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.

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.

The Western Tradition

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 course will essentially have two overlapping parts.  One will be an introduction to what psychology is, historical influences in the field, and the neuroscience behind the curtain of psychology.  We will learn about influential philosophies, psychologists, and studies in the field that have shaped the way we understand the mind.  In order to place these ideas in context, we will also study the structures and functions of the brain, nerves and nervous systems.  The second part will look at topics within the field of psychology.  These topics may include memory, sleep, development, learning, intelligence, sensation and perception, disorders, drugs, and psychological health.  The topics we explore may be subject to change depending on interest.  Throughout the course we will have a variety of experiments that we reenact or mimic, discussions on how these topics are relevant in our lives, and projects to create and perform our own experiments.


United States History (required of all Juniors who have not yet completed an American 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.

Look at “Us” and Look at “Them”: Exploring Anthropology and its Possibilities (9th-10th)

Exploring Anthropology hopes to provide a survey of the discipline by exposing the class to a range
of topics, communities, and problems that Anthropology tackles. This course will take up a practice
of deep looking and deep reflection in order to understand the world we live in, its intricacies and its
complications — using Anthropological methods as a means to that end. Taking a discipline that has
a history of “othering” and exoticizing,, we will try to imagine Anthropology’s possibilities for
looking at “others” and looking at ourselves. While surveying the discipline and its subfields, we will
ask — does Anthropology provide us with a useful toolkit to tackle the problems and issues we care
about? In this exploration we will critique, question and unpack the discipline, and to use the tools it
gives us to do the same for the world we’ve inherited.

American History, Part 2

This course will cover the history of the United States from Reconstruction to the present
with a particular focus on popular culture, the rise of consumerism, and the intersections between
ideology and daily life. We will approach history chronologically, speeding through some periods to
spend more time with particularly rich topics such as the transformation of American society at the
turn of the twentieth century and American society and politics in the Cold War. We will have a
very brief textbook as a spine of the course, but mostly we will depend on original sources and
scholarly articles.

Power and Participation in US Politics

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.

Greek Tragedy

Drama was an artform that held sway over social and civic life in Ancient Greece. The plays, or,
tragedies, from this time period–5th Century (500-401) B.C.E.–deal especially with characters from
prevailing mythologies, presented in harrowing spectacle before a transfixed audience. Some 2,400
years later, these plays still hold up in modern contexts. They have been reimagined in media such as
sculpture, painting, and music, and have been adapted and readapted as theatrical and dance
performances. In this class we will look at a selection of the ancient Greek tragedies as both written
and performative literature; we will investigate how these plays were presented and adapted from
their inception down to the twenty-first century; and, being inevitably citizens of the present, we will
consider how efficacious these plays are for confronting our world in the year 2020.


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