The Winsor School
A leading school for academically promising girls in grades 5-12


The aim of the history department is that each student comes to an understanding of her own culture and humanity through an empathetic understanding of the humanity of others. Our practice of history involves much more than just the study of past events and how they shape the present; we explore as well how our present interests and biases shape our understanding of the past. At all levels, students learn to substantiate ideas with evidence, to use primary sources, and to read historical works with discrimination.

History Courses

Class I

Class I: Early American History

Class I History will introduce students to the early history of the United States and the dynamics involved in forging a young American nation. We will study some of the people, events, values, and conflicts that shaped early America’s sense of itself and that continue to define us as a nation today. The course will begin with the period of early American colonization, with a focus on the cooperation and conflict between the European settlers and Native Americans. Next, we will explore the political, religious, social, and economic institutions that defined the colonial era. We will then consider the causes and consequences of the American Revolution, followed by the development of the US Constitution and its significance as the foundation of the new American republic. An equally important aim of this course is to teach Winsor girls to think and read like a historian. We hope to foster a variety of specific skills that make Winsor students active and discriminating learners. In particular, we will emphasize how to analyze a historical source, how to craft a cohesive and persuasive argument (both orally and on paper), and how to contextualize a person or event in order to understand its importance fully.

Class II

Ancient Cultures

In this course, students will learn about two of the ancient world's greatest powers–Greece and Rome–by exploring the meaning of two key concepts, civilization and empire. While important historical events and people will be discussed throughout the course, there will also be significant focus on what constitutes a civilization or empire using these two case studies. Students will see that a great variety of factors, including geography, contributed to the trajectory of events in these first generation global powers. Each empire took its own unique path, filled with great opportunity and achievement as well as challenges and tragedy. In addition to the exploration of historical content, this course will focus on essential skills, including the formulation of evidence-based arguments and the development of analytical thinking. While the ancient world may seem remote and distant, students will learn that Greece and Rome both shape the world today, and that the powers of the ancient world, for better or worse, may not be so different than major powers in the modern world.

Class III

Cultural Traditions, Cultural Encounters

During the 6th through 13th centuries, the configuration of empires and kingdoms in the world changed dramatically. Great centers of culture and learning emerged in China and the Islamic Empire, and these civilizations entered a new period of more intensive interchange and cultural creativity. Religions such as Christianity and Islam spread far and wide beyond their lands of origin. Christian Europe was marginal to the dense centers of population, production, and urban life in China and the Islamic Empire, but certain developments paved the way for the rise of a new civilization in Europe after 1000 CE. Underlying these developments was the growing sophistication of systems for moving people and goods across the Eurasian continent. These networks tied diverse peoples together across great distances. Using the Silk Road and the Crusades as our two focal points, we will explore the effects of the momentous changes of the 6th through 13th centuries and how they shaped interactions among China, the Islamic Empire, and Europe.

Class IV

Birth of the Modern Europe

In Class IV, History students continue with the theme of cultural encounters and cultural exchanges developed in Class III History. This course explores how European states emerged as dominant world powers by the 1500s, despite their lack of unity and financial strength at the conclusion of the Crusades in the 1200s. In particular, we consider how European ways of thinking shifted as its citizens entered the modern age. Significant time is spent examining the Black Death, the development of capitalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the advent of strong monarchs. Students will also consider how these events shaped the way Europeans saw themselves as well as those around them. Finally, we will examine how Europeans used their new knowledge and power to conquer and subjugate the citizens of the New World.

Class V

Class V History: Modern Europe and the Problems of Power

In this course we pick up the story of the modern world in the post-Enlightenment period and focus primarily on an expansive Western civilization and the impact–both positive and negative–it has had on the rest of the world. While “the West” has certainly made some impressive contributions–in terms of science and technological innovation, human rights and democratic politics, economic development and material comforts–its legacy is more complicated. Democratic politics and universal rights have competed with Fascism and totalitarian forms of government; peace and prosperity have been followed with catastrophic wars; the generation of wealth and material resources is often coupled with worker exploitation and environmental degradation. We assume in this course that appreciating Western civilization and its alternatives is a necessary step toward understanding ourselves. (Required course) (1 credit yearlong course)

Class VI

Class VI History: United States History

This course is designed to explore topics and themes related to the history of the United States from colonial times to the present. We will examine various social, political and economic factors that have shaped the United States, the emergence of this country as a world power and the issues that confront the United States as it continues the 21st century. This course explores questions such as “What does it mean to be an American?”, “Are there values that define the “American’ character?”, “How has the pursuit of liberty, equality and justice influenced the history of the United States?” and “What should America’s role be in the world?” (Required course) (1 credit yearlong course)

Class VII

Class VII Fall Electives

Indian History

Our aim in this course is to explore the history of the world's largest democracy through the lens of current events. Rather than starting with India's ancient past and moving slowly forward through more than 5000 years of history, we begin this course with the critical events–such as the 2002 communal conflict in Gujarat or the 2004 election–shaping India today. India's diverse history is then used to explain contemporary Indian society, politics, religion, and culture. Students are asked not only to use a variety of disciplinary perspectives–including literary criticism, political science, social anthropology, and religious studies–but also to engage on a critical level with the history and historiography of the Indian subcontinent. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, fall semester)

Modern China

Many considered the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics to be China’s “coming-out party,” announcing China’s arrival as a major power on the world’s stage. At that time, experts on China were asking if China would succeed in reclaiming its former greatness in the 21st century and if the 21st century would be the “Chinese Century.” Now, however, since the economic meltdown of 2008 appears to be shifting global economic strength from West to East, more observers have changed “if” to “when.” Will the 21st century in fact be the century “when China rules the world” as a well-known historian proclaims in the title of his new book? To explore this question, we will begin by examining the diverse challenges that China is contending with as it establishes itself as a dominant world power. We will then turn to a study of the legacy of Imperial China that shapes China today, the 20th century wars and revolutions that still have a profound influence on Chinese society, and end with a China 2020 project that will focus on where we expect China to be by the year 2020. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, fall semester)

Human Culture, Human Rights

The aim of this course is to explore–through a variety of case studies–a daunting problem at the heart of social justice work and the concept of global citizenship: How can we uphold our commitment to human rights and the dignity of every individual and yet maintain a respect for other cultures and social practices? This apparent contradiction between human rights universalism on the one hand, and cultural pluralism on the other makes the job of the social-justice activist and human-rights advocate both morally and practically challenging. Moreover, the disjuncture between human rights and human culture has allowed communities and resistant governments to claim that local practices–from headscarves and marriage practices to torture and murder–trump foreign conceptions of individual and human rights. The sources of resistance and the sheer weight of human rights violations around the globe suggests that universal human rights as currently conceived ought to be re-evaluated, revamped or abandoned altogether. Case studies will be used to explore the tension between human rights and local culture. Female circumcision rites in Africa, the practice of veiling and secluding women in South Asia, and honor killings in parts of Europe and the Middle East are just a few of the cultural examples that highlight the challenges facing human rights. (.5 credits, fall semester)

Class VII Spring Electives

African History

Our aim in this course is to balance Africa's vast and diverse past–which extends as far back as the dawn of mankind–with the events, cultures, and practices that define Africa today. We begin the course with the popular but skewed images of Africa found in much Western history writing and culture. Students are then asked to consider how such ideas have shaped African history, particularly in the colonial and post-colonial periods. In order to reflect the diversity and vibrancy of African culture, history texts are coupled with ethnographic writing and film. The final weeks of the course are dedicated to an investigation of contemporary events and dynamics–which include South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission, the struggle for democracy and free markets, and Africa’s role on the world stage in the 21st century. (Fulfills the Global Studies requirement.) (.5 credits, spring semester)

History of the Middle East

This course is designed to introduce students both to the complex history of the Middle East and to the events and “revolutions” that are shaping the region today. Specific attention is paid to the birth of Islam and its subsequent influence on Middle Eastern culture and politics, as well as to the legacy of European colonialism and its role in determining the region’s political boundaries and conflicts. Students will be asked not only to use their knowledge of history to explain contemporary issues facing the region, but also to engage in a critical discussion of how the history of the Middle East is written. Fulfills the Global Studies requirement. (.5 credits, spring semester)

Politics and the Philosophy of Power

The history of human politics has shown us that it is the few who dictate the lives of the many. The aim of this course is to explore how a variety of countries and cultures have answered the perennial question: Who should rule? The modern era, in particular, suggests that humanity is not necessarily evolving toward a single political form (such as democracy) but continues to embrace remarkably diverse political systems that give priority to the state or the nation rather than to the individual. We need only view the current balancing act of human rights and government stability in areas such as China, Iran and the United States to appreciate the fragility of individual rights and liberties. To understand the history and rationale behind the modern world’s diverse political forms, students will explore the prominent political philosophies developed by Plato, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Lenin, Foucault and others. A true understanding of the modern world requires that we understand not only the events that occur on a day-to-day basis but the political philosophy that undergirds human organization as well. (.5 credits, spring semester)

Class VIII

Class VIII Fall Electives

Government, Politics and the 2016 Election

This course will focus on America's system of government with an emphasis on contemporary politics and the election of 2016. How does the American political system work? What are the major issues facing this country, and what is the position of the political parties on these issues? Who will be the next President of the United States and why? Each student will be expected to take initiative in this course and lead class discussions, as well as be informed about current events. Students may be required to participate in the 2016 election by direct involvement in a candidate's campaign. (.5 credits, spring semester)

Macroeconomics AP

This course is a college-level introduction to macroeconomics that examines how the national economy functions as a whole. Understanding basic economic concepts is vital in today’s globalized world, and this course will provide students with a solid foundation for further Economic studies. The students will develop the skills necessary to become well-informed decision makers and to apply an “economic way of thinking” to their everyday lives. The course builds on basic concepts to facilitate a broader economic view as we analyze what determines the economic progress and decisions made by policymakers. Students will express their analyses using both written and graphical explanations. This course will prepare students for the AP Macroeconomics Examination, which is administered in May (with review sessions running before the test). (.5 credits, fall semester)

The Politics of Identity: An Examination of Race, Class and Gender in the 21st Century

Race, class, and gender, and the inequalities associated with them, affect all of our lives but often go unexplored or challenged. This discussion-based seminar will examine how the social construction of race, class, and gender affect the political, economic, and social life of the contemporary United States. Through the use of essays and newspaper articles, films, music and literature we will explore how these inequalities shape the individual and collective identity. Throughout the course, the American experience will be compared and contrasted with societies throughout the world. Some of the questions/topics we will explore are include “the concept of “race”– fact or fiction?”, “Are men and women really that different?”, “The politics of race relations in the 21st century”, and “What causes poverty?”. Each student will develop possible approaches to addressing social inequalities by “taking a stand” on an issue of importance to her and her local, state, or national community. (.5 credits, spring semester)

Class VIII Spring Electives

Genocide and the State

This course explores the emergence, evolution, and underlying causes of genocide and crimes against humanity. What is the relationship between genocide and crimes against humanity? How should genocide be defined and conceptualized? What factors can explain this recurring phenomenon that has resulted in the deaths of nearly 20 million people within the past century? How compelling are these explanations when applied to different cases of genocide--Turkish campaigns against the Armenians, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Nazi Holocaust, the Guatemalan actions toward its Mayan population, and more recently, massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. As we explore a variety of theoretical explanations, we will ask whether genocide can be prevented, and what constitutes "justice" for such actions. (.5 credits, spring semester)

The Impact of the Global Economy

In 2008 the effects of the U.S. recession were being felt around the world. How could a recession in one country impact the economies of so many others? While many countries were negatively impacted by the ripple effects of the recession, a few countries benefited. How could this be? This course will focus on the development and impact of the global economy. We will evaluate current economic debates and discuss challenges faced by countries and companies around the world. Possible topics we will examine include the distribution of income and well-being, the impact of globalization on the environment, international trade and trade policies, the growth in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), unsustainable debt and the role of international institutions. (.5 credits, spring semester)