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.

Film History

An introduction to the history of film as an art form, this course is designed to give you a familiarity with the most historically significant films, movements and directors. The course will begin with film appreciation, looking at the different elements that make up film aesthetics—shot composition, lens choice, color, camera movement, editing, sound mixing and musical score. It will then present a chronological history of major films and traditions from the 1890s to the 2000s. We will look at films from around the world, including (but not limited to) Hollywood, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Spain, India, Sweden, Italy, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, China and Poland. Students will be required to see two films a week outside of class.

History of Modern China

For millennia, China was one of the leading centers of culture and power, but it fell into decline in the era of Western imperialism. This course will begin at that low point, following the wild historical swings of Republican revolution, civil war, Japanese occupation and the Communist Revolution under Mao. The course will focus particularly on the Communist period, including the Great Leap Forward when forced collectivization and industrialization killed millions, the Cultural Revolution, when Mao and his circle tried to purge the country of all non-revolutionary influences, and the post-Mao reforms, which have made the supposedly communist state a breathtakingly successful capitalist one. Finally we will examine the potentials and challenges of China today. We will read histories, memoirs, fiction, view films and examine original sources in our attempt to deepen our understanding of China’s role in the world.

History of the Modern Middle East

Clearly the Middle East is an extremely important part of the contemporary political world, but too many Americans have little understanding of the area.  This course will help give students a sense of contemporary issues in the Middle East, and how the area’s history informs those issues.  Beginning with a brief introduction to Islam, the course will cover the major developments in the area since the decline of the Ottoman Empire with a particular focus on Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Israel/Palestine.  While the class will focus on political history, the readings will primarily be memoirs to help give the history a human face and to give students a more textured sense of life in this part of the world.

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.

United States 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.

Environmental Documentaries – Not offered 2022-2023

Documentary films are a powerful way to inform the public about environmental issues. Because they represent real people, documentaries are powerful rhetorical tools directors and producers use to provoke deep, empathetic responses. Although documentary films with themes of environmental activism date back to the silent film era, the 21st Century has seen a spike in the number of quality films that engage the public in environmental issues. In this class, students will study the documentary film genre, analyze films, and discuss the ethics of creating documentary films.

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 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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    Cynder Johnson Missouri
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    Roy Malone New York, NY
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    Ben Nigh Mexico
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    Charlie Starenko Williamstown, MA
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    Jiayi Cao China
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    Lola Williamstown, MA
  • "Buxton has given me the freedom to be the person I want to be, make the art I want to make, and learn the things I want to learn. At Buxton we learn not only in the classroom, but in the community. We learn how to be good to each other and how to support each other. Buxton has so much to offer students, both inside the classroom and outside of it."

    Sadie Great Barrington, MA
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    Peter Shumlin Governor of Vermont, Buxton Alumni

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