The College Prep history program engages students through an integrated approach that emphasizes interconnections between different regions of the world.
By developing an understanding of systems of power and oppression that shape our society, students are empowered with the skills and understandings needed to have agency in their own lives and affect positive change in their communities. A three-year required sequence of courses—Asian Worlds, The Atlantic World, and The U.S. and the World—is designed to deepen students’ understanding of history, strengthen their sophistication of thinking, and build the skills of writing, group work, public speaking, and independent research.
The department also offers a variety of optional electives for juniors and seniors. Through these courses, students learn how historians and social scientists use evidence, construct arguments, relate their findings to the work of other scholars, and examine differing historical and theoretical viewpoints. Students have opportunities to become scholars, reconstructing events, and constructing their own historical arguments.
Nearly half of the human population lives in the rapidly growing nations of Asia, shifting the world’s economic and political center of gravity eastward. Asian Worlds provides a thorough understanding of the historical forces that have shaped, and are continuing to shape, the major powers of Asia. The course explores the philosophical, religious, and political movements that have profoundly influenced the evolution of cultural identity in China and South Asia. Students learn how trade, diplomacy, and war facilitated the rapid spread of ideas from the Steppes of Central Asia to the shores of Japan. The course follows the arc of Asian history from the emergence of the first great empires up to the twenty-first century, culminating in the exploration of important contemporary topics like globalization, environmental degradation, women’s rights, economic development, and political protest. Students read primary sources, monographs, and scholarly articles while honing their analytical skills and growing as writers, thinkers, and collaborators. Throughout the course students are asked to reflect on how history intersects with their own lived identities and are challenged with the intellectual responsibility of using the past to understand the present.
This course focuses on the traditions, ideas, and interactions among the peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, a period of history that has fundamentally shaped our modern world. The course’s broad geographic scope across a relatively restricted time period encourages students to make connections among histories that at first may seem isolated from one another. This transnational approach deepens students’ understanding of exploration and colonialism, the role of the environment in shaping history, the costs and the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade, the influences of religion and belief systems, and the interplay of Atlantic revolutions. Indigenous primary source materials are frequently used to highlight the limitations of more eurocentric material. Students participate in group collaboration, independent research, persuasive writing, public speaking, and advanced reading comprehension across centuries of writing styles. The capstone project is an independent research essay in which students design, research, write, and revise a robust paper that allows them to delve into a course topic of their own choosing.
What is the United States of America? How do Americans define themselves, their nation, and its position on the global stage? How have those definitions changed over time? Continuing from the discussions of slavery and comparative revolutions in The Atlantic World, this final required course in the College Prep history sequence constructs a narrative of the American experiment with a focus on the twentieth century. This course explores core questions through historical and historiographical study. Students examine and analyze a wide range of primary sources, evaluate and challenge the arguments of historians, explore and reinterpret pivotal events and issues. Some students might find themselves challenging the mythical origin stories of American creation by emphasizing histories that have long been marginalized, while others might create a documentary that highlights the Progressive response to immigration in the early twentieth century, or write a research paper that links the fears of the Cold War to the hopes of the Civil Rights Movement. In this course, students do not receive a narrative of U.S. History, they build one.
How do experiences of gender differ across cultural, racial, and class lines? Starting with the Industrial Revolution and the plantation South, this course uncovers the history of American conceptions of gender. Returning to familiar events like Reconstruction, WWII, and the Civil Rights Movement, students learn how gender norms and labels have been defined, challenged, and redefined. The course examines how an individual American’s gender—always inflected by race, class, and sexuality—has shaped their access to power, and how people have responded to that reality.
The current American political scene is fractious and polarized. Rare is the news out of Washington that does not feature the words “dysfunction,” “impasse,” or “crisis.” What are they fighting about? Is the system broken or is it supposed to work this way? Is someone representing you and your beliefs? If not, what options do you have to sway policy and politics towards your vision of a fair and just society? These are a few of the core questions that inform this study of American politics and government. This course emphasizes voting behavior as well as national political campaigns and elections, providing students with an opportunity to develop and examine theories through case studies and experiments.
STOak is a yearlong course that begins in the spring with a deep-dive into understanding Oakland’s past and present, with an emphasis on social movements. STOak is hands-on, with a mix of structured course work, field trips, group discussions, and independent research. Themes include social change through community-based research, systems thinking, leadership strategies, non-profit organizational structures, and local government. Students research the social, political, and economic landscape of their focus topic while learning the professional conduct they will practice in their summer internships at community-based organizations.
The core of the program is a six-week, full-time summer internship in the wider Oakland community within organizations working towards social and environmental justice. Students are paired with mentors to learn how the organization operates and to support their mission. The program concludes in the fall when students share their experiences with one another and prepare a formal presentation for the College Prep community.
For many years after the Mexican-American War, the international boundary between the United States and Mexico was, literally, a line in the sand where people moved freely back and forth. No fences. No Border Patrol. No detention centers. When the first fences were finally erected by the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, they were built to keep cattle with flea-borne diseases in Mexico from crossing over. How did we start here and end up with today’s highly militarized border? This course begins in the nineteenth-century American Southwest; rough cattle ranchers and fierce Apache warriors challenge the international boundary in Rachel St. John’s Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S. - Mexico Border. The documentary Which Way Home is about a group of plucky teenagers from Mexico and Central America who ride atop the famed freight trains called La Bestia (the beast) for a grueling 2,000 miles. At the end of the course, students select a theme they are passionate about and create a podcast.
Economics is an inescapable part of our everyday lives. Will a rise in oil prices affect your plans for a cross-country road trip this summer? Will a recession dampen your chances of getting a good job after college? This course offers a basic overview of both microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics topics include prices, taxation, and market structures. The macroeconomics units consider large-scale economic phenomena, like unemployment, inflation, and international trade. The course concludes with a deep dive into the two major economic shocks of the twenty-first century, the Great Recession, and the COVID-19 crisis.
Does capitalism have a history? If it does, why is it made to appear so natural and inevitable, as if it lacked one? This course focuses on the historical emergence and evolution of capitalism as an economic structure, an ideology, and even as a particular type of rationality. Students explore the different ways that scholars have approached capitalism as an object of historical analysis over the last century. Topics include the historical relationship between capitalism and racial slavery, the turn towards ‘neoliberalism’ in the 1970s, and the ways in which capitalism and the climate crisis have altered how historians approach the study of humans and the planet. By the end of the course students gain an understanding of capitalism as a historically situated and contingent phenomenon and are well positioned to imagine and shape new futures in critical relationship to its boundaries.
Using primary sources (dance, newspapers, philosophy, film, and music) and scholarly analysis, this course explores fundamental questions about identity and social conditions across time and place within Black life, politics, and culture in the twentieth century. Who are African Americans? What is the Black diaspora? How have African-descended people shaped the modern world and resisted the confines of white supremacy? In addition to the experiences of Black people in the United States, the creation of a transnational Black identity is explored through the experiences of Black people in West Africa, South Africa, Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. Class analysis is rooted in the fact that racial identity is formed and operates at the intersections of other identities, such as gender, sexuality, and class.
This course is an introduction to American constitutional law in historical and modern context. From a framework of individual rights and civil liberties, topics include the rights of the accused, abortion, free speech, immigration, and the war on terror. Readings from Khiara Bridges and Kimberlé Crenshaw challenge the law’s propensity to categorize people in ways that silo marginalized groups and help students think about how legal advocacy might operate from a more intersectional framework. The allocation of decision making authority among government institutions is also explored, including the distribution of power across the branches of the federal government and between the federal and state governments, focusing primarily on constitutional text and historic Supreme Court decisions. The course culminates with a written and oral advocacy component in the form of a moot court case. Using materials adapted from an appellate lawsuit, students research and write an appellate brief and argue their case before a panel of practicing Bay Area attorneys.
taking risks in history class
Johanna Lanner-Cusin 99
Dean of Faculty / History Teacher
Director Of Curriculum Innovation And Research / History Teacher
I’ve been interested in law, justice, and government for a long time, but ConLaw reaffirmed all of that passion for me. I suddenly saw social justice issues through a new lens: the law and the Constitution."