Academics
Curriculum Guide

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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. Sixth formers may choose from a variety of electives.
  • 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 units in the course begins with a story: the Iliad and the Trojan War, Great Britain’s survival alone against the Nazi menace in 1940-1941, Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, 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. Grounded in topics that bridge ancient and modern history, each of the three terms in the course addresses a single theme: war, culture, and society (fall term); the individual conscience and the state (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 late in the fall. In the winter term, students learn how to read, analyze, and manipulate primary sources — and how to incorporate primary sources into their written work. Late in the winter 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 an honors section is determined by grades and 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 must take one of these courses to satisfy the school’s graduation requirement. Sixth formers may elect to take one or more, and will have priority in registration. In registering, students should indicate a) how many history courses they intend to take, and b) what their ranked choices are. Honors designations will be made after course enrollment is complete. Students are not guaranteed their first choice course.

    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, the rise of Islam through to the Crusades, Islam in America, and Global Islam, the Middle East, and Modern Islamist Movements, including Al Qaeda and ISIS. 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 must take one of these courses to satisfy the school’s graduation requirement. Sixth formers may elect to take one or more, and will have priority in registration. In registering, students should indicate a) how many history courses they intend to take, and b) what their ranked choices are. Honors designations will be made after course enrollment is complete. Students are not guaranteed their first choice course.

    The 20th 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 the 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 (Iran). 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 must take one of these courses to satisfy the school’s graduation requirement. Sixth formers may elect to take one or more, and will have priority in registration. In registering, students should indicate a) how many history courses they intend to take, and b) what their ranked choices are. Honors designations will be made after course enrollment is complete. Students are not guaranteed their first choice course.

    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. This course will focus heavily on analysis of traditional primary and secondary texts but will also engage other historical sources such as archaeology and the question of how scholars use material evidence to reconstruct and analyze the past.
  • History_Europe and the World

    Fifth formers must take one of these courses to satisfy the school’s graduation requirement. Sixth formers may elect to take one or more, and will have priority in registration. In registering, students should indicate a) how many history courses they intend to take, and b) what their ranked choices are. Honors designations will be made after course enrollment is complete. Students are not guaranteed their first choice course.

    This course centers on six episodes in European history: 16th century Antwerp; the reign of Peter the Great; the career of Napoleon Bonaparte; mid-Victorian England; the Holocaust; and East Germany during the Cold War.  Students will read six books (one for each unit) and will write two research papers (during the fourth and fifth marking periods).  The assessment at the end of each trimester will consist of an exam.  There will be an emphasis on the global connections between events in Europe and those in the wider world, as well as an emphasis on interpreting primary and secondary historical sources. 
  • History_The Atlantic World

    Fifth formers must take one of these courses to satisfy the school’s graduation requirement. Sixth formers may elect to take one or more, and will have priority in registration. In registering, students should indicate a) how many history courses they intend to take, and b) what their ranked choices are. Honors designations will be made after course enrollment is complete. Students are not guaranteed their first choice course.

    This course is designed to establish a fundamental understanding of the social, cultural, political, and economic forces that have shaped the Atlantic World since the fifteenth century. Over the course of four hundred years a growing web of interdependence emerged between Europe, Africa, and the Americans. We will study the convergence of those continents and the ensuing interactions and patterns that have wrought an entirely new framework for historical analysis. This course also explores the connections between African, European, and Indigenous populations, as well as the exchanges, migrations, and conflicts that resulted. 
  • 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)

    Courses limited to sixth formers 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
    History
    Chair
    (540)672-3900 Ext. 8616
    Swarthmore College - BA
    State University of New York - MA
    University of Notre Dame - PhD
    1996
    Bio
  • Photo of Matthew Boesen
    Dr. Matthew Boesen
    History, Academic Affairs
    Dean of Faculty
    540-672-6021
    Yale University - BA
    University of Virginia - MA, PhD
    2001
    Bio
  • Photo of Bowen  Borgeson
    Bowen Borgeson
    History
    (540) 672-3900 Ext. 8648
    St. Lawrence University - BA
    Villanova University - MA
    2022
    Bio
  • Photo of Paul  Brazinski
    Dr. Paul Brazinski
    History
    Bucknell University - BA
    University of Cambridge - MA
    Catholic University of America - PhD
    2017
    Bio
  • Photo of Chad Bullock
    Chad Bullock
    History
    Kenan Lewis Fellow, History
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8607
    William and Mary - BA
    William and Mary - MA
    2021
    Bio
  • Photo of Taaj Davis
    Taaj Davis
    History
    Kenan-Lewis Fellow History
    Kenyon College - BA
    University of Virginia - MEd
    2019
    Bio
  • Photo of Robert Kendall
    Robert Kendall
    History
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8618
    University of North Carolina - BA
    Dartmouth College - MALS
    1982
    Bio
  • Photo of Mitch  Morris
    Mitch Morris
    History
    History
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8612
    Williams College - BS
    2021
    Bio
  • Photo of Frank Tallman
    Mr. Frank C. Tallman '95
    History
    (540) 672-3900 Ext 8620
    Vanderbilt University - BA
    Dartmouth College - MALS
    2004
    Bio
  • Photo of Tony  Watson
    Dr. Tony Watson
    History
    (540) 672-3900 ext. 8644
    The Johns Hopkins University - BA, MS
    Harvard University - MDiv
    University of Cambridge - PhD
    2016
    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.