History & Social Sciences
T he overarching purpose of the History Department is to prepare students to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of their community, state, nation, and world through the study of past and current events.
Three years of history, Early Civilizations and Global Contact (ninth grade), The Modern World (tenth grade), and United States History (eleventh grade), are required. To see how a student progresses through history and the social sciences over the four years, please click here.
- Grade 9: Early Civilizations and Global Contact
- Grade 10: The Modern World
- Grade 11: United States History
- Grade 11: Advanced Placement United States History
- Advanced United States History
In this class, students will develop the following skills: analytical and argumentative writing, critical reading and thinking, research skills, public speaking, and geographical competency. The fall semester focuses first on river valley civilizations including Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China, followed by an exploration of the Mediterranean world, especially Greece and Rome. The spring semester explores cultural contact through the Rise of Islamic Civilization, an overview of world civilizations circa 1000 C.E., and finishes with a study of the sustained contact between Eurasia and the Americas that ushered in the modern world. In the spring semester, students will also develop a research paper structured around a thesis; teachers provide feedback throughout this step-by-step process which pulls together many skills practiced earlier in the year. In each unit of study, students deepen their understanding by engaging in primary source activities, and throughout the year, we encourage students to make connections between the ancient world and contemporary times through discussions of relevant current events.
Modern World History examines global events from 1760 to the present under the umbrella of the essential question: What is “modernity”? Students will analyze from multiple perspectives the various revolutions that shook the Atlantic Basin at the end of the 18th century, industrialization, the growth and contraction of political and colonial empires, the experience of indigenous peoples, and war in the age of global interdependence. Reading over one hundred primary and secondary sources, students will come to understand that history is dependent on one’s point of view and open to continual reinterpretation. Visual art, period music and literature, political cartoons, guest speakers, debates, and simulations add texture and interest. Weekly student-led discussions of current events foster students’ ability to detect the fingerprints of the past on today’s global trends – and maybe predict the future themselves. Frequent short writing assignments aim to increase the concision, precision, and elegance of students' historical prose. A major research paper on a topic of the student's choosing from modern world history will serve as a showcase for the research, analysis, and writing skills students have been developing throughout the year
The study of United States history provides an opportunity to examine the cultural, political, social, intellectual and economic conflicts that have shaped our past and will continue to shape our future. Students will continuously reflect upon questions of identity and what it means to be an American. With this goal in mind, students will focus on important conflicts and matters of debate, examining the development of American identities and how they have been shaped by power and resistance. Through a survey of U.S. history, students will encounter challenging questions, engage in meaningful conversations, and look at our past from a variety of perspectives. Students also have the opportunity to develop important skills such as critical thinking, public speaking, persuasive writing, primary and secondary source analysis, academic research, and active citizenship.
AP U.S. History supports students in becoming reflective, concerned, and competent citizens. While the content and themes of the College Board framework serve as the foundation for the course, we place great emphasis on individual growth and the ability to recognize a personal connection to history. Beginning with the 17th century clash of cultures between Native Americans, European immigrants, and African slaves and continuing through present-day political, cultural, economic, and social issues, AP U.S. History examines American history through multiple perspectives. The extensive use of primary sources aids in this approach to history. Students hone their historical thinking skills including cause and effect, contextualization, synthesis, and change over time, and practice the articulation of historical analysis in written and spoken formats through a variety of assignments. including College Board Style tests, role- playing exercises, research assignments, essays and Document Based Questions, presentations, and extensive seminar style discussions.
The meaning of our past has always been shaped by contemporary events and cultural trends. This survey of United States history aims to give students an opportunity to engage in developing their own meaning of this past. By critically and deeply engaging with primary source materials, extensive secondary sources written by contemporary historians, and with the ideas and interpretations of their classmates, students will have the opportunity to examine the rich and multicultural history of the United States from a variety of perspectives. In this way, the focus of the content of the course will be on how the United States has attempted to build a nation that reflects and values diverse viewpoints and experiences. Students will engage in readings from a variety of sources, collaborate, present their ideas to the class in formal and informal settings, and write a variety of essays to help them articulate and communicate their ideas. Individual classes will be largely discussion based and student led, with the teacher acting as a facilitator of discussion, research, and collaboration.
- Advanced Placement Comparative Government and Politics (Seniors Only)
- Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics (Seniors Only)
- Honors Art History
This course is designed to introduce the fundamental concepts and skills utilized by political scientists as they study political intuitions, processes, and outcomes. It examines the diversity of political life and discusses political and economic changes in China, Britain, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia. Students engage in the careful comparison of political systems to gain knowledge about the institutions and policies countries have used to address problems in the 20th and 21st centuries. Students also develop critical thinking and public speaking by analyzing a variety of texts and engaging in debates and current events discussions. They further refine their analytical writing skills as they look to articulate their positions concerning debatable questions which include: Why are some countries stable democracies and not others? Why do many democracies have prime ministers instead of presidents? To what extent does the source of political legitimacy 14 shape a state’s stability? To meet the objectives of the College Board, we will focus on the following topics: 1) Introduction to Comparative Politics, 2) Sovereignty, Authority, and Power, 3) Political Institutions, 4) Citizens, Society, and the State, 4) Political and Economic Change, and 5) Public Policy.
AP U.S. Government and Politics aims to empower students with an analytical perspective on American government and political culture. Ultimately, we hope that this course empowers students to be more confident, informed, and engaged citizens, no matter their particular political philosophy, orientation, or affiliation. Democracy depends on an independent and free-thinking citizenry to engage in informed and respectful discourse. We will not only be studying how this discourse happens, but also practicing this approach in class. Students will engage in a variety of assessments, with a focus on discussion, presentations, interpretation of data and media, and the application of concepts to current real world debates and policies. Topics covered will include the historical and philosophical roots of our government; the evolution of civil rights and civil liberties; the political process, including elections, the media, and the behavior of citizens; political institutions and procedures; and current policy proposals and debates.
Honors Art History Ancient drawings, deep in caves, startle us with their beauty and sophistication. Deeply human instincts to create and to communicate with symbols are alive in us today. The history of art is the history of expressive responses to great mysteries and great events. By studying art history, students learn to observe mindfully, to see relationships between works from different places and times and to express their thoughts coherently in speech and writing. This course examines art in many forms, with an emphasis on painting, sculpture and architecture in the Western tradition, traced from the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin to Western Europe and America. The journey covers 30,000 years and thousands of miles, yet we recognize the motivations and gestures of earlier artists appearing in the most recent contemporary works. In various works, and even in the same work, art may function as an aesthetic expression, a reference to an earlier tradition, a reinforcement of power and a social commentary. Symbols are usually layered and complex. Consideration of artworks takes place through daily study and discussion of slide images, weekly readings in our text, periodic museum visits, and hands-on studio experiences. Assessment takes the form of weekly quizzes, short essays at home and in class and occasional, cumulative tests. This course is not specifically an A.P. course, but with a bit of extra preparation, students may elect to take the A.P. Art History Exam. This course can satisfy either a History requirement or an Art requirement.
The courses above are also open to juniors who choose to take an elective in addition to their 11th grade U.S. History course.
- Advanced Placement Microeconomics (Seniors Only)
- Big History Project
- Economics, Business, and Finance (Seniors Only)
- Entrepreneurship and Innovation
- Exploring World Religions
- Music History I: The Classical and Romantic Temperaments
- U.S. Foreign Policy
- Advanced Humanities Seminar – Critiquing American Icons: 1960s Countercultures and Protests (Seniors only)
This course is a rigorous introduction to the principles of microeconomic theory and to microeconomic applications and policies. We start by learning basic economic concepts such as scarcity and trade-offs and then proceed to study the behavior of markets through supply-anddemand analysis. We explore Government interventions such as price controls, excise taxes, and 15 subsidies and their effects on markets and social welfare. We learn about consumer choice, market efficiency, and market failures. We then explore the behavior of firms, learning about their production processes, costs, revenues, and profits in various market structures, including an introduction to game theory. We conclude with an examination of markets for factors of production, income distribution, international trade, and protectionism. Throughout the class we emphasize the development of problem-solving skills and the use of graphical representations of theoretical concepts while also making room for real-world applications, current events, and policy debates. AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics are two semester-long courses designed to be taken as one, year-long course.
“Big History Project” (BHP) is a course that invites us to think and to imagine on a really BIG scale, both in terms of time and space: it is designed to be a comprehensive, interdisciplinary history of the universe from the Big Bang to the present (and even the future). BHP does this by focusing on eight major “threshold moments” when the universe became much more complex than it was before. After examining the Big Bang, we move on to the formation of galaxies, stars and chemical elements, then to the origin of planets in our solar system and the beginning of life on Earth, and finally to the development in humankind of our capacity for collective learning, agriculture, and ultimately the modern (scientific) revolution, with some attention to what new threshold(s) might be crossed in the future. BHP students are encouraged to make connections between the insights of cosmology, chemistry, biology, anthropology, mythology, and history.
This one-semester course introduces students to key microeconomic and macroeconomic concepts, basic business principles, and the workings of financial markets and institutions. We start by examining markets for goods and services and consumer behavior, and then focus on how businesses make decisions in different market structures. We also look at how Government interventions affect both consumers and businesses. We then broaden our view to the whole economy, focusing on understanding the causes of business cycles and the behavior of macroeconomic aggregates such as GDP, inflation, and unemployment. We analyze financial markets and institutions to understand interest rates and we examine various financial instruments (including stocks, bonds, and derivatives), the role of the Federal Reserve, and fiscal and monetary policy. To understand the global economy, we study patterns of trade, protectionist policies, exchange rates, and flows of money across countries. While analytical thinking is important in Economics, this class focuses less on mathematical problem-solving and more on discussion of current events and policy issues. Note: This course is not open to students who have completed or who are enrolled in AP Microeconomics or AP Macroeconomics.
The Potomac Entrepreneurship and Innovation course is a hybrid, inquiry-based class that incorporates online, face-to-face, and experiential learning, students will collaborate with teachers and peers to identify the key skills of a successful entrepreneur learn from actual entrepreneurs who are developing their own ventures, research commonalities among successful ventures and innovations, and assess their own skills and talents as potential entrepreneurs. Students will also be exposed to the fundamentals of design thinking, project management, financial modeling, prototyping, and marketing. Along the way, students will document their work in a frequently updated blog, present their research in a variety of online and face-to-face contexts, and develop their writing skills as they conduct interviews, develop pitches, generate 16 business plans, and produce business case analyses. Ultimately, students will model Potomac’s core values of courage, humility, integrity, perseverance, and respect to identify a need in their local or global community and discover, design, and execute an entrepreneurial project or innovation to meet that need.
Exploring World Religions is a survey of five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will study religion in an academic context, under the auspices of the history department. This means we will approach the subject of religion in general--and these traditions in particular--as central human phenomena, something that human beings “do” and have been doing for a very long time. Religious beliefs have powerfully shaped history, politics, art, and literature throughout the ages and continue to do so today. Our focus will be on these five traditions as they have evolved over time, including some attention to how they are practiced today and how they affect public policy debates.
The Classical style of Haydn and Mozart represents the best and most enduring music of the late eighteenth century; its concertos, operas, quartets, sonatas and symphonies reflect the Age of Enlightenment’s ideals of “pleasing variety” and “natural” simplicity while responding to the social and economic changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of public concerts. Influenced by the fervor and restlessness following the French Revolution, Beethoven’s bold innovations lead Western European music from Classical artisanship to Romantic virtuosity and individualism. Chopin’s nostalgic Mazurkas, Albéniz’s nationalistic Iberia, Schubert’s anguished Winter’s Journey, Berlioz’s supernatural Symphonie fantastique and Tchaikovsky’s exotic Nutcracker demonstrate just a few of the dramatically conflicting elements found in nineteenth-century Romantic music, while the towering operas of Verdi and Wagner provide two very different views of the Romantic spirit. This course compares the Classical and Romantic temperaments found in Western art music while surveying some of the masterpieces composed between 1750 and 1900. The text is Mark Evan Bonds’ A History of Music in Western Culture (3rd Edition, volume two). This course can satisfy either a History requirement or an Art requirement.
This course will provide a focused exploration into the dynamics of and complexities surrounding American foreign policy in the 21st century. The primary goal is for students to better understand what foreign policy is (and isn't), who the major actors are domestically and abroad, what influences policy, and what effects U.S. policy has globally. Careful attention will be paid to analyzing strategic decision making processes, grounded in the historical context of U.S. foreign policy (particularly post-WWII), as well as elucidating the modern challenges presented by contemporary media and political environments. Students will demonstrate understanding through formal analytical writing, debate, creative expressive projects, and the semester culminates with a two-week long foreign policy simulation.
What were the iconic images of the 1950s and 60s? What myths do we associate with these icons? How did these images circulate among the US public? In what ways did citizens challenge, uphold and reshape iconography of the time? In this interdisciplinary course, students will approach these questions by examining a range of cultural and historical texts to understand how Americans have interrogated and critiqued some of the country’s most popular icons and ideas. In particular, we will investigate the way these interrogations coalesced in the new social movements of the 1960s—the “countercultures” of that decade: student activism, the classical civil rights movement, women’s liberation, gay rights, the anti- war movement, and others.
Students will read such literary texts as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, and study films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Students will also examine newspaper articles, speeches, letters, and historical accounts of the period. Visits to Washington, DC’s Lincoln Memorial and U Street corridor will allow students to survey and reflect on important sites associated with American icons and their critics. Assignments and assessments for this course include: summer reading and writing, presentations, debates, short response papers and essays, and a final project that focuses on a theme or themes covered in classes.
The courses above are also open to juniors (except where noted otherwise) who choose to take an elective in addition to their 11th grade U.S. History course.
- Advanced Placement Macroeconomics (Seniors Only)
- Contemporary Conflicts in the Middle East
- Exploring World Religions
- Music History II: 20th Century Music History
- Violence and Nonviolence
- Why Are Poor Countries Poor?
This course introduces students to economic models that help explain long-run economic growth and short-run GDP fluctuations (recessions and booms). We start by investigating the definition and measurement of key macroeconomic aggregates such as GDP, price indices, inflation, unemployment, and interest rates. We study technological progress, capital accumulation, and other determinants of economic growth in the long run. We then develop a model to explain GDP determination in the short run and the causes of its fluctuations, including both demandand supply-side factors. We examine the role of money in the economy, the working of financial markets and institutions, and the role of financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, and derivatives. We study fiscal and monetary policies and their pros and cons as tools for economic stabilization, including a discussion of budget deficits and the national debt. We conclude by addressing exchange rate determination and the macroeconomic effects of international trade and capital flows across countries. Throughout the class we examine current events and analyze recent macroeconomic policies in the U.S. and abroad. Prerequisite: AP Microeconomics. Students will sit for two separate AP exams in spring 2020, the AP Microeconomics examination and the AP Macroeconomics examination.
This course explores both contemporary violent political conflicts in the Greater Middle East, and role that narrative and representation plays in fueling them. Few contemporary conflicts, whether as long lasting as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Rise of ISIS, lend themselves to simple explanations; much of the 24-hour news cycle thrives on those explanations and frequently misrepresents the drivers of conflict. While the course starts with a brief historical survey of the Middle East and competing interpretations of the root causes of regional instability, the emphasis is on case studies of several contemporary conflicts, including: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, America’s War on Terror, the Syrian Civil War, the Arab Spring Revolts in Egypt and Yemen, or the Rise of ISIS. Driven by discussions, presentations, and analytical writing assignments like book reviews and film reflections, the course ultimately culminates with researching and writing a Multi-Perspective Account that explores a single violent conflict from three vantage points. Students should emerge from the course with greater awareness of the history and drivers of contemporary political conflicts, as well as an appreciation for the political implications of narrative and representation in conflict zones.
Exploring World Religions is a survey of five major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We will study religion in an academic context, under the auspices of the history department. This means we will approach the subject of religion in general – and these traditions in particular – as central human phenomena, something that human beings “do” and have been doing for a very long time. Religious beliefs have powerfully shaped history, politics, art, and literature throughout the ages and continue to do so today. Our focus will be on these five traditions as they have evolved over time, including some attention to how they are practiced today and how they affect public policy debates.
Twentieth-century Music History chronicles the progression of musical style from Debussy’s rejection of classical procedures to the polystylism of Corigliano, Schnittke and Zappa. Representative composers and pieces will be introduced through class discussion, score examination, directed listening and the viewing of video performances. Principal topics include Impressionism, Primitivism, Futurism, Expressionism and Atonality, Neo-Classicism, Neo-Romanticism, New Objectivity, Serialism, popular music (jazz, rock, fusion, Broadway, film music), electronic- and computer-generated music, Aleatorism, Minimalism, Post-Modernism and the New Simplicity. Students will note the changing attitudes to sound, harmony, melody, rhythm, form and texture while gaining a broader understanding of music’s role in contemporary society. Assessments include chapter quizzes and a final research paper on a prominent twentieth-century composer.
Violence & Nonviolence explores the reality of violence in human behavior as well as possible alternatives to violence. Particular emphasis will be given to studying the nonviolent thought and strategies of Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the life and thought of Malcolm X. In pursuing our studies we may find it necessary to raise many related issues: How do we define violence? Nonviolence? Justice? War? Peace? How can we account for the origins of violence in human behavior? Is all violence wrong? Is it possible or even desirable to rid ourselves of all violent behavior and violent tendencies? Why have some famous (and not so famous) people chosen a nonviolent lifestyle or nonviolent tactics to achieve their goals?
This course introduces students to the problems and opportunities that today’s poor countries face in their quest to improve standards of living. After studying several theories of economic growth and development, we discuss poverty and inequality, saving and financial markets, population growth and rural-urban migration, health care and education, agriculture, international trade, foreign borrowing, and foreign aid. We examine historical and geographical factors that may help us understand poverty and we learn about the recent research on the role of institutions in development. We also look at hands-on, small-scale programs (including microcredit and microinsurance) and the extent to which insights gained from village-level randomized controlled trials may be scaled up to help address poverty at the national level. Throughout the course we combine study of theories with analysis of case studies drawn from the experience of Asian, Latin American, and African economies.
The courses above are also open to juniors (except where noted otherwise) who choose to take an elective in addition to their 11th grade U.S. History course.