History Courses



World History provides incoming third formers the skills they need as foundations for their Berkshire career. Students use library resources to complete oral presentations and research projects; they study and analyze primary documents to improve their critical thinking skills; and they develop strong writing skills through work on research assignments and test essays. Themes of the class include power and authority, human interaction with the environment, cultural intersection and crossover, empire building, religious and ethical systems, and scientific and technological innovation. In addition, the students discuss current events to connect the history they are learning to the important issues confronting nations and individuals in the world today. The first half of the course covers the development of Greek Civilization, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Middle Ages. Attention is given to the impact of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam throughout these time periods. The students then have the opportunity to pick between two different electives in the second semester.

World History Elective Offerings

Asian History 500-1500 C.E.
This course explores the development of new patterns of civilization: in the Middle East, China, and India, and the Mongol and Byzantine Empires. In particular it examines the Silk Road, a series of long-distance trade routes that connected Asia, and the vast empires that sprung up along its length and helped transform those societies that participated in it.

This course offers students an in-depth look at Native American history. Focusing primarily on the late-1800’s, the class analyzes the rise and fall of the American Indian. Special attention will be paid to notable figures and events in Native American history such as Quanah Parker, Geronimo, Christopher “Kit” Carson, and the Wounded Knee Massacre. Through nightly readings, classroom discussions, and course assessments, students come to appreciate the often forgotten history of the American Indian.



Modern World History acquaints students with the major events, concepts, and trends that have developed around the world from the Scientific Revolution to the modern day. The course examines themes and events in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, and Asia. The primary themes of the course include political and social systems, global interactions, religious and ethical systems, and scientific and technological innovations. Students develop the skills to read critically and research effectively through the use of primary and secondary sources; they also become comfortable with presentation technology and public speaking. Students master thesis-based essays and write a research essay on a topic in world history as a culmination of their studies. A portion of class each week is dedicated to studying current events, thus encouraging them to relate historical topics to the issues facing the post 9-11 world. Through demanding readings, group discussions, research projects, and presentations students come to learn about their roles in the larger global community.



Required for graduation and usually taken during the fifth-form year, this course is a chronological survey of U.S. history from the colonial period to the present. Topics studied include the colonization of British America, the American Revolution, the establishment of the Federal Republic, territorial expansion and the growth of sectionalism, the Civil War, the development of the United States as an industrial and world power, and the Cold War. Although the course focuses on political development, students also examine the key economic and social developments in U.S. history. Students develop research skills and the ability to use documentary evidence in developing a thesis and are required to write essays, short papers and a significant, college-level research project.



Discussed in the first semester are micro-economic concepts including demand, supply, market equilibrium, subjective value theory, theory of production, theory of cost, and different forms of industrial organization. In the second semester, discussion centers on macro-economic concepts including national income accounting, the Keynesian model (in its various forms), the classical model, international trade, balance of payments, and the theory of comparative advantage.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



Advanced Economics blends a traditional, theory-based approach to economics with the practical applications of business management and planning. In addition to discussing and debating micro- and macro-economic concepts, students form groups to devise and write a business plan for a product or service of their own choosing. Groups compete for the Sabin Entrepreneurial Prize, to be awarded on April 26th, 2012. Business plans are evaluated by a team of judges on the basis of their ingenuity, soundness, and sustainability.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



Using what the American Bar Association called the twenty most influential Supreme Court decisions in our history as a guide, students study the American governmental system from the point of view of the judicial branch of government. Students are required to write a summation and essay on each of the cases.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



The structure of this course is topical and is designed to develop an understanding of the limits of the human condition as reflected in American history and American institutions. The format of the course entails the viewing of modern films that depict historical events. After each screening, students research the event and compare reality to depictions in film and modern culture.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



This course explores the philosophical concepts surrounding the central theistic notion of God. Questions considered are: Does such a being exist at all? If so, what qualities does it possess (omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence)? Are there any proofs for the existence of God? Is the existence of God compatible with the existence of undeserved suffering and other evils? Through classroom discussion and systematic evaluation of philosophical arguments, students explore the ideas and responses of several renowned philosophers to these fundamental questions.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



This course encourages students to contemplate the nature of morally right behavior. After initial discussion and debate of the central ethical theories (including cultural relativism, utilitarianism, and Kantianism), students examine several applied topics. Controversial issues considered previously in the course have included abortion, euthanasia, animal rights, cloning, the ethics of war, world hunger, and the death penalty. Students are expected to formally direct much of the class during the final quarter of the course by selecting, researching, and leading a debate about a controversial ethical topic.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



This course introduces students to the three Abrahamic religions through the study of each religion’s Holy Scriptures: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. The course includes a discussion of the history of each religion and text, as well as themes and issues that arise from each. Students visit a service for each of the religions and engage in discussion and debate via video conference with a school in the Middle East.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



This course centers around an in-depth study of Modern Middle Eastern politics beginning with the creation of the modern Israeli state. Special attention is given to the impact of Israeli and Palestinian nationalism, the role of oil and Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the current war on terror. Students also engage in discussion and debate via video conference with a school in the Middle East.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department



This course introduces the debate about the role of Africa in the modern world. Students examine the current challenges facing several African nations looking to create stability yet which remain torn by ethnic conflict, the devastation of AIDS, or fettered by desperate poverty.  Through the modern lens, students study the recent history of Africa and assess the political, social, and economic future of the continent. The course is structured as a college-level seminar, rooted in discussion and in-depth analysis of the material.

Prerequisite: US History or permission of the Department

History of Art (Semester 1 and/or Semester 2)

History of Art compares and contrasts different styles and movements of art through the centuries, from classical antiquities to modern art and the contemporary art scene. Rather than follow a traditional time line, the course jumps from century to century, making unusual and unexpected connections, and noticing that  wildly different approaches to great art nevertheless share important characteristics and influences.  Through discussion, research, and critical analysis, students reach a better understanding of how art has influenced and reflected our culture. The class incorporates numerous museum and gallery visits, as well as some “hands-on” art-making, to help students better understand different approaches and techniques.
Prerequisite: 2 semesters of visual or performing arts.


This yearlong, college-level course traces the development of European history from 1450 to the present day. It introduces the cultural, political, economic, and social factors that shaped the history of Europe. The course emphasizes the skills required to succeed both on the AP examination and in college-level history classes. Students critically examine historical texts and primary source material, analyze evidence, debate historical interpretations, and learn to express their own historical perspective through writing.

Prerequisite: Permission of the Department



This yearlong course provides students with the analytical skills and enduring understandings necessary to deal critically with the problems and materials in United States history. Students are prepared for success on the AP examination as well as intermediate and advanced level college courses. Emphasis is on determining the relevance, reliability, and importance of evidence used in historical scholarship. Students develop the skills necessary to develop an informed judgment and to present reasons and evidence clearly and persuasively in an essay format.

Prerequisite: Permission of the Department



This course gives students a critical perspective on government and politics in the United States. Students begin by briefly studying the history that led to the formation of the republic and the vision that the framers of the Constitution had for the United States.  During the remainder of the course, students are expected to become familiar with the various institutions, groups, beliefs, and ideas that constitute the American political process. There is a focus on the three branches of the federal government, the relationship between the federal government and the states, and how actors in government and among the citizenry shape public policy.  Analysis of general concepts used to interpret American politics is complemented by examination of specific case studies.

Prerequisite: US History and permission of the Department

Berkshire School

245 North Undermountain Road
 |  Sheffield, MA 01257
 |  T: 413 229 8511

Berkshire School is a co-ed, New England college preparatory boarding and day school offering a rigorous academic course of study. Our campus, located in Massachusetts, has state-of-the-art academic, artistic and athletic facilities on a stunning 400-acre campus in the Berkshires.

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