Upper School history students are expected to master a wide variety of skills such as recognizing, analyzing, and critiquing trends, patterns, and causal relationships in history. By reading both primary and secondary sources, students begin to recognize both bias and disparity. Students are taught skills necessary to produce term or position papers. Techniques of debate, oral reporting and group discussions are emphasized. The sequence of courses for Upper School students is Early World History in ninth grade, Modern to Contemporary World History in tenth grade, United States History (either as a year-long Survey course or through two, semester-long Topics) in eleventh grade, and a semester of Civics in either eleventh or twelfth grade. The department also offers a wide range of elective courses that offer opportunities for students to pursue their interests beyond the core program.

Courses in this department:

Early World History (ninth grade)

Year-long class

What happens when peoples with different cultural traditions and from vastly different regions of the world come into contact with one another? When our globe becomes increasingly connected what new opportunities and challenges are presented? Using case studies from the 1400s – 1700s, Early World History examines the ongoing development of cultural traditions with an exploration of key cross-cultural encounters that shaped the course of world history and still impact us today. Students critically examine primary and secondary sources with an eye to seeing issues from multiple perspectives. A variety of research, writing and public speaking assignments allow students to hone their historical understanding and refine their modes of expression.

Modern to Contemporary World History (tenth grade)

Year-long class

This course explores global history from the 1700s to the present through varied perspectives: race, class, nation, and gender, among others. The two main themes are the fight for human rights and the building of an international community. First semester focuses on the Atlantic Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Imperialism. Second semester examines the World Wars, the Cold War, and our current post-Cold War era, ending with a Model U.N. debate on a contemporary issue. The impact of the past on the present is a continual focus. Students write a sophomore thesis focused on the impact of the Cold War and Decolonization around the world. Throughout the year, students practice close reading, writing, public speaking, collaboration, and study skills. From literature and primary sources to movies and debates, the course emphasizes historical empathy as well as civic engagement.

United States History

Survey of United States History

Eleventh grade; year-long class

This course examines America’s past chronologically from pre-Columbian times to the present day. While the Topics in United States History course offerings focus on one theme in depth for a semester each, this year-long course explores a breadth of events throughout U.S. History. Most units culminate with a test, which always includes an essay asking students to use historical evidence to defend their conclusions. Students also show their mastery of the material through presentations, debates, and seminar discussions. By tracing America’s evolution throughout the centuries, students develop a deeper understanding of current events as well.

Topics in United States History: Current Events

Second semester

This course aims to deepen students’ understanding of current events and the history that shaped them. As William Faulkner stated, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Mark Twain had another take: “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” From Black Lives Matter to the Trump Presidency, what “rhymes” can we find between the past and the present? To understand breaking news and build skills in media literacy, we have a class subscription to “The Week” Magazine and regular guest speakers. Many of the issues we study haven’t even happened yet! Throughout the semester, students have multiple opportunities to teach each other and to choose topics of personal interest.

Topics in United States History: Gender and Sexuality

First semester

To better understand the United States - its values, creed, and promises - this class explores the contributions, aspirations, and challenges experienced specifically by women and LGBT+ communities throughout American history. This class focuses on social history - how people live their daily lives - as well as political and economic history. A central focus of the class is documenting the quest for equal rights with a specific look at the growth of political movements and the changes in legislation that have been achieved so far - and those that are still being fought for. From personal reflections to scholarly sources, we will explore how gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class intersect to impact the lives of Americans.

Topics in United States History: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

Second semester

The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Some say this is its greatest strength; others argue that our diversity is our greatest challenge. This class explores both issues of personal identity and national belonging through the lens of race, ethnicity, and immigration. We learn about waves of immigration throughout United States history as we examine the roots of racial and ethnic stereotypes and persecution, and we study the efforts of individuals and activist movements dedicated to erasing prejudice and gaining equal access for all.

Essential questions of the course include: What is “race,” and how have understandings of race shaped the history and identity of this nation and of individuals living in it? What does it mean to be “an American” for different people, at different times, in different ways? How has race been a factor in that definition? How have immigrants and “American” attitudes toward immigration shaped U.S. history? How have diverse groups of Americans struggled to make the notion of “all men [sic] created equal” true for all people in this country? How closely do we match this ideal today?

Topics in United States History: War and Peace

First semester

This course explores how war has shaped U.S. History with a particular emphasis on events since 1860. When should we go to war and why? Who decides and who fights? How do economic interests and the media each influence wartime decisions? To understand the myths and realities of America’s wars, we regularly watch movies, from historical footage to Hollywood films like “Saving Private Ryan”. How have some American wars helped advance rights for women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ+ people? From bayonets to drones, how has technology changed American warfare? What are the benefits of war? What about the costs – especially hidden ones like PTSI? Is the U.S. an “empire in denial”? The U.S. spends more on defense than the next 11 countries combined – why? We have an exciting semester of discussion and debate ahead!


Civics: Politics and Government

First semester, meets graduation requirement for Civics
11th and 12th grades

In keeping with our school’s mission/vision/values, we want our students to become capable and engaged citizens, able to effect political, social, and economic change. This class examines our local and federal governmental systems and structures, Washington State and U.S. constitutions, the judicial system, and the ways that politics and current events influence each other. The course emphasizes the rights and responsibilities of both citizens and government in the ongoing “dance” between the competing interests of liberty and order. The course uses a variety of media including news articles, student-generated blogs, online forums, and podcasts. Class activities include simulations and debates surrounding current issues, panels of guest speakers, and field trips. Students participate in a Mock Congress to build an in-depth understanding of the legislative process. All students also participate in either a local campaign or a practicum of observation and involvement in local government or an activist organization of their choice, and are expected to commit hours outside of school to complete this experience.

Environmental Ethics, Civics, and Advocacy

Second semester, meets graduation requirement for Civics
Interdisciplinary, double (blocked) course paired with the English department
11th and 12th grades

We are beginning to understand that we are reaching the outer limit of human population and activity that the natural environment can sustain. In seeking how best to respond to these challenges, we must consider our moral relationship to all aspects of our environment in addition to our responsibility as citizens to act as stewards of our world. Understanding environmental issues requires a systems-thinking perspective, and understanding how to best address these issues as a citizen requires knowledge of the structures and functions of government. This team-taught, interdisciplinary, blended course combines the corresponding English elective course with Civics—one English credit, one Civics credit, two teachers, two class periods, and an integrated curriculum. This allows students to learn deeply about environmental issues and identify ways to be an agent of change, including choosing both an independent research project and a hands-on experience of involvement in the greater Seattle community.


Electives offer opportunities for students to pursue their interests beyond the core program. Each elective requires students to study a specific field of history containing a rich diversity of issues. This way, students work toward the department's goals regardless of the course taken.

Advanced Topics in World History: The FIFA World Cup - Russia 2018

Second semester

This course examines the key issues themes surrounding the FIFA World Cup in Russia to be held in the summer of 2018. Students develop an understanding of the social, economic, and political forces that have shaped the modern world and given rise to this global phenomenon. The course explores how football became a truly global pastime and how this specific international competition became a multibillion dollar event. Using a case-studies approach, students focus on both the history of the FIFA World Cup and the inevitable challenges that will arise in Russia’s hosting of the tournament in 2018. Case-studies allow students to examine a multitude of questions, concerns and controversies from a variety of vantage points: from spectators, to workers, to players, to governments, to citizens, to investors. The course grapples with questions such as: who benefits from FIFA’s World Cup? Who pays for hosting the World Cup? How does competing in FIFA’s World Cup raise issues of identity and around socioeconomics? Students produce a final project that tackles issues relating to the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup.

Art and Social Change

First semester

This class combines political, social, and art history with hands-on studio art making to explore the ways in which the arts are a tool for and a reflection of social change. Personal identity work forms the foundation for this course, from which students explore, discuss, research, and produce original artwork about a range of justice- and equity-related issues. Topics may include: labor and class; civil rights and racial equality; feminism, gender and sexuality; war and violence. The course is co-taught by Fine Arts and History faculty; all students complete an identical curriculum, but will select the department in which they will receive credit. Students must notify the registrar about the type of credit they choose prior to the start of class; selection cannot be changed after the add/drop period ends.


Second semester

This course covers many fundamental concepts in macroeconomics, including government and taxation, money and banking, international trade and currencies, unemployment, inflation, and poverty. Students also learn about theory by studying the history of economic thought, with a focus on such exemplars as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. Students learn about major international concerns through a mock World Trade Organization ministerial conference or an International Economic Summit. Students read The Economist each week to discuss the role of economics in current issues.


First semester

This course covers many fundamental concepts in microeconomics, including supply and demand, business organization, market structures, business ethics, and personal finance. Students learn about taxation as well as purchasing insurance. The applied economics component allows students to use the concepts and principles they learn in class; students form a company to develop and market a product. Students read The Economist each week to discuss the role of economics in current affairs.

Seminar in World Religion

Second semester

Religion is of great importance in shaping human culture, history, and society, as well as political and economic life. Given this widespread influence, it is important to understand what religion is and how it functions. This course introduces students to the tenets of the world's major religions through a comparative approach. Students discuss important religious themes, such as charity, hope, and family, through traditional Socratic seminars based on sacred texts.

Electives Not Offered in 2017-2018

Africa Since 1945
Brazilian History
Contemporary Affairs
East Asian History
European History
First Peoples: Native American History
History of Cuba
Introduction to Philosophy
Latin American History
Many Faces of Islam
Modern Jewish Tradition
Recording History
Science in Historical Context
Small States in a Big World
Social Justice in History
Soviet Empire