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History and Social Studies

The curriculum in Social Studies and History conveys a broad and balanced understanding of human societies, from prior eras to the present, from distant cultures to our own. Historical inquiry elicits complex questions about the forces shaping the world we have inherited. As students investigate and grapple with these questions, they learn to weigh facts beyond the recovery of events, dates, and names, as evidence in support of a thesis. Central to our pedagogy is teaching the process of presenting the evidence. Herodotus named his exploration of the causes of the Greco-Persian wars ‘Histories,’  Greek for ‘showing forth by inquiry.’ In a similar sense, as historians, students gather evidence through source analysis, articulate a thesis, and craft reasoned explanations into a concisely worded, tightly structured argument. In the process, as they weigh the significance of their findings, they gain a nuanced appreciation of the relevance of historical inquiry for understanding the contemporary world and their own place in it.

Program Description

Nursery students embrace cultural diversity in a hands-on, child-centered manner, by exploring the social and cultural customs of families in their Horace Mann community through celebrations of cultural festivals and holidays. In the Lower Division, students extend their explorations of other cultures through the study of the history, geography, and current events of other regions within and beyond our national boundaries, with interdisciplinary connections to folk tales and myths, music, dance, food, and festivals. The curriculum integrates conceptual learning and skills development with a creative, project-based approach through a combination of instructional resources, including newspaper articles, maps, and photographs, with projects, including designing puzzles, publishing books, and making artifacts such as African masks and Chinese lanterns.

The Middle Division curriculum challenges students to examine how the past has shaped the present. In a linked two-year sequence, sixth and seventh graders explore American history through the lens of the New York experience.  Through compelling narratives and vivid primary and secondary sources, students become acquainted with the world of the native American peoples, the forces that propelled the westward migrations from Europe and Africa, and the emergence of the new republic from its colonial origins. In seventh grade, the curriculum continues to explore the role of New York City and its immigrants, from the New Nation and the Civil War to the Great Depression and beyond. The eighth grade curriculum surveys the legacy to the modern world of the ancient civilizations of India, China, the Middle East, and Greece, with readings from the foundational texts of religion and philosophy. In all three grades, the curriculum seeks to strengthen the dexterity with which students execute the primary tasks of historians: careful reading and research, critical source analysis, constructing and presenting arguments. 

The Upper Division curriculum consists of two required courses, Atlantic World History and United States History, and a broad range of electives following successful completion of the two required courses. Major themes in Atlantic World History include: the transatlantic slave trade, the rise of colonial societies, effects of European exploration and expansion, the rise and fall of imperialism in Africa, and the crises of a new global age. United States History surveys the past of the United States, from the colonial period to the modern era. Students examine the physical, demographic, and bureaucratic growth of the nation alongside the development of its political, social, economic, and cultural institutions and traditions, with a focus on the changing roles that class, gender, and race have played throughout the history of the republic. Electives include courses focused on legal, cultural, political, and global aspects of American history; courses on foreign cultures, nations, and religions, such as East Asian history, history of the Islamic world, and history of colonialism; courses in political philosophy and economics; and Advanced Placement courses in World, European, and American History.

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