Social Sciences at Middlesex

The Social Science Division provides a forum for students to investigate a wide range of ideas in history, religion, psychology, art, government, and economics. Throughout the Division, faculty members share the goal of developing the skills of critical thinking, efficient research, and effective analysis. During classes, students engage in discussions, exchange knowledge, make observations, and ask questions, so that over time, they develop and articulate their own views and philosophies. Students routinely encounter the unfamiliar, in the form of new content and in the form of ideas that may challenge previous ways of thinking. In such situations, students are encouraged to engage with rigorous curiosity and a desire to deepen their understanding, so that they may become engaged citizens of the twenty-first-century world.

All students must take four semesters of history (any course designated as History). Students in Class IV are encouraged to enroll in history both semesters. In the fall semester, students should enroll in Foundations of the East (History 10). In the spring semester, students should enroll in Foundations of the West (History 11). These courses are designed to solidify the skills students will need for future study within the Division.

Students in Class III are encouraged to enroll in history both semesters. In the fall semester, students should enroll in Early Modern World History (History 20). In the spring semester, students should enroll in Modern World History (History 21). Students who wish to take the Advanced Placement World History Examination in May should enroll in both Early Modern World History (History 20) and Modern World History (History 21). An optional Advanced Placement preparation workshop will be offered in concert with Modern World History in the spring.

Students in Class II are required to take United States History (History 30). Alternatively, they may enroll in AP United States History (History 41) if they have completed History 20 and achieved a grade of 88 or higher in History 21. Students may not request AP United States History if they have not taken History 20 and History 21. Students in Class I may enroll in Advanced Placement or seminar courses of their choice.

Upper-level courses, which may be elected by any member of Classes I and II, focus on specific areas within the larger framework of the Social Sciences. These advanced courses encourage students to use the skills and techniques acquired in earlier courses to delve more deeply into fields of personal interest. In cases of over-enrollment, preference will be given to members of Class I.

All upper-level courses taken by a member of Class I or Class II in any area within the Social Science Division, including United States History, confer credit towards the distributional requirement in the Social Sciences. Only courses designated as History will count toward the departmental requirement.

History Courses: 2023-2024

HISTORY 10 – Foundations of the East

History 10 is a semester-long course that explores the development of premodern, ancient, and medieval societies of the Near East and the Far East. Its goal is to introduce students to cultural and religious traditions within their specific historical contexts, so that ninth-grade students can begin the long process of understanding and appreciating the different ways that people around the world and throughout time have tackled the hard every-day work of “being human.” The course takes a loosely chronological approach, beginning with creation myths, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, before moving on to investigate the traditions of the ancient and medieval peoples of India and China. In addition to teaching appropriate classroom engagement and strategic study skills, this course teaches methods for the development of fundamental research and bibliographic skills.

HISTORY 11 – Foundations of the West

History 11 is a semester-long course that begins with the exploration of the earliest European societies of the Mediterranean region. The focus shifts to the Near East to investigate the cultures and traditions of the peoples who developed the monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course follows the expansion of Islam into North Africa, and down into sub-Saharan Africa, where the medieval trading kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai developed very different societies than those previously developed by the peoples of Asia, the Near East, and the Mediterranean region. The course concludes with the reading of Things Fall Apart, a novel that examines the collision of the West African Igbo people and the expansion of the British Empire during the late 19th century. Continued development of effective reading skills, concise and precise writing skills, and fundamental research skills remain and are emphatically practiced in History 11, in preparation for the heightened expectations of World History in the sophomore year.

HISTORY 20 – Early Modern World History

History 20 is a one-semester survey course that focuses on world history from 1450 to the mid-1800s CE. While the course incorporates a wide range of topics pertaining to the processes of globalization, there is an emphasis on the political, intellectual, and cultural issues that shaped the early modern world. Specific attention is paid to learning how to interpret primary source materials and to developing geographic literacy. Students will also work on writing effective paragraphs, utilizing many of the same tenets taught in sophomore writing workshop. Students who wish to take the Advanced Placement examination in World History should enroll in this course and attend the exam preparation workshop offered by the Department during the spring semester.

HISTORY 21 – Modern World History

History 21 is a one-semester survey course that focuses on world history from the mid-1800s to the present. Its focus is to continue to develop the skills of analysis and synthesis, through examination of primary sources, the writing of research papers, and the presentation of ideas in class discussions. This course also features a formal research assignment and continued emphasis on geographic literacy. Students intending to take the Advanced Placement examination in World History should complete Early Modern World History and participate in the workshop offered by the Department during the spring semester.

HISTORY 30 – United States History

This yearlong course examines the history of the United States through the present day. Using a variety of sources and approaching American history from a range of perspectives, the course aims to explore the events, ideas, and processes that have contributed to the development of the nation’s identity, actions, values, and institutions. This historical study simultaneously serves as our lens for building and practicing critical thinking, writing, reading, and research skills that are useful in the discipline of history and beyond.

HISTORY 40 – Advanced Placement Art History
Year. Permission of the Department. Admission to AP Art History is based on performance in United States History, and English 30 and 31. This course may be designated as an Art course.

Spanning from the Paleolithic art of cave painting to new-media installations of the twenty-first century, this course offers a comprehensive investigation of the history of art. Students will also study art from diverse, global traditions, with units dedicated to the arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. As a college-level course, this class will rely on primary sources, academic articles, and a course textbook. Throughout the year, students will also refine the skills associated with art-historical writing and criticism, and the class will make periodic trips to area museums. This course prepares students to take the Advanced Placement Examination in Art History. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences, the Humanities, or the Arts.

HISTORY 41 – Advanced Placement United States History
Year. Prerequisite: History 20 and History 21 (with a minimum grade of 88 in History 21). Students will be ranked and admitted based on their performance in History 21.

This course covers the same topics as History 30 but with a more varied and in-depth approach to inquiry based critical reading through historiography and the interpretation of primary and secondary sources. This reading intensive course is intended for highly motivated students of history and emphasizes a blend of content mastery with the development of extemporaneous expository writing skills. The course relies on seminar discussion and student-centered activities and will prepare students to take the Advanced Placement Examination in United States History.

HISTORY 42 – Advanced Placement European History
Year. Open to Class I and II. Prerequisite: History 30 (with a minimum grade of 87) or History 41 (with a minimum grade of 85). Students will be ranked and admitted based on their performance in their previous History courses.

This content intensive course investigates the political, social, economic, diplomatic, intellectual, and cultural history of Europe, from the Renaissance (c.1350 CE) to the present day. This course is intended for highly motivated students of history and relies on seminar discussion and student engagement. This course will prepare students for the Advanced Placement Examination in European History.

The following seminar courses are open to all members of Classes I and II. In the case of over enrollment, preference will be given to members of Class I.

HISTORY 50 – Afro-American History

This course will explore the African-American experience from the seventeenth to the late twentieth centuries. Using primary and secondary sources, students will hear the stories, explore the cultures, and delve into the causes and effects of slavery in Colonial America, and explore the black presence in the Era of the American Revolution. Students will learn about the complex interplay of freedom and restriction in the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods. Modern African-American History focuses on the struggle to dismantle segregation against the forces of resistance through the World War periods, culminating in the advances of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Students will deepen their understanding of the complexities of color, class, and race in United States History. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 51 – The Viking Age

In this course, we will set sail with the notorious Vikings as we follow their journeys east to Russia and Constantinople, south to the Mediterranean, and west to England, Iceland, and the New World. Along the way we will compare traditional narratives of bloodthirsty conquerors, soulless heathens, and soldiers of fortune with more modern interpretations of the Viking Age. Secondary source readings will be combined with primary source documents and archaeology. Students will meet such historical figures as Harald Bluetooth, Ivar the Boneless, and Leif Erikson, as well as the more notorious gods and goddesses of the Norse Pantheon. Students will write a series of analytical essays and conduct a research project centered on the Viking Age. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 52 – War and Reconciliation

In his provocative 2002 book, the war correspondent Chris Hedges asserted that “war is a force that gives us meaning.” This course will investigate that assertion, based on case studies of human conflict throughout history, from sacred texts in the Torah and from Homeric epic poetry, and with special attention to the ongoing war in Ukraine. Course materials will be drawn from primary source texts, news articles from a variety of media sources, and video clips. Students will write reflections and short essays in response to the course readings and in response to the issue that arise from class discussion. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 53 – History of Colonial America

This course will investigate the founding and expansion of the English settlements along the Eastern Seaboard of North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. Using primary and secondary sources, we will explore the social, political, and economic features of colonial society and study such topics as the development of slavery, the rise of colonial assemblies, and relations between colonists and Native Americans in colonial Virginia, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and other settlements. During the final weeks of the term, we will examine the Anglo-American conflict of the 1760s and 1770s which culminated in the War of the American Revolution and Independence for the United States of America. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 54 – Modern China

In 1800 China produced one-third of the entire world’s manufactured goods. At the same time, its system of government had flourished for two thousand years. Within decades, China’s economic and political systems collapsed, and the next century was characterized by famine, foreign dominance, and political chaos. And while its struggles continued throughout the second half of the twentieth-century—at times at scales that stagger comprehension—China re-emerged in the twenty-first-century as one of the world’s great powers, with an eagerness to actively reshape global balances of power. At the same time, an evolving government has been met with concomitantly shifting domestic challenges, whether political, economic, or biological. Capitalizing on skills developed over the course of students’ study of history at Middlesex, this course will explore the precipitous fall, mortal turmoil, explosive rise, global power, and internal complexity of China, from the Opium Wars to the present. Using diverse primary and secondary sources, as well as multiple media, students will obtain an introduction and overview to one of the most fascinating periods of Chinese history. Through this course, students will acquire an understanding of China’s role in the world today, and how that role very much reflects and responds to its recent past. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 55 – Era of the American Civil War: 1850-1877

Students will explore the complex variables which made the Civil War arguably the most transformative event in US History. Through a variety of primary, secondary, and multimedia sources, students will delve into the political, economic, and social factors which contributed to the coming of the war. We will also examine the formation of the Confederacy, the military campaigns, and the key developments which led to Union victory. The course will close with an examination of the Reconstruction Era which further challenged the restored Union. A principal focus throughout the course will be the “peculiar institution” of American slavery, its abolition, and the ongoing racial tensions which continued to divide the fragile peace of the post-Civil War. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 56 – Global Studies

Global Studies is a one-semester course which will introduce students to the study of globalization. Global Studies aims to help students develop tools and language to help better equip them to understand and navigate the complexities of our ever-connected and quickly changing world. Through the study of history, geography, politics, philosophy, economics, and religion, students will be introduced to an interdisciplinary understanding of contemporary issues such as migration, justice, and culture, to name a few. Students will have the opportunity to supplement their readings and class discussions with current events. By the end of the course, students will have a more focused idea on how to think through the experiences of others, both on campus and around the world. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 57 – The Rise and Fall of Rome

How did an upstart, hillside village on the banks of the Tiber transform into the imperial juggernaut of the Roman Empire? What was so special about Scipio, so appealing about Augustus or so nefarious about Nero? How did Rome change from Monarchy to Republic to Empire and what made their success so special? This course will examine the rise of the Roman Republic, its descent into civil war(s), and its emergence as an Empire before considering its collapse and lasting legacy. Along the way, students will examine primary sources like inscriptions, consider artwork, and consult histories, poetry, and epics. All texts will be in translation, and no prior knowledge of Greek or Latin is required. The course will explore key questions about power dynamics, imperialism, colonialism, and the lasting connections between the Capitoline hill and the U.S Capitol. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 58 – From Siddhartha to America: The Origins and Evolution of Mindfulness

This course explores the history, origin, and evolution of mindfulness meditation. We will begin with the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in the 6th century BCE and examine the recent mainstream mindfulness movement in America. Students will learn about how mindfulness was taught in the original texts, and how the definition has evolved and adapted over centuries. We will also study the different ways in which mindfulness is moving into literature, education, healthcare, corporations, and other social and cultural institutions, and the ethical debate behind this movement. Throughout the course, students will also be testing the validity of the teachings from a first-person perspective in their own meditation practice. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 59 – Art and Life in Nineteenth-Century France
Spring. This course may be designated as an Art course.

From Courbet’s Burial at Ornans to Monet’s Waterlilies and from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, many of France’s most recognizable cultural contributions were executed during the nineteenth century. In this course, we will consider the historical backdrop against which these monuments were created, gaining insight into the unique conditions that led to a flourishing of culture and, ultimately, to a radical reconsideration of France’s established institutions. Making use of scholarly secondary sources and a wide range of primary sources—including art, essays and works of fiction—we will pursue an in-depth investigation of this period and its persistent impacts on the conditions of modern life. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences, the Arts, or the Humanities.

HISTORY 60 – Lost Gospels, Church Fathers, and Secrets: A History of Early Christianity

Unlike the Greek goddess Athena, Christianity did not spring into the world fully formed, and in this course, students will explore the turbulent, confusing, and challenging history of Early Christianity. We will examine the Greco-Roman context in which Jesus of Nazareth preached, the spread and interpretations of his followers, and the discord and competition between different groups of believers. We will meet Donatists, Montanists, and Arians, as well as the various saints (Augustine, Valentine, and Nicolas to name a few) and sinners who helped shape the trajectory of this world religion. Students will ask historical questions as we seek to explain how a small mystery cult rose to become the state religion of the Roman Empire. Readings will be pulled from primary sources, the Old and New Testaments, as well as textbook passages and articles. This class is a history course, and not a theology seminar; as such we will be reading religious texts as historical documents and asking questions which may challenge traditional or religious narratives. Assessments will include analytical essays and a research project. No prior knowledge of Christianity, Greek, or Latin required. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 61 – Beyond Unraveling Racism: The Sources and Impacts of Discrimination

Building off of the work of U.S. History, this one-semester course examines the pervasive nature of racism, both in policy and in practice. Using a variety of sources, including books, articles, TED talks, and podcasts, students will work together to examine — to “unravel” — the ways that race has been utilized to construct our modern-day “American society.” The course begins with an analysis of the African-American experience, though we also examine the experiences of Latin, Asian, Native, and LGBTQIA+ Americans. This course will rely heavily on robust student engagement in class discussions and in ongoing reflection in journals. This course requires students to pursue independent research, and to compose a college-level research paper. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

HISTORY 62 – Dangerous Women: Gender, Power and Prejudice in Greek and Roman History

In this course, students will examine, through a close reading of ancient and modern sources, the lives of remarkable women from across the ancient Mediterranean. We will consider how each wielded power and influence within her world, and we will analyze the ways in which these women both conformed to and rebelled against societal constraints and expectations, hoping to discover what has made them dangerous throughout the millennia. Queens and empresses from Tomyris, Aspasia and Cleopatra to Livia Drusilla, Agrippina, and Theodora will be studied alongside legendary figures such as the revolutionary Briton Boudicca and Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great. All readings will be in English translation; no knowledge of Greek or Latin is required or presumed. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.


Political Science Courses: 2023-2024

POLITICAL SCIENCE 40 – American Government
Fall. Prerequisite: a grade of at least 84 in United States History or the previous year’s history course and Permission of the Department.

The study of political science aims to identify and understand fundamental patterns in political institutions and human behavior that explain political outcomes. How do citizens acquire partisanship? What factors influence the outcomes of elections? How do members of Congress decide how to vote on legislation? The first half of this course focuses on American citizens, their knowledge of politics, and their ability to structure and participate in a functioning democracy. Throughout the course, we pay particular attention to understanding contemporary politics through the lens of the various theories and findings we encounter.

POLITICAL SCIENCE 41 – Advanced Placement American Government and Politics
Spring. Prerequisite: A grade of 84 or above in Political Science 40 and Permission of the Department.

A continuation of Political Science 40, the second semester of the American Government and Politics sequence focuses on the institutions of government, including the political parties, elections, Congress, the presidency, and the Supreme Court, aiming to understand whether these institutions effectively represent the American people and how the polarization of politics has influenced the effectiveness of the American political system. As in the first semester, this material is heavily grounded in examples from contemporary politics. Together with Political Science 40, this course prepares students for the Advanced Placement Examination in American Government and Politics.

Religious Studies Courses: 2023-2024

RELIGIOUS STUDIES 48 – Western Religions

Come discover what unites and separates the three, major, monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three worship the same God and share the same Hebrew Bible as their foundational text, and yet the relationship among these three great world religions has been far from peaceful over the millennia. Our focus will be readings from the sacred texts of these three religions, and we will end the semester with a research project on a topic of the student’s choice. Daily discussions will be an integral part of the class expectations and assessments, as well as several reading quizzes and analytical essays. Take this class to decide if indeed “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin). Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities. THIS COURSE WILL NOT BE OFFERED IN 2023-2024.

RELIGIOUS STUDIES 49 – Eastern Religions

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism share similar geographical and philosophical origins and yet diverge considerably in their respective beliefs and practices. Come study the wisdom of these ancient traditions and learn what a third of the world population believes. Our reading will include both primary and secondary sources, and we will end the semester with a research project of the student’s own choice. Daily discussions will be an integral part of the class expectations and assessments, as well as several reading quizzes and analytical essays. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” (Lao Tzu), so come join in a journey to the depths and heights of Eastern theology and philosophy. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.


In this course we will examine several philosophical “BIG questions” of human existence, focusing on reality, equality, existentialism, free will, and ethics. We will study these elusive and enigmatic questions by reading selections from ancient Greeks to modern day Americans (such as Camus, Descartes, Kant, Nagel, Plato, Sartre, Singer, and Vonnegut); we will also watch some relevant films (such as Groundhog Day, Pleasantville, Sliding Doors, and The Truman Show). Daily discussions will be an integral part of the class experience and academic assessment. Students will write a series of papers, both personal and analytical. This class is for the open-minded student, secure enough to consider new ideas, confident enough to defend their ideas, respectful enough to hear other ideas, and prepared enough to participate avidly each day. Distributional credit in the Social Sciences or the Humanities.

Economics Courses: 2023-2024

ECONOMICS 41 – Advanced Placement Economics
Year. Admission to AP Economics is based on performance in United States History (85 in AP US History or 87 in US History) and in mathematics (85 in Math 49 or 87 in Math 39). In the case of over enrollment, students will be ranked and admitted based on their performance in History and Math courses.

Economics is the study of choice. At all of society we, as individuals, organizations, and governments, must make choices about how to best utilize our scarce resources. Economics develops problem solving approaches that help us to identify and value the benefits and costs of these decisions. Economics is applied to many facets of our lives, such as environmental protection and climate change, healthcare, international relations between countries, and social welfare policies. This course introduces students to the economic approach to problem solving. The course is split into two halves: macro- and microeconomics. The macroeconomics portion of the course will discuss the indicators used to judge the economic health of a nation and how policy makers use fiscal and monetary policy to target economic growth, low unemployment, and price stability. The microeconomics section of the course will analyze the behavior of individual consumers and producers in competitive and non-competitive markets and analyze the societal impact of government policies. This course prepares students to take the Advanced Placement Examinations in Microeconomics and Macroeconomics.

Psychology Courses: 2023-2024

PSYCHOLOGY 50 – Psychology

What does it mean to be human? Who are you and why are you the way you are? How do people suffer and how are these problems addressed in psychotherapy? These are just a few of the big questions we will explore in this introductory course to psychology. To this end, we will examine psychological theories and research in the realms of personality, developmental, social, cognitive, abnormal, and clinical psychology. We will read case studies, explore current research, and observe our own experiences in order to better understand ourselves and how we relate to the world around us. This is an activities, discussion and research-based class requiring a curious and open mind and a willingness to participate in self-reflection.