Upper School Courses

Upper School History & Social Sciences

The History Department challenges students to think critically about the social, political, economic, and intellectual development of human societies and cultures. In history and social science courses at St. Stephen’s, students confront rich, complex stories of the human experience from a global, multicultural perspective.

From World History in 9th grade to senior courses such as advanced European History, students learn the skills of a scholar in a logical progression: reading, writing, note-taking, class discussion, mapping and geography, research methods, and analysis. The History Department encourages students to think critically when examining the past. The faculty strives to foster a student’s ability to read critically and recognize bias in both primary and secondary sources. Attention is placed on developing a student’s ability to develop a thesis and defend it with well-chosen evidence. Writing assignments and projects help students move from learning the fundamentals of how to write a paragraph to constructing and organizing an in-depth, analytical, research paper. Students learn traditional research, as well as how to use technology effectively and appropriately. The department emphasizes the importance of academic integrity in research and writing. Classes are typically student-centered, with discussion of the daily readings being the primary focus of class time.

In Upper School, students examine world and U.S. History in a three-year sequence. Juniors and  Seniors choose from diverse electives, including advanced courses. The diploma requirement in history is three credits (years). Because of the focus on skill development, students are required to take each course in sequence. “History III: The U.S. and the World in the 20th Century” is a diploma requirement.


List of 4 items.

  • History I: World History

    Education helps us understand our place in the world, in relation to others, and the World History course contributes to that goal. We trace the themes of govern­ment, religion, economy, the arts, the environment, women’s rights and cultures in contact. As an engine of world change, Europe merits a significant look, but in this course non-U.S., non-European topics are about 60 percent of the course.  The use of evidence in analytical writing is emphasized throughout, with a memoir of China’s Cultural Revolution as the subject for instruction in paper writing.
  • History II: The United States, Beginnings to 1900

    The United States history survey examines major historical problems in early American and 19th-century American history.  Central themes are the foundation of the United States as a republic and the growth of democracy within a multi-ethnic society.  The course builds on 9th-grade goals to study history in terms of main themes and to make connections between the past and current events.  The discussion-based class has students ask critical questions.  They identify main arguments and interpretations, and develop and defend their own points of view.  In the spring term students study a special topic chosen by the teacher, culminating in a 1,500 word research paper about some aspect of that topic.  Spring research topics include:  “Immigration and Indigenous Conflicts in the Past and Present,” “The Problem of the Color Line,” and “Urban Phoenix: Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871.”
  • History III: The United States and the World, 20th Century to Present

    This course begins with the emergence of the United States as a world power in the early 20th century and focuses on key events and problems of a century famously called “the American Century.”  The course ends with more recent changes, including debate on the 21st century as a “post-American” world. To place the American experience in a broader global context, students examine selected topics, such as imperialism, decolonization, conflict in the Middle East, the dissolution of the Soviet empire, and globalization. Broadly, the course is designed to provide students with an historical sensibility about a century that greatly shaped our current world.  In the spring, each student spends four weeks on an indepen­dent research project. With support from the Becker Library, students use the library collections, databases, and web links to academic sites related to their topics. Students have been prepared for this major exercise by the smaller-scale history research projects in the two foundational St. Stephen’s history courses. History III is required for graduation. The complete syllabus for this course is available at http://spartans.sstx.org/~ssallee/
  • Advanced European History

    Europe’s relatively small area has had an enormous impact on the rest of the world, and this elective enables students to engage in an in-depth study of Europe from 1350 to the present. The course examines foreign and domestic policies of European countries, as well as important artistic, intellectual, and social movements. Students who are interested will find that it is appropriate to take the Advanced Placement test in European History. Course enrollment is limited to juniors and seniors. Department approval is required.

Social Sciences

List of 11 items.

  • Psychology

    Why do we do what we do? What influences affect our decision making? What role do our emotions play in learning? How do we choose a romantic partner? These and other questions will be explored in this introduction to the theories and concepts of psychology. The course begins with important research done in the field of social psychology, which is a study of the influence that people have on one another. From this perspective we will discuss issues such as: racism, conformity, human aggression, and the psychology of love and attraction. We will then examine the areas of motivation, emotion, intelligence, learning, memory, and personality development. Finally, we will discuss the 21st century trend of Positive Psychology, which is based on the premise that psychology should focus less on mental illness and more on mental wellness.
  • Constitutional Law

    Is a student-led prayer before a public school football game a violation of separation of church and state? Are large corporate donations to political campaigns protected as free speech? When can a police officer search your car? While the term constitutional law encompasses a broad range of issues about government and the separation of powers, this course will focus on the U.S. Constitution and individual rights. The course will include reading of landmark Supreme Court cases as well as current cases. This is a discussion-based course that rewards lively debate and that culminates in a moot court.
  • Economics

    How do entrepreneurs price their latest products? How does scarcity of resources force economic systems to make choices? Macroeconomics uses the tools of economics to understand how an economy functions and to develop policies that promote economic growth. This course will give students the tools to understand how a national economy works, and how various government policies affect the economy and, by extension, its citizens’ lives. The course will combine economic theory and historical empirical data that relates to the three main concerns of macroeconomics: inflation, unemployment, and economic growth.
  • American Soul

    This one-term course will attempt to connect ‘roots’ music, Jazz, Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and Rock and Roll, heard in America during the 20th Century to important themes in literature and social science from the
    same period.
  • Contemporary Middle East

    The “Middle East,” seems to be the name of a region “in crisis”, a region full of news. For Americans, the news usually seems to be bad news or threatening news. This seminar will inquire into this “Middle East.” Where exactly is it? (Yes, that is a serious question.) Why is it in the news so much? What is going on there? What are the problems? the threats? Why does the Middle East matter? How does the U.S. figure into the picture?
    The seminar will address political, social, cultural, and religious topics. The focus will be on three cultural parts of the “Middle East”: Iran/Iraq, the situation and story of Israel and Palestine, and Egypt.
  • Haiti: A Failed State

    Once the "crown jewel" of the French empire, when people think about Haiti today many of them think about "the earthquake" and think about extreme poverty. Although Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, what gets buried in this "poverty narrative" is its rich and important history. Without Haitian independence, Napoleon probably doesn't sell the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson and Latin American freedom fighters like Simon Bolivar might not have been as successful against Spain. Heck without Haiti you wouldn't have all those apocalyptic zombie movies and TV shows like the Walking Dead. How did Haiti go from a prosperous French colony to "the republic of non governmental organizations (NGOs)?"
    This class will explore this question and many others by looking at the Haitian history and culture from the Revolution through the Duvaliers and Aristide until the present day. A key aspect of the class will be to untangle the nature of foreign aid. How can so much money, so much time, and so many organizations be directed to alleviating suffering and poverty still not achieve its purported goal. Is there such a thing a too much aid or "bad aid?" Students should gain a better understanding how aid and relief agencies are organized and run. You will also get to see how our work with our sister school St. Etienne fits or doesn't fit into this bigger picture of aid and relief. I don't promise any answers to solving world hunger and poverty, but if you come up with any along the way that would be greatly appreciated.
  • Modern China Seminar

    If the 20th century is referred to as the "American Century", how will historians refer to the 21st? Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will move the world.”  Does China’s stirring on the world stage - economically, politically, culturally, and militarily - constitute a threat to the Western hegemon or does it represent an opportunity for new alliances and prosperity? This seminar will focus on China’s startling growth since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, and in particular on the past three decades of rapid transformation within China and how these internal changes have impacted the rest of the world. Topics will include socialism & post-socialism, economics, current events, the Beijing 2008 Olympics, militarization, transnational workers, Africa, urbanization, cultural shifts, gender relations, Yao Ming, income inequality, social media, faith, and tourism. The course materials will be drawn from current articles, books, documentaries, movie clips, social media and comic books.
  • Global Music

    This course will be an exploration of musical cultures from around the world. The class will focus particularly on the music of West Africa, North India and Brazil. The course goal will be to understand how the fundamental elements of music - pitch, rhythm, and form - vary in different musical traditions. Workshops with local musicians, and hands on participation in class will combine with listening to audio material from the featured cultures. Musical knowledge or experience is not required.
  • Dealing with Difficult People

    When you sense an impending argument, what is your first response?  Anger or fear?  Confront or avoid?  Learn how an individual’s background - traditions, culture, emotions, psychology - influences conflict, both in creating it and in its resolution.  See how some of these elements can also play into much larger conflicts and negotiations, from the local to the international.  What factors carry the most weight? How do parties in a negotiation keep or lose power?  Drawing on elements including history, psychology, diplomacy and conflict resolution, students will learn both theory and practice and will have the opportunity to focus on projects of their own choosing, from the geopolitical (think Middle East or Russia) to the business world (think IBM vs. Fujitsu or Apple vs. the government) to domestic or local matters.
  • "Behind Closed Doors: Alternate Narratives of Gender and Sexuality in American History and Literature" - Dr. McLafterty

    Once upon a time in 19th century New York, brothels advertised both ladies and "lady-boys"-- and a man wasn't considered any less manly if he went for both. Once upon a time in 1920s Harlem, drag balls were all the rage-- and gay and straight, black and white, men and women paid exorbitant fees just to ogle the gorgeous queens. Once upon a time in the "Wild West," women donned men's clothing, slung holsters and ammo around their hips, and got reputations for outdrinking and outshooting any man...while men complemented their mustaches with lipstick and wore cowboy boots under petticoats. But why don't our history books tell us these stories? Why do we seem to think the 20th century invented homosexuality...queerness...transsexuality? Why do we persist in thinking the Victorians were prudish, conservative, and even "asexual"? And how do we uncover these secret histories? Where do we even begin looking?

    Using both historical case studies and a variety of literary pieces, from poetry to short stories to documentaries, this class will uncover the alternate narratives of these "other Americans"--those who lived their lives "behind closed doors," and who, consciously or not, bequeathed a great legacy to 20th century American history and literature, as well as to 21st century current events.
  • Who Owns the Past? Archaeology, Authenticity, and Cultural Heritage

    The past 16 years have seen monuments destroyed and museums looted across the Near East, with priceless objects put up for sale on the black market. In the same time frame, courts across the world have ordered museums to send back their most famous pieces to the countries from which they were first taken. How do we decide who owns the past? How should Western nations atone for their colonial history, when they stole art and artifacts for museums back home? How can we even know what “the past” looked like, and how we should teach people about it?

    This discussion-oriented seminar will address these questions and unpack the ethical dilemmas surrounding cultural property and the West’s obsession with the authentic past. We will use case studies to look at those dilemmas head-on, debating topics like: should the Elgin Marbles be returned to Greece? Is it right for agenda-driven government agencies to dictate which era of a historical site is shown to tourists? Is the destruction of monuments a crime against humanity?
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213