Curriculum Detail

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The disciplined study of history encourages students to pose questions, examine evidence, and reach conclusions about the development of humankind. At Woodberry Forest students discover the historical method of gathering and interpreting factual information from primary and secondary sources in order to gain a better understanding of the past. The History Department stresses reading, writing, note-taking, and outlining to help students develop vital communication and critical thinking skills.

Woodberry Forest requires three history courses: Stories and Histories for third formers, US history for fourth formers, and one of several transnational electives for fifth formers.
  • History_Stories and Histories: An Introduction to Historical Analysis

    An introduction to the academic study of history, this course addresses selected topics and themes in the history of Western Civilization and is required of all third formers. Each of the eleven units in the course begins with a story: the assassination of Julius Caesar, the First Crusade, the trial of Galileo, and other iconic moments from the past that highlight the dramatic dimension of the human experience. Students then use these episodes to learn the craft of the historian: asking “why” and “how” questions that reach beyond narrative towards analysis – from story to history. Connecting topics from Ancient Greece and Rome with related topics from Europe and the world after 1500, each of the three terms in the course addresses a single theme: war, culture, and society (fall term); democracy and leadership (winter term); and science and technology (spring term). Over the course of the year, students systematically develop their analytical writing skills. In the fall term, students begin with very short (one-paragraph) papers, combining three of these short papers into their first of several full-length (approximately three-page) essays shortly after the fall midterm. In the winter term, students learn how to read, analyze, and manipulate primary sources – and how to incorporate primary sources into their written work. In the spring term, students write their first substantial research paper, bringing together in one project the analytical and writing skills that they have developed over the course of the year.
  • History_United States History (Regular and Honors)

    Required of all fourth formers, United States History reviews the important aspects of the history of the United States through primary and secondary sources from colonial times to the late twentieth century. It is arranged topically within a chronological framework and stresses the development of America’s political institutions and political theory. Pertinent social, constitutional, economic, and diplomatic themes are studied in order to understand the complexity and relationship of such forces in our political system. Students write several major papers throughout the course: synthetic papers which require them to draw from a wide range of course material; a research paper based solely on primary sources; and a research paper involving both primary and secondary sources drawn from an array of subscription databases and the extensive collections of the Woodberry library. Honors United States History covers much of the same material as the United States History course, but in greater breadth, depth, and detail. Several college-level monographs are used to complement a standard college survey textbook. Placement in honors United States History is determined by teacher recommendation for returning fourth formers and by admissions information for new fourth formers. In all cases, honors placement is at the discretion of the department.
  • History_Islamic History and Politics (Regular and Honors)

    Fifth formers have priority in enrollment for this course. Where space permits, it is open to seniors. Enrollment in specific courses may be limited due to space considerations.

    This course traces the history of interaction between the West and the Islamic world. Using a collection of primary and secondary sources, students will explore, in successive terms, Muslim-Christian relations from the rise of Islam through to the Crusades, Islam in America, and Global Islam and modern Islamic Studies. An introduction to non-Western oriented historical thought will help guide the study of this critical subject.
  • History_World Wars I and II and Their Aftermath (Regular and Honors)

    Fifth formers have priority in enrollment for this course. Where space permits, it is open to seniors. Enrollment in specific courses may be limited due to space considerations.

    The 20
    t​ h​ century was a transformative century. Much of the change was a direct or indirect consequence of World War I. The fall term is devoted to study of the causes, course, and consequences of World War I. In the winter focus shifts to World War II, another catastrophic war that emerged due to the “failures of the peace” from World War I. In the spring, the students turned their attention to a study of how the wars shaped the post-war non-Western modern world. Case studies on three continents will be undertaken: Asia (the war in Vietnam), Africa (the Congo), and the Middle East (the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup​ in Iran and the subsequent 1979 Revolution). The course uses multiple perspectives, including military history, political history, diplomatic history, social history, economics, film studies, literary criticism, and more.
  • History_Ancient Empires

    Fifth formers have priority in enrollment for this course. Where space permits, it is open to seniors. Enrollment in specific courses may be limited due to space considerations.

    The Great Pyramids of Egypt, the meteoric rise and sudden death of Alexander the Great, and the thrills of the Roman Colosseum: some of the most fascinating individuals, buildings, and rituals of the ancient world were closely tied to the emergence, growth, and flowering of the first extensive empires in world history. This course will investigate the origins, characteristics, and significance of the Egyptian, Macedonian, Roman, and Byzantine empires, the four greatest empires of the Ancient world. Like Woodberry's other history courses, this course will focus heavily on analysis of both primary and secondary texts. Studying ancient empires that are as much as five thousand years in the past, however, requires us to look at other kinds of evidence as well. This course will therefore also provide students with a brief introduction to archaeology: how scholars use material as well as textual evidence to reconstruct and analyze the past.
  • History_Europe and the World

    Students in this course will examine seven episodes in European history: the Protestant Reformation; the reign of Louis XIV; the French Revolution; 19th century imperialism; the Russian Revolution; the Holocaust; and the Cold War. Each unit will include a comparison with a corresponding event in non-western history. The course will employ both primary and secondary sources throughout the school year.
  • History_The Atlantic World

    This course focuses on the Atlantic World as a single entity, tied together by economic trade, demographic migration, and competing cultures. Social and intellectual history will be covered as well as more traditional political topics. Students will work with a wide variety of primary and secondary sources.
  • History_Revolutions

    This course involves a comparative study of the major revolutions in history. Possible areas of study include the English Glorious Revolution of 1689; American Revolution of 1775; the French Revolution of 1789; the Russian Revolution of 1917; the Chinese Revolution of 1949; and the Iranian Revolution of 1978.
  • History_American Government and Politics (Honors)

    This course is normally open only to seniors. They do not count toward the three-year graduation requirement.

    Prerequisite: completion of US History. Honors American Government and Politics provides students with a close examination of America’s political theories, institutions, and processes. They will come to understand the historical foundations of the United States and of contemporary American political culture and the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Thereafter, the course will cover the primary American political institutions: the Congress, the presidency, the federal courts, and the bureaucracy. Links will be made between these institutions and political parties, interest groups, the media, and public opinion in order to understand the forces and constraints on policy making. The class moves off campus once each trimester to observe policymaking at Montpelier (the home of James Madison), the nation’s capital of Washington DC, and the state capital of Richmond. The students also periodically meet with visiting political participants, including officeholders, campaign advisers, and interest group advocates.

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Frederick Jordan
    Dr. Frederick Jordan
    (540)672-3900 Ext. 8616
    Swarthmore College - BA
    State University of New York - MA
    University of Notre Dame - PhD
  • Photo of Matthew Boesen
    Dr. Matthew Boesen
    History, Academic Affairs
    Dean of Faculty
    Yale University - BA
    University of Virginia - MA, PhD
  • Photo of Paul  Brazinski
    Dr. Paul Brazinski
    Bucknell University - BA
    University of Cambridge - MA
    Catholic University of America - PhD
  • Photo of Chad Bullock
    Chad Bullock
    Kenan Lewis Fellow, History
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8607
    William and Mary - BA
    William and Mary - MA
  • Photo of Taaj Davis
    Taaj Davis
    Kenan-Lewis Fellow History
    Kenyon College - BA
    University of Virginia - MEd
  • Photo of Robert Kendall
    Robert Kendall
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8618
    University of North Carolina - BA
    Dartmouth College - MALS
  • Photo of Mitch  Morris
    Mitch Morris
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8612
    Williams College - BS
  • Photo of David G. Smith
    David G. Smith
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8613
    William and Mary - BA
    Harvard Divinity School - MA
    University of Virginia - PhD candidate
  • Photo of Frank Tallman
    Mr. Frank C. Tallman '95
    (540) 672-3900 Ext 8620
    Vanderbilt University - BA
    Dartmouth College - MALS
  • Photo of Tony  Watson
    Dr. Tony Watson
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8644
    The Johns Hopkins University - BA, MS
    Harvard University - MDiv
    University of Cambridge - PhD
Woodberry Forest admits students of any race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, and national or ethnic origin to all of the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sexual orientation, disability, religious belief, or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic or other school-administered programs. The school is authorized under federal law to enroll nonimmigrant students.