History: History Curriculum

The goal of the history curriculum is to cultivate a genuine, informed and critical enthusiasm for the world through history. We want to ensure that students come to an understanding of how cultures have changed over time and learn how to express themselves both in prose and discussion.
The History Department has seven course years—fourth through tenth grades—in which to familiarize students with five millennia of history. Our objective in fourth grade history is to nurture our students’ curiosity about the world and our place in it. Using maps, books and other resources, students begin to understand some of the dynamic changes that occurred when people from different parts of the world came into contact with one another.
The Fifth grade course focuses on New York City’s history. We explore the stories behind the street names, subway lines, neighborhood boundaries, and diverse communities that form this urban landscape, with an emphasis on the development of chronological and thematic thinking and the analysis of cause and effect relationships. Students learn new study habits—including note-taking and critical reading skills—and are familiarized with the process of evaluating primary sources and writing about them in different styles. The course aims to equip students with an awareness of some problems and personalities in American history, a sense of confidence in their interpretive abilities, and a deeper understanding of our city’s relationship to the nation at large.

Sixth grade history entails the study of the earliest human societies. We begin by examining the prehistoric human transitions from hunting and gathering to herding and settled agriculture before moving to urban societies. Our study spans the globe, as we debate and challenge traditional civilizational narratives. We examine the political, social, cultural, and economic structures of a number of ancient complex societies. Case studies may include Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley, ancient Egypt and Nubia, Shang China, and Greece and Persia. We also pause from the ancient world to pursue a minimester on the Holocaust, anchored in our reading of the Diary of Anne Frank.

Seventh grade history is a topic-driven study of various societies and cultures that begins with the Classical Era and continues through the Middle Ages. We encounter numerous primary and secondary sources to explore a range of topics, including: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire; the development of Abrahamic religions and their spread across Asia, Africa, and Europe; the formation of Chinese civilization; and the foundation of South Asian traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism. We discuss, debate, and act things out to bring the material to life and to connect it to issues today. Above all, the course stresses analyzing primary sources and writing in a variety of forms in order to strengthen skills and develop the themes at the heart of this course. The seventh grade also leaves the ancient and medieval world for a minimester centered on Japanese American incarceration during WWII, using George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy as our anchoring text.

Eighth grade history aims to cover various social, political, and economic aspects of the Early Modern Era. We emphasize non-western cultures to introduce students to aspects of the world that expand their knowledge from the Far East to the West. The class deals with an array of topics which may include the Mali Empire of West Africa, the Ming Dynasty of China, the Gunpowder Empires of the Middle East, Aztec and Incan culture in the Americas prior to European conquest and colonization, the Black Death, the European Renaissance, and the Scientific Revolution. The course introduces students to the historical shifts in power and the impact of technology on these shifts. We also examine the process of exploration during this time period, focusing on voyages to Africa, Asia and the Americas with a focus on the development of the Atlantic slave trade. The course ultimately broadens students’ understanding of power and nation-building and examines a variety of Asian, African, Mesoamerican, European, and Middle Eastern primary sources in this period. In addition to writing assignments, students also spend time building their research skills. The eighth grade also leaves the early modern world for a minimester centered on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, focusing on voting rights from the 1960s to the present. We use the book March, Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell as our anchoring text.

Ninth grade history is concerned with key cultural processes that historians associate with the making of the modern world. It tells the story of major events, ideas, and movements that have given shape to the modern world community as it exists today. It asks analytical questions of global significance: how did the different regions of the world come into contact so that almost every part of the world today is tied into global political, economic, and social systems, and intellectual, religious, artistic and technological exchanges? Why are some regions of the world more powerful than others, both politically and economically? The course provides a framework to support further, more specific studies in grades ten through twelve.
Tenth grade history examines the origins and development of the United States from perspectives including race, class, and gender, providing students frameworks to investigate key moments and themes in U.S. history. In their final year before the elective program, students continue to hone their skills as critical thinkers, readers and writers with a greater emphasis on research and historiography.

By their junior year students are prepared for our most rigorous offerings and they are invited to bring these skills to an elective of their choice. The junior/senior elective offerings are wide and varied, reflecting the passions and expertise of the faculty. In all cases, they challenge students with college-level readings, an emphasis on analyzing primary documents, and opportunities for original research. Students also consider the role of historiography in the construction of arguments and narratives. Courses range from sophisticated or thematic reviews of material covered in previous grades (The United States Since 1945, African American History, History of New York) to introductory courses in interdisciplinary topics (Socioeconomics and Race in Medicine, Sex: A Historical and Biomedical Examination of Human Reproduction) and non-western surveys (The Cold War and South East Asia, Modern East Asia, and African Decolonization). In addition, high school students may decide to pursue topics of their own choosing through the Independent History Research program. Working with mentors from the department, the students in this program dig deeply into particular historical issues over the course of the school year, create scholarly research papers, and present their work at an annual symposium.

Following this path of study, students leave Saint Ann’s with a powerful analytical toolbox to be used in the highest forms of critical engagement with history: parsing and interpreting contradictory ideas and evidence; developing and presenting original arguments; identifying gaps in explanations assumed to be definitive; finding ruptures and silences in traditional narratives; giving voice to the non-celebrated and rendering human the old hero-gods. Armed with these tools, which are honed in the context of historical study, students become empowered as citizens, locally and globally. For we believe in a usable past, which is not to say that we teach the past so that its examples can be understood as easy equivalences to contemporary events or keys to the present. Instead, by learning to recognize patterns and discrepancies in a range of historical contexts, and to understand the push-and-pull of social structures and individuals in the process of social change, students develop the ability to use history not in the service of ideology, but “to think with”—that is, to read between the lines of rhetoric, to illuminate contradictions in policy, to expose the pretenses of power, to make better sense of the world. What they do with this knowledge is, of course, up to them.