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.
1519: Spanish Impact on the New World and Old On November 8th, 1519 the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortez first entered Tenochtitlan at the head of an expedition that would ultimately destroy the Aztec Empire. That same year Ferdinand Magellan set out to circumnavigate the globe under a Spanish flag. The events that followed have transformed the world socially, economically, artistically and philosophically in ways that continue to this day. This class will examine La Época de Oro while keeping in mind the profound changes that resulted from the nascent Spanish Empire’s collision with the rest of the world. Upperclassmen with Spanish language proficiency will be encouraged to read the texts in Spanish, however, no knowledge of the Spanish language or culture is required.
Alaska: Seward’s Folly It was called Seward’s Folly when purchased from Russia in 1867. But Alaska has proved to be a treasure trove of myth, culture, literature and, yes, gold. As the weather turns a little frosty with the arrival of fall, this seminar will explore Alaska’s history and cultures, its writers and poets. Along the way, we’ll check into different views as to who can claim this vast and beautiful land as their own. Authors explored will include John McPhee, Jean Craighead George, Jack London, and John Muir. Certainly, Secretary Seward knew what he was doing!
Beowulf: The Monsters and The Translations Beowulf is not merely a good tale about bold kings and evil monsters; it is an epic kaleidoscope of passions and fears, a mysterious puzzle piece of Northern European myth-systems, a window into the changing beliefs of early middle ages England. What can the textual, historic, and poetic evidence in this masterpiece reveal about the people who enjoyed it? What does the poem’s irrepressible popularity throughout the world today say about us? Beowulf: The Monsters and the Translations will focus on building seminar discussion, close reading, research, and textual analysis skills; students will use Beowulf and other works in Old English as the subject of literary criticism and literary history. Students will read 10 to 30 pages a week, work closely with Old English to translate their own passage of the poem, write one critical or research paper, and complete a creative project.
Books and Battles in Timbuktu “From here to Timbuktu” is a phrase that we still hear from time to time, but many people don’t even know where the city is. Yet in the Middle Ages, it was part of a fabulously wealthy and large empire, the center of intellectual activity south of the Sahara, and hosted a famous university and the largest library in the entire world. When colonization came, the library was hidden by the citizens for generations until after independence. Today, it is a war-torn and poverty-stricken place in which hundreds of people risked their lives to smuggle that library out under the noses of Al Qaeda occupation. Students will embark on a collective research project to explore medieval and modern Mali’s history and culture, seek the reasons for its continued marginalization in Western scholarship, and find methodologies to overcome the challenge that it presents.
Debate, Rhetoric, and Logic: The Ethics of Language This class will explore the connection of language and audience. The students will learn forms of logic to help analyze speech, debates and persuasive writings. They will look at some of the historical points of debating and rhetoric, which will also give them tools to consider these within current events. As the class moves through the semester, ethics will be a lens that will also be placed upon how language is disseminated. Students will use the skills learned to write, speak and debate.
Early-Modern Japan: Consolidation and Change Through the Image of the Samurai Class Beneath the centuries old pop image of samurai lived a much more complicated figure. During Japan’s early-modern period (1600 – 1868), a time of relative peace, outside a core of enfeoffed bureaucrats, many samurai found themselves unemployed – especially prone to lethargy, bankruptcy, decadence, and lawlessness. Early-modern Japan: Consolidation and Change Through the Image of the Samurai Class will explore, through recent scholarship, primary documents, visual artwork, and literature; the shifting political and cultural role of samurai from the medieval to early-modern period; their changing relationship with their subjects, in particular, an increasingly literate, consumer class of urbanizing townsmen (chōnin); and how new intellectual currents and political frustrations helped early-modern samurai set the stage for radical change. Students will work on research, writing, and seminar discussion skills; they will write a research paper and read roughly 30 pages a week.
Grimms’ Brothers Modern Germany can trace its origin, in part, to the years in which the Grimm’s Brothers were collecting folk tales and studying the roots of the German language. This course will look at the ways in which we construct identity: though our social and historical contexts, philosophical perspectives, the language we speak, and yes, the fairytales we read as children. The objective of the course will be to teach students critical thinking skills and ways to use them through presentation, writing, and participation. We will explore literary theory, the linguistic origins of language and modern abnormal psychology using the first edition of the Brothers Grimm Folk & Fairy Tales as our guide. Students will be encouraged to consistently step outside their comfort area, to be prepared to try things they are not good at, to seek the uncanny valley and will be expected to apply all that they’ve learned to short stories by Franz Kafka at the end of the term.
Introduction to International Relations Introduction to International Relations at CHS helps young people gain an understanding of the ever-changing fields of international relations and international affairs. Born out of the First World War and rooted in thousands of years of human history, this discipline focuses on the interactions between nations, other communities, and leaders, as well as the causes and effects of such interactions, which often involve great tension. This is a highly dynamic area of study.
Theater of the Velvet Revolution The Iron Curtain! Despite its oppressive might, it feared the written word. Following the Prague Spring (1968), Soviet-blocked Czechoslovakia sought to shut down any form of expression that might disagree or threaten the ruling regime. Theaters were shut down, while actors and directors were arrested. Yet the theater maintained a powerful pulse—underground—by creating its own language—in metaphor and movement. This course looks at the history of the country and how theater played a significant role in bringing democracy back to the Czech people before and during the Velvet Revolution—a bloodless rebellion against communist rule and oppression. In addition to exploring the Czech Republic’s history, a number of key Czech playwrights and other theater artists will be explored, including that nation’s future (and democratically-elected) president, Vaclav Havel. In addition to Havel, writers covered include Karel Capek and Pavel Kohout as well as various critics and historians.
US 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 their effect on a developing society. 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 both responsible citizenship and further studies in the Humanities.