Academics
Curriculum Guide

Select a Department

History

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_Caliphs and Kings: 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_China and the World

    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.

    China is known as the “Middle Kingdom”, a term which culturally places the country and its people at the center of the world. As a result, throughout its long history China has alternately sought to engage or restrict interaction with the lands and peoples outside of its perceived borders. This course traces the history of interaction between China and the world. Using a collection of primary and secondary sources, students will explore the nature of this interaction from the ancient to modern period. Starting with the opening of the Silk Road to the Near East under the Han, the course will explore the rich interaction of cultures during the Tang, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, and the crisis outside powers presented China during the Qing and modern periods. An introduction to non-Western oriented historical thought will help guide the study of this critical period of world history.
     
  • 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_Honors American Government and Politics

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

    Honors American Government and Politics is an elective course open to students who have completed the United States history survey course. It provides a close examination of America’s political theories, institutions, and processes. After a review of the historical foundations of the United States and of contemporary American political culture, the student will study the fundamental principles contained in the US Constitution. Application of these principles will be stressed through case studies, with emphasis on the Congress, presidency, federal courts, and the bureaucracy and on how power is shared and wielded at the national level. 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

    Frederick Jordan

    Chair
    (540)672-6181 Ext. 8616
    Swarthmore College - BA
    State University of New York - MA
    University of Notre Dame - PhD
    1996
    Bio
  • Photo of Ty  Adams

    Ty Adams

    (540) 672-6181 ext. 8605
    Appalachian State University - BS
    University of Virginia - MEd
    2016
    Bio
  • Photo of Matt Boesen

    Matt Boesen

    Dean of Faculty
    540-672-6021
    Yale University - BA
    University of Virginia - MA, PhD
    2001
    Bio
  • Photo of Paul  Brazinski

    Paul Brazinski

    Bucknell University - BA
    University of Cambridge - MA
    Catholic University of America - PhD
    2017
    Bio
  • Photo of Taaj Davis

    Taaj Davis

    Kenan-Lewis Fellow History
    Kenyon College - BA
    2019
    Bio
  • Photo of Robert Kendall

    Robert Kendall

    (540) 672-6181 ext. 8618
    University of North Carolina - BA
    Dartmouth College - MALS
    1982
    Bio
  • Photo of Natalie  Rodriguez-Nelson

    Natalie Rodriguez-Nelson

    Kenan-Lewis Fellow
    Princeton University - BA
    2018
    Bio
  • Photo of Frank Tallman

    Frank Tallman

    (540) 672-6181 Ext 8620
    Vanderbilt University - BA
    Dartmouth College - MALS
    2004
    1995
    Bio
  • Photo of Tony  Watson

    Tony Watson

    (540) 672-6181 ext. 8644
    The Johns Hopkins University - BA, MS
    Harvard University - MDiv
    University of Cambridge - PhD
    2016
    Bio
  • Photo of Gerry Wixted

    Gerry Wixted

    History Deparment
    Dickinson College - BA
    University of Virginia - MEd
    2015
    Bio
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.