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History and Social Sciences Courses


The history and social science program is designed to provide students with a curriculum that will allow them to think imaginatively and critically about the world. Department offerings include a core of required global and American history courses, as well as history and social science electives that examine a broad range of cultures, civilizations, and elements of the human condition. To fulfill Milton Academy’s diploma requirements, students must take two history courses: Ancient Civilizations or Modern World History (in Class III or IV) and United States History (in Class I, or II or III). The history requirement may also be met by the two-year course, The United States in the Modern World. Students who have already taken Modern World History (in Class III or IV) may not take the two-year course.

Ancient Civilizations
Class IV
This course serves as an introduction to the study of history. It examines a wide range of societies across the ancient world from East Asia to Western Europe to sub-Saharan Africa. Readings focus on the effects of geography on the growth of civilization, the interaction of cultures, and the evolution of social and political institutions, religion, and philosophy. Students read a significant number of primary sources as well as secondary accounts and interpretations. The course emphasizes building analytical thinking and reading and writing skills. In the spring semester, students conduct a major project in library research.

Modern World History: Class IV
Class IV
This course serves as an introduction to the study of history. It examines the chaotic and fragmented world of Eurasia after the Mongol imperium; out of this general chaos, the Chinese and Islamic empires established their preeminence in an already long-interconnected Asia. At the same time, European states—through exploration, exploitation, colonization, and revolution—created the beginnings of a globally connected modern world. Hence, we will trace the world from the 1500s to the end of the 20th century, and we will examine closely the ideas, individuals, and events that shaped this new world. Students read a significant number of primary sources, as well as secondary accounts and interpretations. The course emphasizes developing analytical thinking, reading and writing skills. In the spring semester, students will conduct a major project in library research.

Modern World History
Classes II & III
This course begins with an intensive study of the early modern world—a period characterized by increasing global contact and parallel evolution of economies, states and cultures. We compare Confucianism in Ming China, Islam in the Ottoman and Mughal Empires, and Christianity in Reformation Europe. We will consider the developments and repercussions of the French and Haitian revolutions, triangle trade, the Industrial Revolution and the onset of nationalism, Marxism and feminism. Our study will conclude with an examination of power and supremacy in the 20th century. We will emphasize the skills of close reading, interpretation of primary and secondary documents, and essay writing. Students will complete a major library research project in the second semester.

The United States in the Modern World 1 and 2
The United States in the Modern World 1
Classes II & III
The story of economic and political revolution—where its origins lie in the 15th and 16th centuries, how it is carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries, and how it re-shapes the world in the 19th century—is the story of this course. Students will study the modern history of the great empires of Eurasia, encounters between the peoples of Europe and the Americas, expansion of trade and technology, and the development of political ideologies. The American experience, from the voyages of Columbus to the Civil War, will be placed within the larger context of the modern world. Students will complete a major library research project in the spring semester.

The United States in the Modern World 2
Classes I & II
The United States takes a central role in the second year of this course, beginning with the impact of the Civil War and industrialization on both domestic and foreign policies. Questions of new thought in social relations, in the application of science and technology, and in governmental roles and responsibilities in the United States and in selected other nations will be studied, so that the discussion of revolutionary change begun in the first year continues and broadens. A close consideration of several Cold War topics in the second semester will enable students to reach a greater understanding of the problems faced by the 21st-century world, in particular the impact of human history on the natural world. Students will complete a major library research project early in the second semester.

United States History
Classes I, II & III
Conceptual and interpretive in nature, this course examines both the important documents (e.g., Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, Gettysburg Address, and speeches of Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Kennedy) and the multiple historical interpretations of an event or personality in the American past. Looking at the tension between freedom and order, democracy and slavery, urbanization and populism, gender and politics, localism and nationalism, students begin to see and understand that the principles and ideas fought for at the time of the American Revolution are unresolved in the later 19th and 20th centuries. Students will complete a major library research project in the spring semester. (Prerequisite: Ancient Civilizations or Modern World History.)

Advanced Topics in History

Class I & II: Completed Milton’s History graduation requirement OR Permission of the department chair.
Class III: Completed Milton’s History graduation requirement AND Permission of the department chair.

African-American History
(Semester 1)
In this course, students examine the African-American experience with an emphasis on individual and collective agency, political protest, and efforts to initiate social change. The course is organized chronologically. Students begin their study in 15th century Africa before moving quickly to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the historical foundations of Black life in the antebellum and postbellum periods. The second half of the course stresses more contemporary issues of the 20th and 21st centuries. Throughout, students will grapple with questions that pertain to isolation and identity; individualism and collectivity; race and struggle; resistance and joy; and African-American history as United States history.

History of Modern China
(Semester 1)
Since the late 20th century, China has been the most dynamic country. After suffering national decline, famines, foreign invasions, and domestic chaos, China has re-emerged as a confident, powerful, and influential country. Boasting the world’s second largest economy, China is beefing up its military, buying up natural resources and influence worldwide, and staking its flag in faraway places like the South Pole and closer to home in the South China Sea. Foreign governments eagerly accept Chinese investments across a wide range of industries, but they also complain about Chinese trade practices and attitudes. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a signature Chinese global project under the Xi government worth approximately $6 trillion, is both an example of China’s vision and a testament to its ambition. The initiative is designed to tie China’s economy to the rest of the world by developing a series of multinational railway systems, airports and deep water ports that stretch from China all the way to Western Europe. With trade, China hopes to bring about mutual economic development and prosperity. All this sounds wonderful, but critics of BRI point to a series of problems ranging from unfair Chinese trade practices and environmental degradation to corruption. So what is the real picture of today’s China? Is it a benign and rapidly developing power who is ready to take on the mantle as a defender of the global economic order? Or is it a neo-colonial upstart with a mercantile streak ready to exploit others for its own benefit? The truth lies somewhere in between, and we will use this course to uncover some of the major issues at stake. We will examine them critically using a historical lens so that China’s position, perspective, and motivation can be better understood.

History of the Middle East
(Semester 1)
This course examines the history of the Middle East from 1900 to the present. The geographic focus will be Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. We will keep two broad questions in mind as we follow the current political and social developments in the region: 1) What impact did Western imperialism and the process of decolonization have on society and politics in the Middle East? and 2) How did the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 start a process that has led to a reordering of the modern Middle East? Students will conduct individual research on the topics of their choice at the end of the semester. For students wanting to continue their study of the contemporary Middle East, the course of Globalization and Islam in the second semester builds on themes covered in this course.

Topics in Modern World History:
In the Aftermath: Case Studies in Transitional Justice
(Semester 1)
What should happen after a government’s violence against its citizens? Who should decide? The class will focus on specific case studies to explore three kinds of responses to government crimes against citizens: the policies of official forgetting (e.g., post-Franco Spain; Argentina); truth telling and reconciliation movements (e.g., post-apartheid South Africa; Australia); international prosecutions (e.g., Khmer Rouge in Cambodia); and reparations (e.g., Canada/First Nation Peoples; U.S. government/slavery). We will also explore responses from artists, filmmakers, theologians, psychologists, and survivors to understand the challenges and promise of transitional justice. Projects will include persuasive and analytical writing along with training for and practice of interviews, mediation, and mock trials.

Asian American History
(Semester 2)
Asian Americans constitute the fastest growing population in the United States. Students will explore the history of this diverse community from 1850 to the present. Throughout this period, Asian Americans have been characterized as either the “model minority” or the “yellow peril.” By focusing on the experiences of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Asian Indian, and Vietnamese Americans, students will develop a dynamic understanding of the documentation and interpretation of this history. Documentary films and readings about immigration policy, international relations, labor history, community development, and political empowerment will be the focus of our studies. Students will conduct an oral history project at the end of the semester.

The Aztecs to High-Tech:
A History of Latin America and the Caribbean in the World
(Semester 2)
Drug trafficking, poverty, political revolution. These are just a few of the images that the mention of Latin America and the Caribbean conjures. Not inaccurate, these images are also easy generalizations that obscure the realities of a region rich in history, and social and cultural complexities that have profoundly contributed to the entire pageant of humanity. This course examines that complicated, historical process. Arranged chronologically and thematically, it begins with the earliest indigenous communities and concludes with an exploration of the region’s role as a provider of cheap labor for technologically sophisticated multinational corporations like Ford and Motorola. The course deliberately integrates a global perspective that challenges participants to consider the ways the people of Latin America and the broader world have shared mutually constituted historical experiences.

Globalization and Islam
(Semester 2)
This course will explore the relationship between globalization and the Middle East in the post-9/11 world. Using readings from current scholarship, we will examine ways in which the Arab world has been shaped by economic, political, and social realities created by globalization. The first part of the course will introduce students to broad topics in globalization. Then we will apply these theories to our case studies of Egypt and Jordan. The third part of the course will focus on the complex relationship between globalization, American foreign policy, and the rise of religious extremism in Europe and the Middle East. To better connect our classroom learning to the Middle East, students will work with an NGO in Jordan to create a final project that helps raise awareness of issues related to the Syrian Refugee crisis. This course offers an optional trip to Jordan during the March vacation.

History of Civil Rights
(Semester 2)
In this course, we will examine a number of questions about the struggle for justice and equality in the United States. What did the Civil Rights workers of the 1960s hope to accomplish? What were they able to achieve? How did American society respond to this movement for social change? The first half of the course is devoted to understanding the relationship between oppression and resistance, focusing on the legacy of segregation. Students will then look at the events that shaped the modern civil rights movement. Course work includes journal writing, reaction papers, and a final research project about a contemporary Civil Rights issue. This course challenges students to develop a clear historical perspective about one of the most revolutionary periods in U.S. history.

Social Sciences

Classes I & II

American Government and Politics
(Semester 1)
The heart of this course is an examination of the interactions between the policy-making institutions of the United States government (Congress, the presidency and the executive branch, and the Supreme Court) and the nature of American political parties, interest groups, the media, and the American electoral practices. With a focus on current events, we will begin to see how the United States’ constitutional underpinnings are enforced and complicated by political culture. Through this course, students will be engaged in following political events in and out of the class, as well as partaking in independent research as a way to understand and contribute to political processes. Ultimately, this course will equip students with the foundational understandings to engage thoughtfully and purposefully in politics, while also allowing for the practice of political communication and discourse—all of which are incredibly important in our increasingly polarized political climate. (Note: To enroll in this course, students must have taken or be taking United States History or U.S. in the Modern World.)

Comparative Government
(Semester 2)
In this course, we will develop the skills and habits of mind required to study and thoughtfully participate in our global political landscape. Through concrete historical and present day examples, we will analyze the current literature and theoretical basics of comparative politics, and question why governments and institutions around the world take the form they do. We will ground our conversations in case studies from states around the world. In doing so, we will address two essential questions: What defines and complicates democracy? And how does change occur and endure? By questioning the legitimacy of governments, the distribution of power, and the roles of culture, leaders, and institutions, we will use history to explain current trends and make future predictions. Ultimately, every aspect of the course will culminate in project-based assessments that apply comparative politics to the case of the Arab Spring.

Microeconomics: The Power of Markets
(Semester 1 or 2)
This course studies the behavior of individual firms and households within specific markets, like health care, the automotive industry, and retailing. It covers such economic concepts as scarcity, opportunity cost, supply and demand, elasticity, price, and economic efficiency. Focused on the interactions within different markets, the course examines both competitive and non-competitive structures and explores the consequences of market failures. As we explore how markets operate, we will pay particular attention to a company’s costs, labor markets, capital markets and government regulation. (This course will prepare students for both Macroeconomics and Behavioral Economics. Students may not take this course if they have taken, or are planning on taking Calculus and Applied Economics.)

Macroeconomics: The Federal Government and the National Economy
(Semester 1 or 2)
This course focuses on the whole U.S. economy. It covers such economic concepts as gross domestic product, economic growth, unemployment, inflation, and trade. Economic models for a market-based national economy are examined; topics of discussion include GDP growth, fiscal policy, monetary policy, the Federal Reserve, and taxation. We will also spend some time discussing the U.S. economy in the context of the global marketplace and tackle issues of international trade, trade policy, and sustainable development. (This course will prepare students for Behavioral Economics.)

Global Economics: Inequality, Capitalism, and Sustainable Development
(Semester 2)
This course aims to explore the relationship between inequality, globalization, and economic growth. More specifically, the course is designed to answer the question of why certain nations are able to adopt institutions and policies that promote equality and under what conditions, economic, social, and political capital fosters growth and a sustainable future. How can global poverty be eradicated? What are some of the structural transformations, shifting modes of thought, dynamics of class, race, gender, ethnicity, and geographic stratification that shape the debate around global inequality? This course relies on basic principles of economic theory to analyze economic realities and policies in the U.S. and abroad with a particular focus on the impact of inequality on social justice and democracy.

Behavioral Economics: The Burdens of Decision-Making
(Semester 2)
This course explores the relatively new field of behavioral economics and works to revise standard economic models of human behavior by integrating psychology and economic thought. We will quickly discuss and dissect conventional economic theory and use that as a jumping off point to answer questions of behavior such as: How do people make decisions on what cereal to eat? Why do people feel more comfortable paying a dinner bill with a credit card instead of cash? What is the role of altruism, equity and fairness in our society and world? We will discuss these questions and many others throughout the semester. This course relies on the basic principles of economics to understand human decision making. (Prerequisite, one of the following: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Calculus and Applied Economics, Psychology Seminar or Topics in Psychology.)

Psychology Seminar
(Full Course)
This college-level course introduces students to the field of psychology, the scientific study of the mind and behavior, through hands-on experiences with research design, projects, discussion, and lessons. In addition to learning about major areas within the field of psychology—including cognition, neurobiology, development, behaviorism, socioculturalism, and mental health —students will often be required to work in teams and expected to improve their observation, leadership, collaboration, and presentation skills. Students will work towards thinking like a psychologist where they reflect critically about the theories and research presented and thoughtfully consider the human experience and the carrying influences on it. Although it is not required, students may find it helpful to have taken or be taking biology and statistics. (Topics in Psychology is NOT a prerequisite for this course.)

Topics in Psychology
(Half Course)
This course explores topics within the discipline of psychology, including development, personality theory, abnormal psychology, social psychology, and learning. Through these topics, students also study the thought of foundational and contemporary theorists within the field of psychology. Course content integrates reading from the textbook and primary sources, as well as watching film from a psychological perspective. Students are encouraged to reflect on the material in both personal and academic ways and are evaluated through interactive learning projects, analytical essays, and classroom discussions.

Religions of the Middle East
(Semester 1)
The Middle East is the birthplace of three of the world’s great religious traditions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is also a center of conflict, often stemming from religious differences. In our shrinking and pluralistic world, having knowledge of religion has become increasingly important in order to be an informed citizen. Taking a global and historical view, this course examines the development of each of the Middle Eastern religions, analyzes their connections, and contemplates the source of their tension. Students will study each religion on its own terms through class discussion, primary texts, film, and inquiry into the spiritual and religious practices of each tradition.

Religions of Asia
(Semester 2)
Modern historical events such as the liberation movement in India, the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and globalization have resulted in a closer association between the Western world and Asia. Throughout the 20th century, the West’s intrigue with Asian beliefs, philosophy and practices has intensified. This course explores the growing interest in Asian culture by focusing on the religions of the region—Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Zen—and charting their histories and influence in the global community. Students will study each religion on its own terms through class discussion, primary texts, film, and inquiry into the spiritual and religious practices of each tradition.

Activism for Justice in a Digital World
(Half Course)
Classes I, II & III
How do activists work to create a more just society in the United States and in the world? How are they combining new social media tools and traditional service activities to address problems of poverty, homelessness, hunger, educational inequity, healthcare, the environment, and immigration? How can you make a difference? This course will explore current issues through readings by contemporary authors and news sources, as well as historical documents, speakers, and field trips into Boston. An integral component of this exploration will be students’ firsthand experiences through weekly service commitments to local sites (with homework time allocated to this hands-on work). Course work includes journal writing, short papers, and action projects.​