Menlo School Faculty & Staff


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. The French word “Renaissance,” or rebirth, has been used to describe 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 Catholic Church or traditional nobility. We will then look at how the concept of a Renaissance, or rebirth, nourished African-American artists and thinkers in the 20thC Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes is one example) and 21stC Afro-Futurism (think Black Panther) movements. The course will conclude with student-driven projects examining the concept of Renaissance in 17thC Mughal India, Ming China, and Tokugawa Japan. This course takes an interdisciplinary, Humanities-focused approach, using primarily artistic primary sources such as visual art, literature, and music, to understand the impulses and effects of this human impulse towards a Renaissance. 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. This course will give students credit towards Menlo’s requirement of 3 years of History. It (and its Honors component) are U.C. Approved. (It is also awesome on its own merits.)

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

Instructor: Ms. Gertmenian