Upper School history students 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 also emphasized.

The course sequence includes world history in ninth and tenth grades, United States History (through either a Survey or Topics approach) in eleventh grade, and a semester of Civics in either eleventh or twelfth grade. The department also offers a wide range of elective courses for students to pursue their interests beyond required topics.

World History

Required, ninth and tenth grades

Semester Courses

Early World History

Required, ninth grade
Full year

What happens when peoples with different cultural traditions, different values, 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? Is progress a zero-sum game? Using case studies from the 1400s to the 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 World History

Required, tenth grade
First semester

This course explores global history from the 1700s to 1920 through a variety of perspectives, including race, class, gender, nation, and community. Our two main themes are the fight for human rights and the building of an international community. After studying the Atlantic Revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Imperialism, students end the semester exploring World War I. To understand different viewpoints, we watch movies, read memoirs, examine art, and engage in formal debates and role-plays. Students practice many skills, including writing, close reading, note-taking, public speaking, and collaboration. From literature and primary sources to movies and debates, the course emphasizes historical empathy, civic engagement, and modern-day connections.

Semester + Intensive Courses
Learn more about our intensives program.


Required, tenth grade
Second semester + second intensive

English and History combine into one, single-block interdisciplinary humanities course to study both world literature and history. This continues the focus on identity and community that is begun in the first semester of both the 10th grade Modern World History and Foundations In Literature courses. Students continue to develop critical reading, researching, and writing skills in the second semester of 10th grade Humanities.

During the intensive term, students choose one of three different tracks and conduct site visits to global organizations based in the Seattle community in order to write a six- to eight-page research paper. They immerse themselves in a research and writing process aligned with the overarching themes of the world history and literature curricula: promoting human rights and building an international community. How can we view each of these three topics from historical, literary, artistic, ethical, environmental, and global perspectives? Students apply the lessons they have learned from their history, English, and humanities courses from earlier in the year to focus on how these historical issues and topics are playing out in both Seattle and in the rest of the world.

United States History

Two terms required, eleventh grade
Available as elective courses to twelfth grade

Semester Courses

Survey of United States History

Eleventh grade, full year

This course examines America’s past from pre-Columbian times to the present day. While the Topics in United States History courses focus on one theme in depth for a semester each, this year-long course explores a breadth of events throughout U.S. History. Students study political, social, economic, and military history as they consider the ways that events, ideas, and cultural movements have shaped this nation and its roles in the world. Students show their mastery of the material through presentations, debates, seminar discussions, and exams, which include in-class essays. 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 Mark Twain perhaps said, “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, students have a class subscription to The Week magazine and have regular guest speakers. Many of the issues students study haven’t even happened yet! Students also teach each other and 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 to document 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, students explore how gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class intersect to impact the lives of Americans.

Topics in United States History: Native American Lives and Voices

Second semester

Twenty six of our nation’s states’ names derive from the names of Native American people and places. How much do you know about the history and current lives of the Nisqually, Duwamish, or Cheyenne? This class introduces students to some of the rich cultural and historical heritage of Native peoples and the ways those peoples’ history has shaped - and been shaped by - the broader history of the United States. Through site visits, interviews, close readings of historic documents, current legal cases, and films, students explore issues of Native American sovereignty and legal rights and the shifting contexts of US-tribal relations. They examine treaties, overlapping systems of government (tribal, local, state, and federal), and interactions between society, resources, and the environment. Through it all, students consider the ways that art, music, and literature can both shape and reflect cultural and national identity.

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 issues of personal identity and national belonging through the lens of race, ethnicity, and immigration. We explore questions such as: What does it mean to be “an American” for different people, at different times, in different ways? What is “race,” and how have understandings of race shaped the history and identity of this nation and of individuals living in it? How have immigrants and American attitudes toward immigration shaped U.S. history? How have diverse groups of Americans struggled to create true equity and equality of opportunity for all people in this country? How closely do we match this ideal today? As we study waves of immigration throughout United States history, students examine the roots of racial and ethnic stereotypes and persecution and study the efforts of individuals and activist movements dedicated to erasing prejudice and gaining equal access for all.

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 do 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’ll regularly examine films from historical footage to Saving Private Ryan. How have some American wars helped advance rights for women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ+ people, and others have done the opposite? From bayonets to machine guns, nuclear weapons to cyberweapons, how has technology changed American warfare? What are the benefits of war? What about the costs—especially hidden ones like PTSI? What can we learn from veterans? Is the U.S. an “empire in denial”? The course includes an exciting semester of discussion and debate!

Intensive Courses
Learn more about our intensives program.

Topics in United States History: Art and Music

Second intensive

This course examines a wide range of topics of the history of the United States through the lenses of art and music. Students carefully examine informative paintings, engravings, sculpture, and photographs to glean important stories and themes. They also study a wide range of music, including folk, ragtime, jazz, blues, rock, hip-hop and classical. Students look at some key works, including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, Civil Rights songs, and war protest songs to acquire a deeper understanding of United States history. The course includes an individual project and presentation where each student selects an important work, or series of works, to teach trenchant lessons about United States history.

Topics in United States History: The United States and the World

First intensive

In reference to its global status, the United States has variously—and conflictingly—been referred to as a liberator, a schoolyard bully, a beacon of hope, a hegemon, the world’s policeman, and the leader of the free world. Historically, the United States has simultaneously been seen by foreign nations as both an oppressor and a savior.This course presents the history of the United States in global terms. Students consider some of the fundamental questions of American foreign policy: What international role has the U.S. played in the past? How has this role evolved to adapt to an increasingly globalized world? What global role should the United States play in the 21st century? Students engage in case studies focusing on some of the following: American isolationism, nation-building efforts in the Caribbean, American efforts to “open” Japan and China, the rebuilding of postwar Europe and Japan, political containment and cultural engagement during the Cold War, and the United States’ role in the global economy of the 21st century.


One semester required, eleventh or twelfth grade

Semester Courses

Civics: Politics and Government

Second semester
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 and Advocacy

11th and 12th grades
First semester
This course meets for two periods in the semester and earns English and Civics credits.

Students are growing up in a world fraught with environmental challenge. These students—and their peers worldwide—must confront these challenges knowledgeably and passionately to help find solutions for their own sustainable future. This course introduces students to scientific data about human impacts on the planet and helps them understand some of the political, economic, and ethical challenges inherent in moving toward greater environmental sustainability. Students consider the ethics of their relationship with the environment as they monitor their own “environmental footprint,” read environmental poetry, non-fiction essays, and other literature that explores the themes of nature and human-nature interactions, and build their writing skills in a variety of genres. They learn about the workings of government and consider ways citizens interact with their governments locally, nationally, and globally. Through interactions with guest speakers, independent research, and team problem-solving activities, students gain skills to become effective change-makers in today’s world. This interdisciplinary course provides students with an integrated curriculum with English and Civics. LaunchPad credit is no longer offered.


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.

Semester Courses


First 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 an International Economic Summit. Students read The Economist each week to discuss the role of economics in current issues.

Latin American History

Second semester

A brief survey of Latin American history provides students with a solid understanding of major historic trends and factors that have shaped this region. This course emphasizes 20th-century developments and the social, economic, and cultural interdependence of countries in the Western hemisphere, with the main objective being to better appreciate current opportunities and challenges facing the region. Interdisciplinary and comparative by design, the class draws from fiction and nonfiction texts, as well as film, art, music, and current news stories to develop a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences and cultures of the Western hemisphere. Students examine case studies of personal interest to them.

The Modern Jewish Tradition

Second semester

The course traces the development of the Jewish Tradition from the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, of the 18th century to the present day with special focus on Judaism as a global tradition made up of diverse communities. We will look at how the different streams of Jewish thought and different Jewish ethnic/cultural communities have interacted and at various controversies that have affected their relationship with each other and with the non-Jewish world. Though not meant to be an exhaustive list, issues to be considered will include: Anti-Semitism; Zionism; Women and Feminism; the place of LGBT persons in Judaism; race, ethnicity and privilege; Jewish identity and the “Who is a Jew?” question, as well as the future of Judaism.

Electives Not Offered in 2019-2020

Advanced Topics in World History
Africa Since 1945
The Bomb
Brazilian History
Confucius to K-Pop: East Asia Changes the World
Contemporary Affairs
First Peoples: Native American History
History of Cuba
Introduction to Philosophy
Many Faces of Islam
Modern European History
Recording History
Science in Historical Context
Seminar in World Religions
Small States in a Big World
Social Justice in History
Soviet Empire

History at UPrep

Learn more about our History program:
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