Empathy, Perspective, and Engaging Students in the Study of the Past
Context and Perspective- We strive neither to condemn nor glorify past events and historical figures but to put the past in context and to help students better understand what happened and why. We help them better understand motives that shaped people’s actions in a given historical context, to hear and understand their voice, as well as what factors might have played into affecting the course of events.
Asserting causation and discerning meaning- We help students learn to recognize and analyze other interpretations of the past and ultimately assert their own informed interpretation.
The Challenges and Rewards of Interpretation- We empower students to grow in their understanding of the world and ability to interpret it through a nuanced engagement with the past and critical analysis of sources. Rather than asserting interpretations to reflect and defend one’s received views, the study of history should shape, inform, broaden, and challenge those views. Thus, the study of history empowers students with essential tools for citizenship and a greater understanding of the past and the contemporary world.
Students at Montgomery Bell Academy immerse themselves in history, both within and beyond the classroom. The sequence begins with seventh grade US History, in which students are guided through a survey of American History, with something of an emphasis on state and local history. From seventh grade United States History, in which Mr. Brown and others regale their students with compelling stories of the Civil War and many other topics, to senior year, in which they are engaged in key national and global issues in various history, government and economics classes, most of our students leave MBA with a passion for history and all will have a sense of engagement in and critical understanding of the major issues both of historical interpretation and the contemporary world.
Eighth grade Cultural Geography offers students a particularly powerful and engaging look at the world and its development. Far beyond simply a map course, in this class students gain a comparative perspective on the development of cultures on all of the continents and a broad but effective historical context for understanding the contemporary world. Many of these students opt to compete in the geography bee competition, in which MBA students have done quite well over the years.
The Ancient and Medieval World History course, a ninth grade elective, reinforces this global perspective. A large proportion of ninth graders opt to take it and benefit greatly from the immersion in primary documents and the close look at the development of major civilizations, students take an engaging journey through pre-modern human history and encounter an array of texts and images.
In tenth grade, students take American History, either AP or regular, and appreciate the links between it and English, in which they are also studying American literature. It is by tenth grade that many students get involved in the History Club, ably sponsored by Col. Sharbel and supported by other department members, as well as the recently established History Bowl and Bee teams, which competed with good success at the state competition last spring. Another outlet for competition is the Full Moon Film Festival, hosted by MBA, in which high school students from across the city produce short films that relate to American History and compete in various categories. Here too, some MBA students typically bring home many accolades and all who enter benefit greatly from the experience.
Junior and senior year offer an even wider array of opportunities and involvements. Modern European (AP or Regular) is required of juniors. Coupled with British literature in English, this course furthers students’ interpretive skills and understanding of key philosophical movements as well as historiographical debates. Many juniors and seniors who really enjoy history participate in Model UN, Youth Legislature, or Mock Trial, all of which are student led activities outside of classroom time. Junior and senior level electives include AP American Government, AP Comparative Government, American Government, Economics, and AP World History. Students who have a passion for art and/or history also are wise to look at AP Art History as a junior or senior elective. A multi-disciplinary senior seminar, which in recent years has focused on Civil Rights in the first semester and Vietnam in the second, also appeals and enhances students with a great passion for history.
Faulkner said “the past is never dead, it’s not even past. “ At MBA the study of the past is very much alive!
Thanks to a grant from the Davis Foundation, the History Department produced an On-Line Sourcebook for the study of history. Click the link in the box at right to open this document in a new window.