History and Social Studies

Three years of history and social studies are required for graduation. Ninth-grade students will study Multicultural America, and tenth-grade students will take Contemporary World History or AP European History. Juniors and seniors will have several options and will choose from a set of electives, which may include: AP United States History; AP European History; American Environmental History; Genocide and Holocaust Studies; Urban Research and Design; Politics, Principles, and Public Policy; Memory, Culture, and Identity; Modern Middle East History; Russian History; and Topics in History. These elective courses will be offered on a rotating basis, and any of them can be taken to fulfill the required third year of study.


History and Social Studies Faculty


Ninth Grade

Multicultural America

Year – 6 credits

Required for ninth grade students.

Americans in the 21st century continue to struggle over the meaning and substance of the nation’s democratic ideals. In the process, they must navigate complex sets of institutionalized forms of power and privilege, which significantly shape their life chances and opportunities. This course focuses on issues of social justice and the social construction of both individual and national identities. It charts how individuals operate and dream within contexts shaped significantly by historical forces, such as race, class, gender, sexuality, and power. We will use a multicultural, interdisciplinary lens to explore the ways in which past struggles for power and rights, often rooted in identity-based conflicts, shape contemporary American political and social interactions as well as broader, global struggles. Students will be pressed to explore their personal values and to think critically about the meaning of social justice and equity. This course will challenge students to interpret primary documents and to hone their analytical essay writing skills.

Tenth Grade

Contemporary World History

Year – 6 credits

Open to tenth grade students.

This course will examine important events, ideas, institutions, and developments throughout the world from the late nineteenth century to the present. Each trimester will be organized around a discrete theme. We will begin with a study of imperialism, nationalism, World War I, and the Russian Revolution; we will explore the experiences and contributions of multiple individuals and the relationships among nations in many regions of the world. From a global perspective, we will investigate World War II, genocide, and the Cold War. We will trace the development of China’s Communist Revolution, decolonization, and the many forces that have shaped the Middle East in the twentieth century. In addition to developing a strong command over the material, we will develop skills essential to the success of thoughtful, scholarly students. Through lecture, discussion, film, and a careful reading and analysis of primary and secondary documents, students will examine issues from multiple points of view. Throughout the year, we will work to develop, articulate, and defend our ideas, and, in doing so, we will expand our capacities for critical thinking.

AP European History

Year - 6 credits

This college-level course requires the following:

  • Extensive (at least one hour) nightly reading of college-level text
  • Written analysis of primary and secondary sources
  • Timed weekly essay writing
  • A willingness to devote the time required for mastery of detailed content material

The course serves as an intensive study of the history of Europe from 1400 to the present. From the time of the Renaissance through the collapse of communism, this class teaches the evolution of political, cultural, military, economic, philosophical, and religious ideals. Although there are certainly a lot of names, wars, and dates involved, AP European History is primarily a class about ideas. We will pursue our study of European history from a thematic approach each trimester. The first trimester will be devoted to the intellectual break with tradition from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment.

Students will discover the ideas and thoughts that influence the Long-19th century from 1789 (French Revolution) to the outbreak of World War I (1914), which will be the focus of the second trimester. Our third trimester will be devoted to responses to war, revolution, and totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. Throughout class, we will analyze primary and secondary sources, stressing the importance of their connection to the ideas and themes of history. Students will develop critical thinking and analysis skills through the use of these documents and sources. All students will prepare to take the AP European history exam in the spring. Students will practice with free-response and document-based questions taken directly from past AP exams.

Eleventh and Twelfth Grade

AP United States History

Year - 6 credits

This college-level course requires the following:

  • Extensive (at least one hour) nightly reading of college-level text
  • Written analysis of primary and secondary sources
  • Timed weekly essay writing
  • A willingness to devote the time required for mastery of detailed content materials

This course will cover the American experience from 1400 to the present. The course will be organized thematically as well as chronologically. We will begin with the transatlantic Age of Revolution, exploring the American Revolution in a global context. The course will trace the development of the American nation and the persistent challenges to American nationalism throughout the 19th century. We will chart the origins of the Civil War and assess the radicalism of Reconstruction. Industrialization, the Progressive reform movement, the New Deal, the domestic consequences of the world wars, the Cold War, and de-industrialization will be some of the additional themes examined. Lectures, discussions, films, and primary document analysis will provide the basis for our exploration into the American past. Students will master analytical writing, oral argumentation, and critical thinking skills, and students will read secondary works penned by some of the greatest modern historians.

Russian History

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors

Winston Churchill once said that Russia ‘is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’ Together we will seek to unwrap the mystery and understand the complex socio-cultural forces at work in Russia. This course follows a chronological study of Russia from Peter the Great (1689-1725) to President Vladimir Putin. Although the primary focus of this course will be placed in the internal developments, appropriate attention will be paid to Russia’s role in international relations. Combined with political, social, and economic studies of Russia, this class will provide opportunities to engage with Russian culture and literature. The works of Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, and Solzhenitsyn will supplement our readings from assigned texts. Major thematic units will be: the rise of the Russian empire, enlightened despotism under Catherine the Great, Russia’s role in 19th century Europe, the era of reform, Russia in revolution, the Stalinist era, the Soviet Union’s Cold War, the Gorbachev era, and the creation of a new Russia after the collapse of Communism. Special attention will be paid to current events concerning Russia’s role in the modern world as they develop. This course will emphasize critical thinking, the open exchange of ideas, and the production of various forms of written assessment to include argument-driven essays and historical biography.

Politics, Principles, and Public Policy

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors

“The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”
–Justice Anthony Kennedy, 1992

Questions will dominate this course as we seek to understand the complex values and principles lurking beneath Mr. Justice Kennedy’s call for tolerance and vision of government. What does it mean in practice to tolerate speech? Under what, if any, circumstances can meeting the obligations governance require the restriction of rights? How is political power best exercised? To what extent should public policies become agents of social change? What is the proper balance between liberty and security? To address these and other questions, we will survey some of the great issues and controversies that surround American politics. We will analyze the principles behind the formation of the Constitution, paying particular attention to the federated nature of the American system and the dispersal of political powers among the three branches of national government. Students will deepen their understanding of civic life, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the formation of public policies. This course has an additional, somewhat practical side. It is hoped that students will be inspired to invest themselves in the political process, to think of ways to improve public policies, and to press their ideas in the public realm. This course will emphasize critical thinking, the open exchange of ideas, and the production of argument-driven essays.

Modern Middle East History

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors

This survey course addresses the main economic, religious, political, and cultural trends in the modern Middle East. Topics to be covered include the cultural diversity of the Middle East, relations with Great Powers, the impact of imperialism, the challenge of modernity, the creation of nation states and nationalist ideologies, the discovery of oil, radical religious groups, and war and peace. Throughout the course these significant changes will be evaluated in light of their impact on the lives of a variety of individuals in the region and especially how they have grappled differently with increasing Western political and economic domination. Topics of focus will include the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, European imperialism, the rise of nationalism and Zionism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, political Islam and the role of the United States in the region. Attention will be paid to the links between the history of the modern Middle East and current events surrounding the US-led invasion of Iraq, Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria, and Iranian nuclear treaty. This course will emphasize critical thinking, the open exchange of ideas, and the production of argument-driven essays.

American Constitutional Law

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors

“The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”
–Justice Anthony Kennedy, 1992

This course seeks to understand the competing values and constitutional principles lurking beneath Justice Kennedy’s call for tolerance and the proper obligations of government. It surveys some of the great issues and controversies that surround America’s founding document. We will read U.S. Supreme Court decisions and listen to selected oral arguments seeking to understand the nature of the Constitution, the contested nature of its interpretation, and the evolving meaning of civil liberties and civil rights, such as free expression, school desegregation, voting rights, and privacy. The social and cultural context of these decisions will be particularly emphasized. Together, we will explore the following questions: What is the proper role of the Supreme Court in the political process? What is the constitutional framework for judicial review? To what extent should the Court become an agent of political change? What does it mean in practice to tolerate speech? What is cruel and unusual punishment? What is the proper balance between liberty and security? This course will emphasize critical thinking, the open exchange of ideas, and advanced essay writing skills.

Machine Learning and the Social Implications of Artificial Intelligence

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors.

Prerequisite: successful completion of a Level 1 Computer Science course.

Machine learning is ubiquitous today, utilized in everything from curating recommendation lists on Netflix, to diagnosing medical conditions, to detecting credit card fraud. As a result of the pervasiveness of this technology, and the desire to fully prepare our students to be fully engaged citizens, the Computer Science and History departments will offer this co-taught, full year course on Machine Learning. In this course, students will learn how to ask questions and solve problems with big-data to better understand the world from both historical and contemporary perspectives. Using critical thinking skills, students will explore and grapple with issues – such as determining authorship, understanding political affiliations, optimizing transportation systems, and analyzing the criminal justice system – that require an interdisciplinary lens to be understood best. Through this integrated class, students will learn the computer science techniques necessary to engage societal problems, they will be able to understand the historical forces that sired these issues in the first place, and they will be able to better predict the possible social and political consequences of technological change. Students who take this course can earn credit for either a computer science or history course, but not both, and must designate their choice at the time of enrollment.

Urban Research and Design: Communities and Civic Engagement

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors.

This course seeks to breach the traditional classroom walls, pushing students outside of the confines of Winchester Thurston and reducing the boundaries between the city and the school. Cities acquire their shape and function from the dynamic interaction of social, cultural, political, ecological, and economic systems. Urban design connects these various systems in order to create places and programs that elevate the human condition. Broadly conceived, urban designers fuse various disciplines—ranging from architecture to political science to environmental science—to promote the creation of communities that connect people and places, raise the quality of life, and address recognized impediments to long-term sustainability. Global trends underscore the importance of thoughtful design. By 2050, human geographers believe that 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, and the cities in which you will live, work, and raise families will face difficult challenges involving social inequality, housing, transportation, deteriorating infrastructure, post-industrial revitalization, environmental sustainability, crime, and food security. Throughout this course, you will be challenged to address these issues and imagine creative solutions. We will explore these issues through hands-on activities, course readings, conversations with experts and community members, and extensive fieldwork throughout the city. You will become familiar with different aspects of urban site design, and you will work individually and collaboratively to address social issues and to create two studio projects. This course envisions students directing their own learning, pursuing their intellectual interests, and making a lasting, valuable contribution to the Pittsburgh community.

Genocide and Holocaust Studies

Year – 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors.

Genocide and Holocaust Studies is designed to develop student awareness of the issues associated with the concept of genocide. It will explore historical examples of genocide using a diversity of approaches, which include, history, literature, sociology, economics, and political science. Students will first engage in building a theoretical framework of genocide and the role of human behavior in modern genocide. The dominant focus of the year will be the Holocaust, but the Armenian genocide, the violent disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Sudan, and current issues around the world will be explored at length. Students will expand their knowledge of the conceptual framework of genocide including racism, Antisemitism, prejudice, and ideology. Students will collaborate to answer the questions: Who were the perpetrators? Who were the victims? How do we remember and memorialize these historical events? How have these countries reconciled with their own past?

AP Economics

Year - 6 credits

Open to juniors and seniors.

This course begins with a study of the content of the AP curriculum in Microeconomics and ends with Macroeconomics. Students are required to take the AP exam in either Microeconomics or Macroeconomics, but they may choose to take both. These are separate two-hour exams, one offered in the morning, and the other on the same day in the afternoon. The focus of Microeconomics is on factors that influence economic decisions made by individuals and firms. Major topics covered include supply and demand analysis, theory of consumer choice, costs of production, market structures, and market failure and the role of government. Macroeconomics focuses on the economy as a whole. Major topics involve measuring economic variables related to production and prices, and developing models that explain the relationship between these variables in the short-run and long-run. Graphical analysis is used extensively throughout the year. A strong background in mathematics is required.

NOTE: This course does not meet the WT graduation requirement for the third year of history.

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555 Morewood Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
P: 412-578-7500
F: 412-578-7504

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Allison Park, PA 15101
P: 412-486-8341
F: 412-578-7504