Social Studies courses foster an understanding and appreciation of cultures and communities around the world. In addition to work in United States history, each student investigates one of the following areas: East Asia, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, or Latin America. Students study social and cultural developments, the history of political institutions, and the interaction of traditional and modern societies. Teachers ask students to read closely, think critically, write persuasively, present powerfully, and collaborate effectively.
- Western Civilization
- United States History
- Advanced Placement (AP) United States History
- Advanced Placement (AP) European History
- American Identities
- Comparative Politics
- Europe in the 20th Century
- Making History: Research, Writing, and Dana Hall Memory
- African Area Studies
- East Asian Area Studies
- Latin American Area Studies
- Middle Eastern Area Studies
- Russian Area Studies
This foundation course introduces students to the concepts used to study and discuss civilization. By exploring the roots of Western culture, students learn the elements of human organization and gain literacy in the history of Western Civilization. In this process, students also gain the basic skills necessary for all Social Studies courses, including documentation, library use, primary source interpretation, geography awareness, and essay writing. The course focuses on the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, ending with an introduction to Medieval Europe. This course prepares students to succeed in studies of other world regions.
In this survey of the history of the United States, students analyze primary source documents and a history text in a chronological and thematic exploration of the major issues concerning freedom, property, race, rights, gender, and class. Students are challenged to read and think critically, write directly and persuasively, and debate historical arguments from colonial times to the present. Each trimester, students keep current events journals through class blogs that focus on political trends, social history, and economic developments.
In this demanding course, students focus on reading, writing, and document analysis as they explore the roots and impact of major social, political, and economic trends throughout United States history. This course requires a depth and breadth of study designed to challenge students to seek causal relationships between historical events, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the United States within a global context. It requires extensive summer preparation, student participation, outside reading, and writing assignments. Students are required to take the AP exam in May.
In this course, students examine five themes as they are exemplified in modern European history: Interaction of Europe and the World, Poverty and Prosperity, Objective Knowledge and Subjective Visions, States and Other Institutions of Power, and Individual and Society. While the chronological framework of European history has been retained in this revised College Board curriculum, reasoning skills such as comparison, contextualization, and causation are used to support analysis of historical evidence and argument development. Students make a commitment to significant independent preparation through extensive reading during the summer and throughout the year. Students are required to take the AP exam in May.
This course explores the multiple ways that “Americans” have defined themselves since World War II. Developed at the University of Massachusetts-Boston to introduce undergraduates to the American Studies major, this college-level seminar examines the struggle over American national, ethnic, racial, class, gender, and sexual identities through a wide range of historical “texts” produced by historians, novelists, documentary filmmakers, singer/songwriters, political activists, and artists. Students pay special attention to where they fit within these “American Identities” by writing a three-to-four generation family history and time line, linking their family’s history to the political, social, and cultural events studied in the course. All students are welcome to enroll in this course, regardless of national identity. Students are responsible for all course topics and materials, regardless of personal, political, or religious “taste” for the subject.
With an emphasis human political behavior and decision making, students engage in a thorough exploration of the irrefutable relationship between the world’s economic and political systems. Using both historical and contemporary examples, this course takes a comparative approach to political science, offering students the opportunity to view the world’s systems from the perspectives of not only the political actors themselves, but also the people whom they represent. Daily class discussions grapple with questions pertaining to political culture, theory and ideology, the organization and function of government institutions, and the dual influence that exists between the people and their governments, all within the context of the economic forces that serve to drive and direct political activities. In the winter, students complete a trimester-long policy-analysis project in which they choose a global political or economic issue to research, identify policies that have been created to address the chosen issue, analyze and critique these policies, and develop recommendations for future policy action based on findings.
Economics is a social science concerned with how individuals and groups make decisions on the best use of limited resources. This course examines economic principles and theory, including microeconomics, macroeconomics, international economics and economic development, and behavioral economics. Students encounter a wide range of topics, including how individuals make purchasing decisions, how business firms decide to bring new products to market, how governments attempt to stabilize the economy, and how developing countries try to promote economic growth. The course makes extensive use of project-based learning and it cultivates 21st-century skills, including problem finding/problem solving, collaboration, and creative thinking.
This elective course examines the history and culture of Europe between 1900 and the present. Students learn about a Europe divided by World War II into two worlds – one that produced World War II and one that emerged from the War. Specific topics include the two devastating world wars, the twin challenges of fascism and communism, a cold war waged under the specter of a nuclear cloud, the development of the European Union, and the fundamental challenges to civilization’s ideals posed by the Holocaust. The emphasis is on the ability to analyze, evaluate, and express an understanding of documentary evidence, literature, film, and conflicting historical interpretations of the major topics. Writing is a central component of the course.
From its campus and buildings to its culture and traditions, Dana Hall’s past is all around us. How we understand that past and what impact it has on us today is the subject of this course. In Making History, students explore the School’s history from women’s rights to student rebellion, through both primary and secondary sources, paying special attention to how the story is told, upon what sources that history is based, and how that past affects us today. Students perform original historical research in Dana Hall’s Nina Heald Webber ’49 Archives, the Wellesley College Archives, and at the Wellesley Historical Society. They get a chance to “pull on the white gloves” and handle artifacts, from love letters to lace, from dinner menus to dance cards. Finally, students spend a significant amount of time writing about their research and contributing to the collective memory of the School. Writing is both analytical and creative, and it will be published through the Dana Hall Memory Project website, the Dana Hall Memory Project Wiki, and on occasion, in the Hallmanac and the Bulletin.
This course surveys selected topics in the historical development of Africa from the ancient Nile civilizations to the recent struggles of African peoples, first to win independence from colonial powers and then to build new and stable political, economic, and social institutions. After an introduction to the geography and demography of Africa, students examine African cultural organization and values in the context of a broader discussion about culture. Films and readings inform a study of family and gender relationships, tradition and modernity, and the individual and the community. Selected topics in history form the major part of the course, including ancient Nubia, the early kingdoms of West Africa, Great Zimbabwe and Aksum, the Atlantic slave trade, European colonialism, and African independence. Over the course of the year, students examine historical and contemporary politics, economics, art, and literature in several regions of Africa with an in-depth look at one particular country of their choosing. They look at and interpret primary and secondary source documents using analytical papers, engage in debates, daily discussions, as well as complete interpretive projects. Students will also have the opportunity to engage in shared learning and teaching experiences as part of an ongoing collaboration with South Africa’s Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academic for Girls.
East Asian Area Studies focuses on understanding the histories and cultures of China and Japan as a means to understanding their current successes and challenges as modern nations. Students begin the year with a thorough study of fundamental philosophical, religious, social, and political structures that originated in, or impacted, the civilization centers of China proper. Students study Confucianism, Buddhism, and Legalism in order to build a strong foundational knowledge of the traditional Han Chinese worldview and its impact on neighboring civilizations. The year continues with an in-depth look at the evolution of Japanese traditional culture and its debt to intellectual and social developments from ancient Korean kingdoms and China. The independent development of Japanese society during the Edo Period is also explored and complemented with a study of contemporary developments in Qing Dynasty China with a focus on how these two countries developed in the early modern era. This is followed with an examination of the transformative effects Western Europe and the United States had on China and Japan during the 19th and early-20th centuries. The course concludes with a survey of the tumultuous 20th century and the forces that created the People’s Republic of China, as well as a globally-influential Japan. These studies will include regular exploration of the literary and artistic traditions of China and Japan as valuable windows into the richness of these cultures. Students also study current issues of importance to East Asia as a whole and use online mapping technology to complement that learning experience.
This course studies the history, society, politics, and culture of Central and South America from prehistory to the modern age. The first trimester examines the pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes, and Spanish and Portuguese colonization. The second trimester traces colonialism in Latin America between the 16th and 18th centuries, paying special attention to the ways that indigenous and colonial forces created a backdrop for the revolutions of the early-19th century. The third trimester takes students from the mid-19th century up to present day exploring efforts to create effective political systems, economies, and national identities. While the backbone of the course is chronological, students also pause during key periods to compare and contrast four regions/countries: Mexico, Brazil, Peru, and Cuba.
The Middle East is a region that has always had significance to the Western world, and the intensity of United States involvement is very high. Students in this course explore the ancient Middle East and the rise and influence of the three monotheistic religions. During the second trimester, students focus on the great Islamic civilizations through achievements in politics and the arts. In the last trimester, students examine the ideology of nationalism, the struggles for independence, and the interaction between Western and Middle Eastern powers. In each trimester, students respond to current events, particularly using political cartoons and literature; visual arts and music are used as a window into cultures of the peoples studied.
Russian Area Studies is an exploration of the history and culture of a region that, even after the breakup of the Soviet empire, remains the largest country in the world, spanning eleven time zones and with a landmass over twice that of the United States. Within the framework of the course, chronological, contemporary events and cultural topics are addressed throughout the year. Russia is the only major nation to so powerfully straddle two continents, resulting in an uneasy and uncertain mix that is clearly European and confidently Asian. This enriches Russian cultural contributions, justly celebrated throughout the world, to literature, music, cinema, and the visual and performing arts. The learning in this course is centered on the ability to analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and express an understanding of documentary evidence and conflicting historical interpretations.