dr. Adil

Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors and sophomores if space is available. 

Grade: 101112

Gender & Queer Studies (2S)

In this course we will undertake historical, cultural, and theoretical inquiries into gender and sexuality in the modern era. Drawing from feminist, queer, and postcolonial methodologies we will seek to understand how gender and sexuality operate in society and our everyday lives. Students’ critical thinking will be honed through the examination of how power, wealth, visibility, freedom, and voice have historically mapped onto norms of gender and sexuality. Accordingly, students will learn how resistance has been waged to trouble these norms, and how to deploy gender and queer theory for emancipatory action and hopeful futures. Through close readings, fun activities, insightful guest speakers, and film, we will pursue the following units: History of women and queer liberation in the United States; Social construction of gender, sexuality, and body concepts; Gender in culture and politics; and Queer theory. This class may be taken for honors credit.

Instructor: Mr. Nelson

Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

Global Issues for Global Citizens (1S)

From global poverty to human trafficking, from climate refugees to animal poaching, from war crimes to child marriage – the problems on this planet are many. But, there are ways you and I can work with other like minded cosmopolitans and humanitarians to solve them. This course seeks to empower you to understand global issues in all their complexity and to take action. You will study the role of global governance institutions (e.g., the United Nations with its Sustainable Development Goals), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), terrorism and security, global public health, environmental policy, international trade, foreign aid and development play on the global stage. 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. But, this course is as much experiential as it is academic! You will participate in the Youth Philanthropy Project (YPP) - a unique opportunity to advocate for a cause you are passionate about in collaboration with an NGO of your choosing. Over the past five years of the Global Issues class, students have won over $25,000 for their NGOs from the generosity of the HAND Foundation. For more information about the YPP, see the project page on the Menlo School website under, “Global Learning at Menlo.” Join our class so you too can be part of the good we are doing for the world! This class may be taken for honors credit.

Instructor: Mr. Nelson

Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

Humanities I: Renaissance (1S)

Why do humans often look to the past as they try to envision a better future, and what role can the arts play in driving social change? There’s a reason Gatsby famously exclaims to Nick, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!” and it’s not a fluke that Faulkner claims, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” These American authors articulate a truth about being human, and this course will explore the causes and artistic and social consequences of this backward-looking impulse. This course takes an interdisciplinary, Humanities-focused approach – using primarily artistic primary sources such as visual art, literature, and music – to understand the causes and effects of this human impulse towards reviving the past.

The French word “Renaissance,” or rebirth, describes this revival of art forms from older times in order to move society in a better direction. Our course begins with the Italian Renaissance of the 16thC, when artists (like Michelangelo) and thinkers (such as Machiavelli) reached back to the legacy of the Ancient Greco-Roman Classical World to develop a worldview that accommodated the growing powers of people outside the traditional power centers of the Roman Catholic Church or the nobility. We then examine the concept of Renaissance in 17thC Mughal India, Ming China, and Tokugawa Japan. The course concludes with student-driven projects examining how the concept of a Renaissance nourished African-American artists and thinkers in the 20thC Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes is one example) and 21stC Afro-Futurist (think Black Panther) movements.

All students will conduct research about a Renaissance of their choosing. Non-Honors students will produce an Annotated Bibliography. Honors students will create the Annotated Bibliography and write a 6-8 pg. essay.

Instructor: Ms. Gertmenian

Students in grades 10-12 may elect to take this course for History credit (with or without an Honors designation in History only). Students in 12th grade may elect to take this course for English credit.

Grade: 101112

Humanities II: Self-Portraits (2S)

What historical factors contributed to the birth of the self-portrait as a genre in 15thC Western Europe, its explosion in popularity in the 20thC? What might be the causes and consequences of our contemporary culture’s fascination with the selfie, the memoir, and the “me”-focused podcasts, videos, and live-streams? How does this trend towards self-representation in the arts and media relate to current social justice calls for identity-based visibility and representation?

Through the pursuit of questions about self-representation such as these, this interdisciplinary Humanities course is designed to increase students’ ability to appreciate and understand literature, the visual arts, and music, while also enhancing their research and writing (both analytical and personal) skills. In the third quarter, we first study the birth of the self-portrait during the European Renaissance c.1500. We then leap ahead to read Oscar Wilde’s queer landmark novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and learn about Freudian id and its influence on the Modernist self-portraits of the 20th-c. The 4th quarter is devoted to British feminist Virginia Woolf’s extended essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) and Korean-American author Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying in H Mart (2021).

For the culminating project, all students will create their own self-portrait (visual, written, musical, or otherwise) and write an extended, historically- and theoretically-contextualized artist statement essay to accompany their piece. Honors students’ essays will be 10-12 pgs, while non-Honors essays are 6-8 pgs.

Instructor: Ms. Gertmenian

Students in grades 10-12 may elect to take this course for History credit (with or without an Honors designation in History only). Students in 12th grade may elect to take this course for English credit.

Grade: 101112

Modern Political Rhetoric (1S)

Have you ever wanted to improve your advocacy for political and social causes that are important to you? This course blends the study of political science and rhetorical criticism to assess the power of political persuasion to make history. By centering two key moments in modern American history – the HIV/AIDS fight of 1981-1996 and the modern environmental movement from 1969 to the present – we study tactics and strategies to bring about change in America. We engage politicians and other political operatives to understand how to become effective change-makers with public language in social media, speeches, social movements, art, and other mediums. From this study, you will become more knowledgeable about how political change is made and how you can become an ambassador for the change you’d like to see in our country. This class may be taken for honors credit.

Instructor: Mr. Nelson

Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 9

Modern World History

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 the 19th-century world 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 also major topics. Emphasis is placed on developing students’ skills in discussion, analytical writing, and conducting research.

Grade: 101112

Philosophy (1S)

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. From a skills perspective, philosophy students should expect to develop the ability to decipher the logical structure of an argument and, in doing so, determine whether an argument is both valid and cogent as well as to understand various logical fallacies and pitfalls. In addition, students will hone their ability to write clearly and creatively, defending their own position on various abstract “big picture” issues in both written and spoken form. The Honors Student will have three additional assignments throughout each semester involving taking on three subjects of their choosing. In addition, Honors Students will be required to write longer papers than other students, including a longer research-based paper at the end of the semester and more activity on an online Discussion Forum. First Semester Philosophy is primarily focused on exploring and understanding the landscape of the philosophical ideas throughout history.

Instructor: Mr. Bowen

Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores if space is available. 

Grade: 101112

Philosophy (2S)

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? From a skills perspective, philosophy students should expect to develop the ability to decipher the logical structure of an argument and, in doing so, determine whether an argument is both valid and cogent as well as to understand various logical fallacies and pitfalls. In addition, students will hone their ability to write clearly and creatively, defending their own position on various abstract “big picture” issues in both written and spoken form. Lastly, students will learn to read closely and critically in order to decipher the position of a philosophical paper, how it is defended, and what their own position on that issue is (and why). The Honors Student will have three additional assignments throughout each semester involving taking on three subjects of their choosing. In addition, honor students will be required to write longer papers than other students, including a longer research-based paper at the end of the semester and more activity on an online Discussion Forum. Second Semester Philosophy is primarily discussion-based so the student should be prepared to participate in classroom discussions.

Instructor: Mr. Bowen

Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores if space is available. Students do not have to enroll in Philosophy I in order to take this course.

Grade: 101112

Psychology: A Beginner’s Guide to Your Brain (1S or 2S)

This course is all about you. We’ll explore Social Psychology - what are the origins of attraction, of stereotypes, of kindness, of conformity, and of your social identity? We’ll study Cognitive Psychology - how do you learn, remember, and change as a thinker? We’ll study Biological Psychology - how do hormones or neurotransmitters impact your behavior and how does your brain change over time? The course is project driven and connects to your lived experience. In the end, students will select a final project from the fields of sports psych, evolutionary psych, health psych, relationship psych or abnormal psych and present their findings to our classroom community. FALL or SPRING

Instructor: Dylan Citrin Cummins

Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores if space is available. 

Grade: 101112

Refugees, Forced Migration, and the Nation-State (2S)

From Syria to Ukraine, the news lately has been filled with deeply emotional and often jarring stories of individuals fleeing their homes. To deepen our historical perspectives, this elective will examine the powerful forces that motivate migration at a range of scales from political conflicts to environmental hazards. We will consider the trends in international migration and its impacts using examples such as the European Union (E.U.), the U.S., and refugee flows across the Mediterranean and from Sub-Saharan Africa. While there are many positive impacts of migration, such as cultural diversity and economic growth, tensions can arise, since international migration not only changes the ethnic composition of populations, but also alters attitudes towards national identity and the concept of the nation-state. Upon taking the elective, students will sharpen their primary source analysis skills, expand their argumentative writing toolkit, and conduct independent research. Honors students will become experts in the topics by reading and presenting selections from additional readings and will consult substantially more sources than non-Honors students in the culminating research projects.

Instructor: Dr. Adil

Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors and sophomores if space is available. 

Grade: 101112

The Pursuit of Happiness (1S)

According to the United States Declaration of Independence, the right to pursue happiness is self-evident. Yet it is not self-evident that we Americans are generally happy. How can we pursue happiness? How might we lessen stress and discomfort and discover greater ease? In exploring responses to these and related questions, this course surveys philosophies and religious paths that emphasize the practice of happiness rather than its pursuit. These include the classical Greek philosophy of Stoicism, elements of Hinduism, Taoist philosophy, and, in particular, lineages in Buddhist practice and philosophy. We also examine literature from positive psychology as well as elements of indigenous and Western religions. Within the scope of this content there are four primary aims: to understand the development of each tradition within its distinct historical and cultural context; to compare and contrast wisdom teachings and practices; to consider the relevance of traditions in light of contemporary research in psychology, ethics, biology, and related fields; finally, the course encourages students to try out different contemplative trainings and to reflect on their effects. An honors option is available.

Instructor: Mr. Brown

Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

The U.S. Since 2000 (1S)

It can be challenging to learn the history of what has happened during your lifetime, partly because grown-ups figure you already know. Take this class if you would like to beef up your understanding of events from the Bush-Gore election of 2000 and the 9-11 attacks to the present day. Topics will include cultural, social, and economic developments, as well as domestic politics and international relations. Your reading and writing skills will get a boost from frequent short research assignments. More generally, by becoming more familiar with the recent past, you will gain a deeper understanding of the present situation in the U.S. You will also have the opportunity to brush up on formal research skills when creating an original DBQ based on primary and secondary sources.

Instructor: Dr. Hanson

Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 101112

US Foreign Policy (2S)

What are the historical roots of the current tensions between the U.S. and countries such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran? How did the conflict in Afghanistan compare to the war in Vietnam? Has the NATO alliance run its course? Take this class if you would like to explore these and other questions in American diplomatic history. You will deepen your understanding of international relations by keeping up with today’s news while also exploring expert opinions about the past. Your reading and writing skills will improve with regular practice, and you will produce a formal research paper complete with endnotes and a bibliography. An honors option is available.

Instructor: Dr. Hanson

Honors option available to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores if space is available.

Grade: 10

US History

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.

Honors option available.

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