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We live in a complex world, where students experience both the benefits and challenges of continual change as they navigate their paths to adulthood. As active citizens, they will need a framework from which to appreciate and evaluate who they are in an individual, societal, cultural, and global context. History provides an important part of that framework.

The History Department at SEM is committed to a program of studies basic not only to a college preparatory curriculum but to the broader goal of learning for life. We encourage each student to explore the fundamental philosophies and institutions that have shaped human political, economic, social, and spiritual development by studying the history of our community, our nation, and our world. Through  elective courses, the curriculum is expanded to give students in-depth exposure to specific time periods and regions. Honors and Advanced Placement sectioning gives qualified students the opportunity for learning on a more intensive level.

SEM is an international school, and it is especially important for SEM students to understand global perspectives, consider multiple cultural viewpoints, and understand how social/economic/political/cultural structures develop and change over time. Our diverse course offerings create opportunities to deepen understanding of non-western civilizations.

We emphasize academic skills essential for college-bound students, such as reading both primary and secondary sources, identifying and analyzing bias and point of view, effective note-taking, writing for history-related topics reflecting both meaningful use of fact and critical thinking, and informal and formal oral presentation. Students learn research techniques and do research-related writing at all levels of the curriculum. Global and American geography and map study help students to make connections between cultural histories and our physical world. Harkness discussions are integral to our program, which is designed to promote a passion for the past and a broader love of learning.

Departmental Requirements: 3 years including U.S. History

History Department Chair: Douglas Hopkins

Course Descriptions

Includes electives, though not all elective courses are offered each year or trimester. Students may also enroll in additional electives and APs offered through SEM's membership in the Online School for Girls.



History I: Freshman Year

History I is a skills-based course that prepares students for all upper-level and AP history classes. Divided into three trimesters, the course emphasizes historical thinking skills, spatial thinking skills, and the foundations of U.S. government and politics. Students spend the first trimester analyzing primary and secondary sources, creating narrative representations of important events, and exploring the multiple forces that produce change over time. Toward the middle of the year, they begin a trimester on spatial thinking skills in which they learn the five themes of geography, become experts at reading and creating maps, and contemplate the significant role that space plays in shaping human identity. Students spend the third trimester studying the elements of political participation and examining the functions of local, state, and national governments.

An interest in Western New York underlies the three trimesters of History I. Even as they acquire skills in history, geography, and civics, students will become more familiar with Buffalo and its surrounding communities, both through the activities and assignments they complete and through the excursions they make in the city and region. By the end of the year, they will be prepared for future coursework and, just as importantly, well-equipped to become active and informed citizens.

U.S. History: Sophomore Year

This is a survey course that begins with the first Americans and extends through the late 20th century, although students are asked to make connections to the America of today throughout the course. Students develop a foundational understanding of American history through textbook readings, online supplemental texts, and brief lectures, but an emphasis is placed on the use of primary source documents and texts that require students to think critically about historical context, purpose, and point of view. Writing is an integral part of the course; students learn to develop an argument and analyze relevant evidence in order to communicate their own ideas about history as clearly and convincingly as possible.

In the first trimester, the curriculum focuses on America through the early 1800s. Students trace the development of both Native American and colonial civilizations, and special attention is paid to questions of identity and political power. As students study America’s path toward independent nationhood, they are asked to consider the meaning of terms like “freedom” and “equality” to different groups of Americans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In the second trimester, students turn their focus to the growing nation. As students examine America’s early national identity, they use key events and phenomena such as westward expansion and the Civil War to help them analyze the ways in which America remained true to its earliest ideals as well as the ways in which American ideals changed over time.

In the third trimester, students study America’s industrialization and emergence as a world power. Students analyze the concept of the “American Dream” and identify the ways in which that concept contributed to the world we live in today, while also looking at the ways in which that dream was not always consistent with reality. Beginning with American imperialism and extending through both world wars, Korea, and Vietnam, students examine America’s expanding role in world events.

Students who perform exceptionally well in their freshman year will be recommended for AP U.S. History.

AP U.S. History

This challenging and fast-paced course offers extremely motivated sophomores a chance to study American History at the college level. AP US History combines broad knowledge of American history with in-depth understanding of how and why historical events unfolded. Students in this course practice the historical thinking skills necessary to succeed on the AP US History exam. At the same time, they study the sweep of American history from the pre-Columbian era to the present, and seek out the common strands that connect each period to the next. This class requires a great deal of reading, including a college-level textbook and many diverse primary sources, as well as focused, structured analytical writing and high-level discussion.

World History: Junior Year

The world history class is designed to continue building the historical thinking skills students have practiced in their previous history classes at SEM while exposing them to more challenging readings and preparing them for college-level humanities coursework. Throughout the year, as students examine global historical developments, they keep an eye on patterns and large-scale changes, as well as continuities.

This course introduces students to ancient, classical, medieval, and modern civilizations from across the globe, with an emphasis on the ways that societies interact and develop over time. Students will learn to assess and analyze the different ways in which the cultures of the world think about major issues, including political structures, social norms, technology, economics, the environment, and identity.

World History students continue to strengthen their writing skills, with a focus on developing an argument, analyzing evidence, supporting their salient points, and addressing relevant counter-arguments. We also expect students to read and annotate complex texts, make substantive contributions to class discussions, and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding through tests, quizzes, and projects.

Students who perform exceptionally well in their sophomore year American History course are recommended for AP World History.

AP World History

SEM offers Advanced Placement World History for highly motivated and qualified juniors. The objective of this advanced, fast-paced, college-level course is to prepare students for success on the national AP World History exam. Reaching this objective includes understanding the broad themes and important events of world historical development from roughly 8000 BCE to the present; learning how to construct a historical argument based on primary and secondary sources; understanding long-term and large-scale historical change; and being able to make valid comparisons between diverse civilizations.

On a broader academic level, students in AP World History practice and improve their formal writing skills, learn how to take effective and accurate class notes; and hone their critical and analytical thinking skills. Throughout the year, as students examine world historical developments, they keep an eye on patterns, large-scale changes, as well as continuities. They analyze how particular historical developments have impacted gender roles, religious traditions, political traditions, technology, social norms, economics, and the environment. AP World History emphasizes both a clear understanding of regional developments and an understanding of how the world’s diverse civilizations comprise a global history.

History electives include:

AP U.S. Government and Politics

The objective of this class is to explore the foundation and development of the government of the United States. The course is designed to study all aspects of government, including constitutional foundations, political beliefs and behaviors, political parties, interest groups, the role of the mass media, the institutions of government, public policy, and civil rights and liberties. The course will also continue to build critical thinking and analytical skills through analysis of primary sources, reading in the text, and various classroom presentations and exercises. There will also be extensive analytical written work to be completed. Finally, the course will prepare students to take the AP exam in May.

Contemporary Middle East History

This course surveys the recent history of the Middle East, placing particular emphasis on the causes and consequences of the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We will consider the significance of the First and Second World Wars for the Middle East; examine the founding of the State of Israel, as well as its tumultuous aftermath; chronicle the region’s most important 20th century conflicts; and contemplate the present and uncertain future of this enormously significant part of the world. Broadly speaking, the class will be organized like a college-level history seminar. Students should expect weekly reading assignments, quizzes, several graded class discussions, and an analytical essay.

Crossfire Hurricane: The Tumultuous Sixties

This course examines the events and individuals that made the 1960s a truly pivotal chapter in American history. Situating the decade within the broader history of the Cold War, we will study the origins and evolution of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War; investigate the multiple ways in which people responded to this conflict; chronicle the rise and enduring significance of the period’s many political transformations; and analyze important examples of popular music, film, and television. In general, we will structure our class like a college-level history seminar. Assignments will include a manageable dose of reading, quizzes, several graded class discussions, and a minimum of two analytical essays.

South African History

The stories of Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress (ANC), the defeat of South Africa’s apartheid system, and the nearly unimaginable achievement of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission have inspired many millions of people around the world. How South African apartheid came to be and lasted as long as it did represents a gripping tragedy – compelling in its horror. Like the story of the Holocaust, that of the rise and fall of apartheid should be told and retold and never forgotten.

This course focuses on South Africa over the last 100 years, including the establishment of the ANC in 1912, creation and expansion of the apartheid system, and the long struggle to end apartheid, culminating in Mandela’s presidency and the healing work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To understand South Africa of the 20th and 21st centuries, however, we need a meaningful historical foundation. Thus the course will begin by tracing the region’s early past. We will explore its roots as the cradle of humankind, and follow the story through various migrations and competitions of African peoples, settlement by waves of Europeans, establishment of a slave-based economy, and decades of bitter conflict through the late 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries between the British government and colonists and descendants of Dutch, French, and German settlers, whose hyper-self-sufficient culture and new language, Afrikaans, evolve in isolation and hardship.

Urban Studies

In this course we will discuss factors which influence quality of life in the urban context. Our studies will focus on the interrelationships between government, socioeconomics and the infrastructure of urban life. The City of Buffalo, in its current state of resurgence, becomes the laboratory for investigation and exploration. Field trips to developing sites throughout the city become the basis for understanding a city on the rise.

The World Today

A one-trimester senior elective which encourages students to become engaged global citizens. The course explores a handful of major topics per trimester, including at least one topic dealing with international issues or countries/regions of the world other than the U.S. and Western Europe. Flexible time is reserved in each cycle to discuss current events as they happen. Students practice the skills they will need to become independent consumers of news media by analyzing the bias and point of view of various news sources and selecting the most relevant and trustworthy sources to present to their peers. The true goal of this class is to prepare students to fully participate in the modern world, whether they want to hold their own at the dinner table or run for office.