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History and Social Sciences

In history and social science classes at Milton, students encounter, both in their readings and in class discussions, a variety of ideas and viewpoints. From textbooks and documents and their own research they gather evidence to help them assess the significance of intellectual movements, of social relationships and of political institutions. They look at particular cultures in depth and at the contacts among cultures over broad periods of time. They test their newly won insights in daily class work and in frequent writing assignments. They learn to question and to know that great questions have more than one answer.

Studying U.S. History in Dynamic Relationship with International Events

American history has traditionally been taught as a national narrative, as a history that was independent of global dynamics that fundamentally influenced and shaped its evolution. In response, Milton history teachers spent several summers developing a course that put the story of American history into the broader global context. Students who take the United States in the Modern World, a two-year course, look first at the powerful empires that succeeded the Pax Mongolica, at intellectual and religious movements of early modern Europe, and then at the 18th-century political and economic revolutions and how they shook the world. In the second year students study events of the past 150 years and consider how a variety of peoples have defined nationhood during years of industrialization, imperialism, global war, decolonization, social movements and cold war.

Since there is yet no textbook that teaches United States history in a global context, the history department has created a syllabus that emphasizes historical documents with accompanying secondary source readings. One of the important tasks of the course is to help students learn to read primary documents closely and to understand them in their appropriate historical context.

Using newly published research, we have recently expanded our unit on the Atlantic Revolutions of the early 19th century to give particular emphasis to Haiti and New Orleans. The case study we use is the slave revolution in St. Domingue (present-day Haiti) and the impact of the revolution on the emerging sugar and slave economy of the southern United States. As they learn about the first black republic in the western hemisphere, students also explore the impact of Toussaint L’Ouverture’s successful revolution on the abolition movement in England, on the expansion of territory and slaveholding in the United States, and finally, on the end of the international slave trade.