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History is much more than a recitation of the facts; it is a way of seeing and making sense of the world around us. The mission of the History Department is to create curious, empathetic, and responsible citizens who have an analytical mind, a solid grounding in historical thinking skills, and a nuanced understanding of the history of the modern world and the United States. To achieve this goal, faculty have designed courses in which students will gain experience analyzing sources from a range of perspectives, reading the work of historians, formulating historical questions, conducting scholarly research, and constructing complex arguments in oral and written form. The discipline of history provides students with the skills and ways of thinking necessary to understand the past, which is necessary to understand the present. In today’s world, students need guidance and practice in navigating multiple sources of information, weighing arguments from multiple perspectives, understanding complex situations in a nuanced manner, and drawing conclusions informed by logic and an ethical perspective. Studying the past not only provides vital context for understanding the world today, but historical thinking also fosters habits of mind that permit students to empathetically engage with all people and responsibly participate in a democratic society. Ultimately, the expectation of the History Department is that students graduating from Pingry will be informed citizens who think more critically not only about the immediate environment in which they live but also about the global community of which they are a part.

History & Psychology Courses

World History 9: Prehistory–1750 (#11306)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form III.

This survey course introduces students to the ideas, practices, values, and achievements of the pre-modern world. Beginning with an examination of the Agricultural Revolution and the emergence of the first river valley civilizations, the course focuses on developments in the Middle East, the ancient Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, pre-Columbian America, and medieval Europe, culminating with the European Renaissance and Reformation and the beginnings of the modern world. Students learn that civilizations are entities that can be analyzed and evaluated, that they share certain characteristics, and that differences between them can be explained historically. They also learn that all civilizations undergo change and that they do so for specific reasons. The course emphasizes critical thinking and encourages the development of reading comprehension, note-taking, and writing skills. Students are introduced to the analysis of primary sources, including literary texts, artifacts, and visual art. Assessments include a research project and a final exam.

World History 10: 1750–Present (#11405)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form IV.

This survey course focuses on the development, between the 18th century and the present day, of a single, continually evolving world civilization. We explore European society’s remarkable self-transformation, a process that involves the development of absolutism and constitutional monarchy, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the emergence of the modern nation-state. We also examine how the world’s oceans ceased functioning as barriers between the separate civilizations and began operating as the means of uniting these civilizations, initially under European domination.

We focus not only on how Europe imposed itself and its rapidly changing values on the rest of the world, but also on the achievements of the peoples of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and on the creative ways in which the non-Western world has responded to European expansion and the forces of modernization. The course culminates with Europe’s self-destruction in the first half of the 20th century and the emergence of a post-colonial world order in the second half-century. Class discussion centers on the analysis of primary sources and a wide range of historical scholarship.

American Society & Culture (#11509)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form V.

Americans have often described their nation as a “melting pot.” In recent years, many have questioned the accuracy and desirability of this metaphor. However, it is undeniable that both American society and culture have been shaped by the experiences of Americans from diverse backgrounds. This course will examine American social history and the development of American culture, particularly issues relating to political and civil rights and equality, through the perspectives of different groups based on socio-economic status, religion, ethnicity, race, and gender. We will also examine how these forces ultimately affected politics and the exercise of political power. Primary documents, including literature and art, will play a key role in our study, as will experiential learning through field trips. Assessments include various research projects and a final exam.

Note: This course satisfies the U.S. History graduation requirement.

U.S. Environmental History HONORS (#11007)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form V. Prerequisite: Departmental permission (past performance in history and other disciplines is taken into account).

This course surveys the history of the United States from the colonial period to the present using the lens of environmental history as its organizing principle. Environmental history can be generally defined as a branch of historical analysis that focuses on the relationship between humans and their non-human environment. It is an approach that lends itself well to interdisciplinary work and thinking, particularly bringing in concepts and assumptions from the sciences and literature. This course is, however, a survey of U.S. history and as such moves in a chronological fashion, with major essential and historical questions that look at the human/non-human relationship within the context of American political, intellectual, and social history. Students read a range of materials, from primary sources to excerpts of historical monographs. As this is an honors course, students write a number of essays, including a historiographical paper and a major research paper.

Note: This course satisfies the U.S. History graduation requirement.

A.P. United States History (#11508)

Major year course. 3 credits. 4 class meetings, one of which will be 90 minutes, per cycle. Form V. Prerequisite: Departmental permission (past performance in history and other disciplines is taken into account).

This is a rigorous survey course designed to explore United States history from the fifteenth century through the twentieth century. It is intended not only to give students the background required for the Advanced Placement exam, but also to provide perspectives and skills needed to be an informed citizen. It covers many of the major events and developments of United States history. In the process, students learn to evaluate causes, analyze the interrelationships among events, and recognize the roots of present-day problems and issues. The analysis of primary and secondary source materials will serve as the basis of reasoned discussion.

Note: This course satisfies the U.S. History graduation requirement.

A.P. Government & Politics (United States, Comparative) (#11920)

Major year course. 3 credits. Form VI. Prerequisites: Departmental permission (past performance in history and other disciplines is taken into account) and any of the three Form V U.S. History courses.

This course is divided into two sections: American Government and Politics, and Topics in Comparative Government.

The first part of the course is designed to provide students with a college-level introduction to American government. Building upon skills and information gained in the U.S. History course, the course centers upon the governmental institutions and recent (post-1960) political developments of the United States. Among the topics covered are the constitutional underpinnings of U.S. government; the political beliefs and behaviors of individuals, political parties, and interest groups; the roles of the formal and informal institutions of government; civil liberties; and current affairs. The emphasis is upon the analysis of the processes involved in the making of public policy. Readings will include American Government (Wilson and DiIulio), source documents, and the current press. Students must sit for the A.P. exam in United States Government and Politics.

The second part of the course is a college-level study of various topics in comparative government. It acquaints students with the governmental institutions and political life of other nations and examines some of the problems in contemporary world affairs. Among the nations that may be studied are Great Britain, France, China, Russia, and Mexico. Readings include Comparative Politics at the Crossroads (Kesselman, Krieger, and Joseph), source readings, and the current press.

Postwar American Culture, 1945–1965 (#E11520F for fall, #11520S for spring)

Major year course (3 credits) or fall semester only (1.5 credits). Forms V-VI. Students who wish to take the full year course should sign up for both semesters. Honors.

The contours of contemporary American life first took shape in the two decades immediately after the end of World War II. Rather than follow the usual chronological divisions of the traditional postwar survey course, we focus intensively on a series of key topics: suburbia and its discontents; the political and cultural impact of anticommunism; the “affluent society” and its critics; race and the civil rights revolution; changing conceptions of sexuality and the role of women; rock ’n’ roll and the impact of the new youth culture; avant-garde movements in the visual arts and music; religion, philosophy, and the “age of anxiety”; and the bohemian challenge to “conformity.” The course makes extensive use of fiction, film, and music, as well as contemporary social criticism and autobiography. Students are expected to read carefully and critically; frequent short papers, as well as occasional research projects, are required.

A.P. European History (#11510)

Major year course (3 credits). Forms V-VI.

This challenging AP curriculum surveys the course of modern European history from the late Middle Ages to the fall of the Soviet Union. Students will explore the major political, social, intellectual, cultural, and economic trends of this history and emerge with knowledge equivalent to that gained in a college-level introduction to Western Civilization. Some classes will be lecture-based, covering content required by the AP Exam, but many will rely on discussion informed by readings in primary sources, historiography, and literature. Students will read major works of the modern European literary canon, including Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513), Voltaire’s Candide (1759), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). This course also uses visual resources in film and art history to provide cultural context for the significant themes and events of modern Europe. Writing assignments will focus on developing skills of critical thinking, synthesis, interpretation, and primary source analysis. Students will emerge with a thorough understanding of European history and the development of Western civilization, as well as with concrete skills in written and oral communication.

China and Modern East Asia (11511)

Major year course (3 credits). Forms V-VI. Honors.

After the upheavals of revolution and war in the twentieth century, China and Japan continue to play crucial roles in shaping the modern world. In this course we will examine the development of East Asian history and culture from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, with a particular emphasis on China and Japan.

Some of the questions we will consider include: How did China and Japan evolve in the face of Western power in the nineteenth century? What was the social impact of modernization? Why did World War II begin as a war between Japan and China, and what were the long-term consequences of that terrible conflict on the region? Why did East Asia then become the primary battlefield of the Cold War, in Korea and Vietnam? What was the impact of Mao Zedong’s leadership on China, and how is his legacy still felt today? Why and how have East Asian nations become economic powerhouses in recent decades? Ultimately we will ask: will the twenty-first century indeed be “the Pacific century”?

In addition to historical sources, we will make significant use of modern fiction and film in this course, including authors such as Lu Xun and Yu Hua of China, and Natsume Soseki of Japan. Students will also have the opportunity to conduct independent research on a topic of interest related to the region. Finally, the class will engage in frequent discussions of current events, both in person and online via a course blog.

A.P. Psychology (#11905)

Major year course. 3 credits. Forms V-VI.

This course introduces students to the study of psychology as a social science by focusing on the behavioral and mental development of humans and other animals. To that end, students learn the basic skills of psychological research, including elementary statistics; each semester they design and conduct research projects and report their results, following the guidelines of the American Psychological Association. Through lectures, group projects, films, class exercises, and assigned readings in the text and professional journals, the course covers the following topics in the depth: the history of the discipline of psychology; the biological and physiological bases of behavior, including a detailed study of the brain, sensation, perception, and memory; states of consciousness; learning theory; motivation and emotion; developmental theory; language, thought, and intelligence; personality development; psychological disorders and psychotherapy; and social psychology. Assessments include a research project and a final test.