History and Social Sciences


istory and social science courses at Buxton aim to fulfill several interconnected goals: to ensure that students acquire a solid working knowledge of political, social and cultural history; to train students in the skills of critical reading and analysis; to educate students to understand and evaluate competing arguments and to present their opinions in a clear and reasoned way, and to create engaged, informed citizens.

Students acquire a critical understanding of the society around them, learn to appreciate its complexity, grasp the ethical stakes involved in its design, and comprehend that design as historically constructed. With that understanding, they can begin to see themselves as historical actors and agents. The annual All-School Trip, in which the entire faculty and student body travel together to a North American city to study that city intensively for a week, is one of the most pivotal components of a Buxton student’s historical education.

History and Politics of “Hidden” Systems

What is “Infrastructure” anyway?  What is in the bills that Congress is currently debating?  And how does all that relate to our lives in Williamstown?  We reside in a rural area, where vital processes such as power generation and waste removal are largely out of sight. It is easy to forget that even while we are surrounded by nature, huge networks of pipes, power lines, and sewage tunnels that sustain us lie beneath our feet. Where do they begin and end? We will be exploring our waterworks and sewage networks, how our region produces and consumes power, the sustainability of our power, the history behind why certain items are located in specific places, the politics of how our infrastructure is developed, and the question of whether or not Williamstown is prepared to handle our changing climate.

Political Philosophy

How should society be organized to maximize the good life? To ask that question is to open up a series of questions about values and meaning as well as questions about rights, power, and human relationships. This course will approach fundamental questions about how we should live as individuals in a society. It will use as a central text Glenn Tinder’s Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions, which is constructed as a series of questions about human nature and values, the answers to which point to different political theories. The class will require short pieces of daily reading and writing and will be based on student-driven discussion.


United States History–Early History

A United States History Course is required of all Juniors who have not yet completed a US History course.

How did the United States end up like this? That is the basic question of this course. But also: how do we know what has happened in the past, in this place? And: did it have to happen that way? And finally: why does it matter? Historians Lisa McGirr and Eric Foner have called U.S. history an act of “collective self-discovery,” and that will be our mission. To work together to understand the place where—for better and for worse—we all currently live. Our studies will take us from the first peopling of the land over 10,000 years ago to the current day, with a focus on the United States since its founding in the 18th century. We will also regularly interrupt our chronology to study civic and political institutions in this country today, as well as the role of the historian in recording, studying, shaping, manipulating, publicizing, remembering, memorializing, celebrating, lamenting, telling, and retelling America’s past for America’s present.

United States History–Modern History

A United States History Course is required of all Juniors who have not yet completed a US History course.

This course will begin with a sprint through the early years (the first four centuries in two weeks) before settling down to survey the enormous shifts in U.S. society and culture since the Industrial Revolution.  We will study the major political events—World Wars, the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam—but will particularly focus on the transformations in daily life and ideology as the U.S. moves from a largely agricultural society oriented around domestic production to the urbanized, bureaucratized, consumerist society that we take for granted.  The course will use a condensed textbook as a spine, but will mostly depend on original documents and scholarly articles.

Power and Participation in US Politics–Not Offered 2021-2022

This semester, we will explore the question “What political power in the United States?”. This course
will place an emphasis on political participation, both as an individual and as organizations. We will
look at examples from the recent past, to determine what makes one successful in politics, and what
does not. This course will not focus solely on Political Parties, but will also touch on
youth movements, labor unions, grassroots advocacy groups, and more.

The Western Tradition–Not Offered 2021-2022

To understand where we are, we have to know where we came from, and much of American culture
has European roots. This course will continue the survey of the intellectual and cultural heritage of
Europe that we began in September with the Middle Ages. It will draw from Art, Literature,
Philosophy, Music and Religion to give students a fuller sense of the development of European
ideology and culture. Although it will be a full-year survey, it will be divided into semesters, and
students can take either semester by itself. The Spring will begin with the Scientific Revolution and
will continue up to the present, addressing the French Revolution, industrialization, romanticism,
imperialism, and the main social and political movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Junior Thesis

An important part of each student’s junior year is the Junior Thesis and Project. The thesis is an opportunity for independent research, creative expression, and learning how to plan and execute a long-term project. Students pick a topic that interests them and spend much of the year researching and writing an ambitious paper about it. Additionally, students are asked to produce a creative piece to complement their academic work. Thesis topics have included the history and practice of ballet, the work of the controversial director Elia Kazan, the tradition and significance of Japanese tea ceremonies, and the history of the Middle East. Creative projects have ranged from staging original one-act plays to doing dance demonstrations to preparing a special meal for the entire school.


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    Peter Shumlin Governor of Vermont, Buxton Alumni

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