A Statement of Instructional Philosophy and Objectives for Students
The History Department members believe that the serious study of history teaches students to examine the multicultural and interdependent character of the world. We value the principles of toleration, openness, civility and fair play that are the hallmarks of a liberal education.
We share a preference for the inquiry approach to learning. In using this method we lead students in a process of discovery by asking open-ended, interpretive questions that are linked to watershed events in history. We encourage our students to form their own questions and response strategies. We provide some of the background resources and introductory materials for understanding the chronology and context of the question, but we expect students to develop the evidence, analysis, and conclusions in the formation of their opinions about each issue. We implement this approach through a variety of instructional styles including reading and discussion, group work, debate, simulation and lecture.
The History Department is committed to teaching sound research techniques. With some variability in method, students learn how to locate information, read critically, take notes on what they read, recognize the bias of a source, and marshal the best evidence in support of their arguments. They learn that relevant evidence is critical to rendering historical judgments and that without it, neither written nor oral opinion merit much consideration.
Writing and Speaking
As important as developing research skills may be, they will be of little value unless students learn how to write and speak. In writing, we teach how to formulate a thesis, develop properly constructed paragraphs, design effective transitions, and create persuasive introductions and conclusions. In speaking, the students will learn the same techniques as those for writing, but with emphasis on composure, diction, voice pitch and speed, and gestures. Both forms of communication require a sense of the audience. They will have many opportunities during their time in history classes to refine both their written and verbal expression.
The History Department has a strong preference for short, critical essays and student-centered assignments such as debates, simulations, and oral presentations. The culminating activity for a specific unit of study usually involves a short research paper or an essay test. Objective tests provide additional incentive for students to secure their essential information on a particular subject. Sometimes students may be assigned a long project that spans a large part of a quarter. This latter type of assignment is less frequent in our instruction.
Students who complete our four-year sequence of courses should be able to recreate the drama of an earlier time and place and understand the interconnectedness of the past and present. They should have confidence that the development of their research, writing and speaking skills prepares them for college.
Central Themes of the History Curriculum
The History Department concurs with the Bradley Commission that in order to “comprehend the forces for change and continuity that have shaped---and will continue to shape---human life” (Bradley Commission, 1988) our students will pursue the following themes over their 3-year course of study.
- Civilization, cultural diffusion, and innovation.
- The evolution of human skills and the means of exerting power over nature and people.
- The rise, interaction, and decline of successive centers of such skills and power.
- The cultural flowering of major civilizations in the arts, literature, and thought.
- The role of social, religious, and political patronage of the arts and learning.
- The importance of the city in different eras and places.
- Human interaction with the environment.
- The relationships among geography, technology, and culture, and their effects on economic, social, and political developments.
- The choices made possible by climate, resources, and location, and the effect of culture and human values on such choices.
- The gains and losses of technological change.
- The central role of agriculture.
- The effect of disease, and disease-fighting, on plants, animals, and human beings.
- Values, beliefs, political ideas, and institutions.
- The origins and spread of influential religions and ideologies.
- The evolution of political and social institutions, at various stages of industrial and commercial development.
- The interplay among ideas, material conditions, moral values, and leadership, especially in the evolution of democratic societies.
- The tensions between the aspirations for freedom and security, for liberty and equality, for distinction and commonality, in human affairs.
- Conflict and cooperation.
- The many and various causes of war, and of approached to peacemaking and war prevention.
- Relations between domestic affairs and ways of dealing with the outside world.
- Contrasts between international conflict and cooperation, between isolation and interdependence.
- The consequences of war and peace for societies and their cultures.
- Comparative history of major developments.
- The characteristics of revolutionary, reactionary, and reform periods across time and place.
- Imperialism, ancient and modern.
- Comparative instances of slavery and emancipation, feudalism and centralization, human successes and failures, of wisdom and folly.
- Comparative elites and aristocracies
- the role of family, wealth, and merit.
- Patterns of social and political interactions.
- The changing patterns of class, ethnic, racial, and gender structures and relations.
- Immigration, migration, and social mobility.
- The effects of schooling.
- The new prominence of women, minorities, and the common people in the study of history, and their relation to political power and the influential elites.
- The characteristics of multicultural societies; forces for unity and disunity.
(Bradley Commission Recommendations, 1988)
Upon completion of the history program, all students will demonstrate historical thinking when they do the following:
- distinguish between past, present, and future
- identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative, explanation or argument
- establish temporal order in constructing their own historical narratives, explanation and/or arguments
- interpret data presented in time lines
- create time lines
- explain change and continuity over time
- identify the author or source
- reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage
- identify the central question(s) the historical narrative, explanation, or argument address(es)
- appreciate historical perspective
- draw upon data in historical maps
- draw upon visual and mathematical date present in graphs
- draw upon the visual data presented in photography, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings
Historical Analysis and Interpretation
- formulate questions to focus inquiry and analysis
- compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions
- distinguish between fact and fiction
- compare different stories about a historical figure, era, or event
- analyze illustrations in historical stories
- consider multiple perspectives
- explain causes in analyzing historical actions
- challenge arguments of historical inevitability
- hypothesize influences of the past
- formulate historical questions that the materials can answer
- obtain historical data
- interrogate historical data for relevance, perspective, and plausibility
- organize interrogated data into a coherent historical story, logical explanation, and/or cogent argument
History's Habits of Mind
History education should help students to:
- Understand that history is events over time and that it involves both change and continuity.
- Recognize the tentative nature of historical explanation and that events do not move in natural, inevitable patterns. Historians impose patterns upon the past.
- Understand that historical explanations rest upon evidence and that this support must be relevant, respect particulars and avoid vague references.
- Learn how to ask questions of the past that the data can answer.
- Learn how to make sources reveal their relevance. This requires students to know that errors of omissions and commission can occur and that perspective—both that of the reader and the author—slants our vision of the past.
- Learn how to work with the complexities of historical causation and to appreciate chronology, contingency, chance, and coincidence. Understand that history is less rational than it appears by hindsight.