We offer our students a college preparatory humanities curriculum in a different format from that of many schools. Our courses are generally offered by semester, and conducted in small, multi-age seminars. While we do target specific developmental skills for underclassmen in more conventional courses such as American History or Expository Writing, most classes contain both literary and social science content so that students are required to approach the course’s subject from a variety of academic perspectives. Critical writing, independent research, seminar discussion and close reading are all emphasized.
Students are required to take classes in which they encounter several cultural regions (including, specifically, the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southern Asia) and eras (which divide by region). No class could reasonably contain all modes of inquiry—archaeology is more applicable in some courses, political science in others, for example—but over the course of their time at the school, students will be exposed to the research methodologies of a wide variety of social sciences. Similarly, students will be exposed to a wide variety of literary forms that we believe are too often neglected in conventional English classes. These are not presented abstractly, but in their appropriate historical, formal, and cultural contexts. In aggregate, students master much of the same material they might have encountered in broad survey courses, but by approaching that material in a thematically centered, intensive, and cross-curricular fashion, students learn to make different connections, to examine and deliberate and to independently investigate as scholars do.
Ancient American Civilization Ancient American Civilizations is an exploration of the foundational, empirical cultures of Mesoamerica, the Maya and the Aztecs, through the lens of Archaeology. We will be using three common college texts: Coe and Koontz’s Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, Coe and Houston’s The Maya and Renfrew and Bahn’s Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. Evaluation will primarily be through testing, including a substantial exam, and through class discussion and projects undertaken throughout the semester.
Alexandria Multiculturalism and Progress in the Ancient World We will watch as a new city, Alexandria, is founded as a hybrid of North African and Southern European culture; we will learn how new concepts of culture, knowledge, and power were tested; we will explore the wonders of the world’s first library, museum, and scientific research institution. We will see how vastly different cultures merged and mingled in a 1000-year attempt at a multicultural utopia. Then we’ll watch it all come crashing down. Students will explore how the city’s vibrant intellectual culture changed under the successive regimes of the Ptolemies, and how it related to ideas both of tolerance and of empire-building and governance. In the process, they will explore the roots of our modern ideas on science, philosophy, mathematics, religion, history, poetry, technology, geography and more.
Arthur: Warlord / Chieftain / King King Arthur may have been the greatest, most important king of England for centuries; or, he may never have existed at all. Real or not, he has influenced our culture through the hundreds of versions of his life in a 1500-year fanfic tradition. That huge body of literature constitutes one of the most diverse and expansive sagas in Western culture. This course explores the contours, historical framework, and major themes of Arthurian mythos as it developed. Through literary analysis, class discussion, research and creative projects students will investigate the Dark-Age context of the possible historical Arthur, the history of the medieval writers who developed the legends of Arthur and his court, and the late medieval world that exploded with Arthur-inspired chivalric culture.
Baseball in Literature Baseball has long provided America with its own mythology. Heroes are created and inflated into gods and occasionally goddesses. But all of these gods and goddesses have tremendous flaws. Many fall hard from the desire to achieve greatness. Others fall through no fault of their own. There are those who arrive with hope in the spring and disappoint every fall. And then there are those who carry scars precipitated by racism and abandonment. “Baseball in Literature” explores these themes and characters through works by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, Ring Lardner, Donald Hall, William Carlos Williams, Bernard Malamud, August Wilson, Doris Kearns Goodwin, John Updike and Sherman Alexie, among others. “Baseball in Literature” will look at such historical epochs as the so-called dead ball era, the indelible impression left by the Black Sox Scandal, and explore the integration of the leagues and the end of the Negro Leagues. The course will cover new myths of the late 20th century since crushed by the steroid scandal.
Dante & Milton: The Devil and Republics This course will close-read Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost beginning with an overview of the European “Dark Ages”, and later with a similar overview of post Reformation European and English politics. The Inferno and Paradise Lost are epic poems written by literary giants who lived in early and war-torn republics. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy was written during Europe’s Middle Ages when 14th century Florence was giving birth to the Renaissance. John Milton’s 17th century Puritans, after a bloody civil war, overthrew their English king and established a Commonwealth Republic. When they both ultimately failed in their political lives they went on to write these monumental epic poems, in the speech of common people, which served both as allegories of their times and as deep spiritual self-reflections.
Haiti This course will ask students to explore Haitian culture and literature. We will study the geography of Haiti, as well as its history of colonialization, slavery and revolution. The class will also explore the current state of Haiti’s reputation as being the poorest country economically in the world, and investigate why this is. We will conclude the class by sampling Haiti’s rich resources of literature, visual arts, music and food, as well as delve into how religion plays into it all.
History of Tea Chinese legend sets the story of tea’s discovery to 2737 BCE. From its earliest days tea was used as a medicine with magical powers, an essential source of nutrition for the poor, a tribute paid to emperors, a commodity which garnered enormous wealth and created empires. Tea eventually became the spark for cultural and political revolutions and was the cause for wars that continue to affect us to this day. This course will trace the history and culture of tea from its origins in China to its consumption in the West. Over the duration of this class we will learn something of the history and geography of China, read Asian poetry and excerpts from Western literature and art that were inspired by the leaf. And of course, we will brew and taste teas, learn about tea ceremonies and conclude with an English style tea party.
India is enormous, a subcontinent-sized country with a long, complex history and a mindboggling diversity of religions, languages and ethnicities. We cannot hope to cover all, or even a fraction, of it in a semester. What we can do is figure out how to approach a place so overwhelmingly big and rich. Contemporary Anglophone Indian Literature, due in part to British colonial history, is central to India’s rich heritage. Much of our exploration will be through that literature. We will also read excerpts of major religious texts, watch films, and otherwise delve into the culture. This class is meant to be a broad survey. The teachers are not themselves Indian (obviously) or content experts. Our job is to serve as guides to the process of self-education, to finding one’s way into a culture, to moving from source to source, text to text, to becoming a more literate global citizen.
Musical Theater History Alongside Jazz, the musical is a great American art form. But its genesis ties in with European forms of ballad opera, grand opera and operetta. This course traces the development of what has become known as the “Broadway Musical,” from John Gay’s landmark, Beggar’s Opera, through explorations of opera, operetta, the much maligned “musical comedy,” Broadway’s Golden Age as well as more contemporary works. In several cases, musicals will be matched side by side with their original literary sources, examining musicals as social commentary and at times a push for Nativism or Americanism.
The American Civil Rights Movement Though the American Civil Rights Movement is not an easily contained piece of history, it is easy to argue that the entire history of the United States has been marred with inequalities based solely on superficial differences. In this class the students will look at a span of the Civil Rights Movement from post WWII to the present. They will read, watch and listen to prominent documents, speeches and art from this era to help them see the complexities inherent in the struggle to obtain equality.
Tree-Hugger Sci-fi Students will investigate ecological themes in American science fiction of the postwar decades, with a particular focus on writers in western states. Leigh Brackett, Frank Herbert, Ursula K. Leguin and other authors will frame discussions about the perceptions, hopes, and realities of the ecological, technological, and cultural changes of their time. Lectures and discussions will open doorways into the history of speculative genres, the historical breadth of the postwar era’s increasing ecological consciousness, and contextual and thematic links between the two. The development of critical discussion, research, writing, and presentation skills will receive particular focus. Students will write one critical or research paper, give a presentation in coordination with the CHS’s Pi Day event, and read roughly 30 pages a week.
U.S. History In this course we will survey the political, economic, and cultural history of what has become the United States between European colonization and living memory. First semester, students will be introduced to historical method and perspectives as we explore how the initial interactions of European colonists, Native American societies, and African slaves affected the shape that the future nation would eventually take, and examine the growth of major colonies, the founding and territorial expansion of the United States, and the many developments in American culture, self-image, and economics up through the Civil War. We will trace struggles for equality in race, gender, and class within the country, and its effect on other societies with which it has interacted. In the second semester, we will follow these threads up to the present day, while consolidating skills in historical analysis and research. Students will develop their historical literacy and critical sensibilities, in order to understand the processes of historical change and the roles and effects of the U.S. on its citizens and the world, laying the groundwork for responsible citizenship and for their further studies in the Humanities.