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History

Throughout the Commonwealth history curriculum, our aim is to inspire your historical imagination.

As you begin to think critically and creatively about how we know what we know about the past, you’ll come to understand the breadth of sources that underpin today’s ideas and institutions. Different civilizations in different eras believe in different “self-evident” truths. In our studies of Western and non-Western societies (including China, Africa, and the Islamic world), we examine both the universal and the particular ways culture and religion have constantly affected politics and daily life. 

U.S. History, a required course for all students, focuses heavily on issues of inclusion/exclusion, the way racism shaped slavery and vice versa, and the role of the federal and state governments in strengthening white privilege, especially in the postwar period. Other foundational courses such as Medieval World History cover the Islamic World, China, Europe, and African kingdoms between 500 and 1500, and aim to decentralized Western culture. 

At Commonwealth, we are extraordinarily fortunate to have access to world-class museums, libraries, university lecture series, and possibilities for research internships that put us in close contact with peoples through time and from across the world.

As a ninth grader, you will learn to describe and analyze a primary source in its historical context—including its bias. By junior year, you will be writing essays that not only evaluate primary sources and events but also incorporate modern historians’ interpretations of them. A series of progressively more challenging research papers—the choice of topics is yours—teaches you how to use the many primary and secondary sources available in our collections of books and digital subscriptions, the nearby Boston Public Library, and university stacks. Your teachers and our librarian will help you navigate these documents, enabling you to familiarize yourself with background materials before you settle on your research question, which, along the way, you will find yourself refining continually.

You and your classmates will emerge as fully independent historical writers, skilled at constructing rigorous and clear historical arguments.

Courses

Electives

Please note: electives may change from year to year.

History, I’ve concluded, is at its core the celebration of the Human Condition: the small man will hurry through his brief, uneventful (or all-too-eventful) time in the world in a few decades, but two thousand years later a six-year-old boy may marvel at a plaster copy of his remains. (Full disclosure: that boy was me—that day I fell in love with history.) Personally, I find it hard to conceive of anything more beautiful than this connection through time."

Meet the History Faculty

Audrey Budding

B.A., Swarthmore College
B.A., University of Cambridge (UK)
M.A., Harvard University
Ph.D., Harvard University

Don Conolly

B.A., Stanford
M.A., University of Washington

Melissa Glenn Haber

B.A., Harvard University
M.P.P., University of California, Berkeley
M.A., Brandeis University

Barbara Grant

B.A., Yale University
Ph.D., Yale University

César Pérez

M.A., University of Iowa
A.M., Harvard University
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