At Urban, we want and expect our students to be active historians. Several courses are taught exclusively through documents from the era, and in all our classes, students develop their own analytical ideas through abundant writing and discussion. We are committed to depth of understanding by teaching topic-defined classes that allow intensive study of critical periods, such as through courses like UAS America Transformed, a social history of the United States from 1865 to 1929, and French Revolution, a course on the upheaval and reshaping of a nation.
We believe in the importance of global coverage. Our students can explore the variety and richness of the world with such courses as South African History, UAS Modern Middle East, UAS History of South Asia and Birth of Modern China. Each of these courses focuses on contemporary history and traces current issues to their historical sources.
We value history for the greater understanding of today’s world that it provides. In focusing on the making of the modern world, we aim to highlight how the past is relevant to the present, emphasizing that students are not simply spectators but participants in their society. UAS Environmental History investigates the relationship between humans and the land beginning in pre-colonial times to understand the state of the planet today, and UAS History of Women in America discusses gender issues today by studying the evolution of those roles.
Urban students must take two years of history for graduation. Freshmen take World History 1A and 1B. The US history requirement is fulfilled in the 10th or 11th grade by taking both UAS Making America and UAS Remaking America. All other history classes are electives, which deepen and enrich the student's understanding of particular societies and topics. The University of California system requires two semesters of non-US history in addition to the US history requirement. Many selective colleges expect that students take the equivalent of three years of history; many out-of-state public universities require three years.
Urban Advanced Studies (UAS) history classes tackle complex topics that require a significant level of independent intellectual investigation on the part of the students. The readings may be more challenging in complexity, whether lengthy primary sources or college-level secondary works. Students are expected to read for an argument, as well for the factual information, and make considerable progress in unpacking analysis on their own. Writing assignments prioritize developing original analysis thoroughly supported by evidence, and students are expected to have experience and skill in presenting such arguments. Students should be able to apply themes and ideas to new material, making connections independently in reading, writing and discussion. Expectations around research, when a major component of a course, emphasize independent and original work.
World History (A) (previously titled 20th Century History A) begins by examining the achievements and challenges of the Ottoman empire as it expanded across vast swathes of territory. Under increasing pressure in the 19th century, Ottoman rulers and residents rushed headlong to modernize their society, with varying amounts of success. We will study the outbreak of WWI and the state-led genocide of Armenian peoples, which culminated in the empire's dissolution. In its aftermath, borders were drawn hastily, and nationalist and independence struggles ensued. We will end with this period, and focus our efforts on understanding what constitutes a nation, how they are built, and how culture and society are shaped - both from above and below. (1/2 credit) (Freshmen only)
World History (B) (previously titled 20th Century History B) shifts its focus to the Asian-Pacific region and the modern Japanese empire. We begin with foundational belief systems from the pre-modern era and then examine Japan’s unification under its last feudal military government, which led to two and a half centuries of peace. The flourishing of arts and culture in the Edo period, as well as government bureaucracy, guide our study in this period. We then examine Japan's conflicted relation with the West that leads to the modern era – the Meiji restoration, an embrace of certain Western ideals and the rise of Japan as a world power throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. (1/2 credit) (Freshmen only)
UAS Making America begins with encounters between Native Americans and Europeans, examining the cultural collaborations and challenges. The course then moves to the economic development of society, particularly through the development of and reliance on slave labor. The politics of the American Revolution and the founding of the nation provide the basis for examining the expansion of the country and the increasing conflict over slavery and states rights. Required to fulfill US history requirement. (1/2 credit) (Sophomores or Juniors)
UAS Remaking America challenges students to understand and interpret the evolution of the nation – politically, economically, socially – in the 20th century. Beginning with the Great Depression and the New Deal, the course covers the changing relationship between the federal government and the American public. Students examine the Civil Rights movement and attendant social upheaval in America’s cities, campuses, Indian reservations and households, each of which set the stage for the conservative counter-revolution that crystallized around Ronald Reagan and the rise of the New Right. Students complete an independent research paper in this course. Required to fulfill US history requirement (1/2 credit) (Sophomores or Juniors)
Birth of Modern China closely examines three distinct periods of Chinese history: End of Imperial China (1842-1911), Republican China (1911-1949) and Chairman Mao's China (1949-1976). In 100 years, China transformed from an isolated and independent empire to an internationally embroiled player on the world stage. Students in this course gain a clear understanding of how 2,000 years of dynastic rule collapsed and the significance of western politics and political philosophy in China during the first half of the 20th century. Students also investigate various attempts to recreate and revise a Chinese identity suitable for and powerful enough to engage the modern world. This course takes special care to utilize primary resource materials such as political speeches, propaganda art, literature and film. (1/2 credit) (Sophomores only)
Contemporary Issues: Research and Writing allows students to focus on skills of inquiry, analysis and expression by producing an individual research paper. All topics will be drawn from stories making the news in the last 10 years. Initial readings (newspapers, newsmagazines, selected essays) serve to introduce students to major issues (domestic or international) of the day and jumpstart their thinking about a possible topic. Class meetings provide time to practice research skills, discuss elements of writing, edit and revise. Though the course is historical in nature, it aims to help students improve their approach to general research and strengthen their analytical writing. (1/2 credit) (Sophomores only)
The French Revolution explores the birth of the modern era as the people of France catapulted their country from absolute monarchy to a revolutionary republic, taking hundreds of thousands of lives along the way. This tumultuous upheaval that reshaped Europe in the late 18th century started with the Enlightenment and ended with an uncertain future. The transformation of ideals into action during the French Revolution took many forms: an assertion of human rights that challenged ancient tradition; the mobilization of heretofore voiceless masses; the violent toppling of king and nobility; and many heads being chopped off, all in the name of liberty. (1/2 credit) (Sophomores only)
Globalization asks students to ponder three central questions to shape our efforts: What is globalization? How has it affected people's lives and shaped the way people live? How have people influenced the process of globalization? In attempting to answer these questions, we will define globalization and its broad features, examine the current era of globalization in the economic and cultural realms, and apply the thematic lens of migrations – of people, ideas, commodities, and power. The course includes an independent research project. (1/2 credit) (Sophomores only)
Screening History uses popular Hollywood films as vehicles to analyze US society through the 20th century. Students will study clips of films, research relevant historical context, and analyze how films reflect economic realities, social movements or geopolitical maneuverings of a particular time period. We begin with the rise of the medium. We then initiate our historical examination in the 1920s and conclude in the 1970s by examining how filmmakers engaged with the American role in Vietnam. The course includes an independent research project. (1/2 credit) (Sophomores only)
Comparative Religion: Our Search for Meaning considers the question: what is the meaning of life? We explore some of the answers offered by Native American religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Specifically, we focus on the following topics: creation, the nature of God and man, self-discovery, community, scriptures and rituals. We visit places of worship and invite spokespersons of various faiths to come speak to us. In addition, each student conducts research project on a particular Bay Area religious community. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors)
Economics We begin by developing some basic micro and macro economic literacy. We will have a better sense of the impact of economic decisions on lives and ambitions. We will understand economics as fundamental to and derived from politics, jurisprudence, social justice, ecology, moral philosophy, culture, and technology. We will see that economics is a lens with which we examine and understand threads in the fabric of everyday life like college costs, health care, the music industry, gentrification, etc. We will understand economics as a practical philosophy of applied ethics whereby we consider how to best solve the problem of scarcity and environmental care. Thus, we will focus on two contemporary issues affecting local and global communities: income inequality and environmental sustainability. The last 6 weeks involve primers on income inequality and environmental sustainability culminating in a research project in the student's choice of one of these concerns. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS America Transformed: 1865-1929 is a thematically (rather than chronologically) organized course, which examines social, cultural and economic changes from the perspective of the "common" man and woman rather than that of the national political leadership. Through the lenses of race, class and gender, students explore the following topics: construction of racial identity and race hierarchies; the rise of big business and the ensuing battles between capital and labor for control of the industrial economy; urbanization; immigration and its impact on American culture; marriage and family; and the development of a consumer-driven, leisure-oriented culture. The ultimate aim of the class is for students to construct rich connections between each of the above topics. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Asian American History introduces students to the diverse narratives of Asian diasporic communities in America. The course opens with the first waves of immigration in the mid-19th century to subsequent exclusion laws; the watershed moment of World War II and Japanese American internment; the Civil Rights Movement and the impact of U.S. Imperialism and the Cold War; and end with current issues facing various Asian American communities today. Students will explore themes related to individual and community action, cultural interaction and transformation, as well as othering and belonging in America. We take advantage of San Francisco’s local history with off-site field trips and independent projects to better see the multicultural roots of our city and society. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Constitutional Law is our study of Civil Liberties and The Bill Of Rights and focuses on a number of issues: freedom of speech, press and assembly; the rights of minors and students; and the rights of the accused. We read cases, visit courts and meet with lawyers. Readings include No Heroes, No Villains by Steven Phillips, The Constitution by Fred Friendly and Martin Elliott, and the original texts of several cases and opinions. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Environmental History examines the settlement of North America and the expansion of the United States through the lens of the interactions between people and the land. Moving forward in chronology and as we sweep east to west across North America, students will examine the relations between Indians and settlers, the motivations behind westward expansion and the rise of industrialization. We will also examine environmental racism and the environmental justice movement. Students are encouraged to consider questions of land and resource use and the role of the market economy as they arise from an ethical perspective, as well as an historical one. Readings include Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee, Changes in the Land by William Cronon, and writings by Wendell Berry and Carolyn Merchant. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
US Foreign Policy in the 20th Century and Beyond examines the evolution of the nation's role in the world. From young upstart to global police force, the United States underwent a massive transformation in the scope and scale of its participation in international politics in the 20th century. What forces drove the increasingly interventionist policy? What have been the costs and benefits of American involvement in global affairs when it comes to war, humanitarian issues, arms, aid, development and the environment? The course begins with the Spanish-American War in 1898 when the United States commanded more attention as a major participant in international relations. From there, students will examine the shift away from isolation as the nation rose to prominence throughout the 20th century. Students will also explore current and future challenges facing the nation. Prerequisite: US History Sequence (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS History of South Asia explores a faraway and fascinating place –modern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – from the mid 18th to the mid 20th centuries. Students are immersed in the culture and meet a range of characters from a rural midwife to a tailor, to key figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Much of the early work is around understanding the setting and culture, and we will debate the early British action to outlaw the ritual killing of widows, read and think about Hinduism, investigate the arrival of Islam, weigh the arguments regarding control of Kashmir. The bulk of the course follows the anti-colonial efforts of the early 20th century as Indians agitate for independence, ending in the tragic Partition of 1947. This is an unusual offering for an American high school and will help you develop tools to study other distant places. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS History of Women in America examines the history of the United States with women’s lives at the center of the story. Rather than present a single, cohesive narrative of women in the United States, the course situates gender identity as inseparable from identities of race, class, legal status, and sexuality. The course traces a number of interrelated themes that emerged from rapid industrialization in the late-19th century and follows them to the present: the changing conditions of women as paid and unpaid workers; relations of power between groups of women; struggles for civil and political rights; repression and expressions of sexuality and gender; and contested spaces in the lived experiences of everyday people. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Modern Middle East takes up the stories of three places -Israel/Palestine, Iran and Egypt - as students investigate a number of themes and issues: tyranny and aspirations for democracy, religion and secularism, civil rights and the status of women, western intervention, and nationalism and the nation state. Students gain fluency in the conflict over Israel/Palestine, the 1979 revolution in Iran and subsequent seizing of the American embassy, and the events leading to the Arab Spring in Egypt. Throughout the course, students will be challenged to recognize and wrestle with the preconceptions they bring to the study of this region. Our studies of all three countries begins in the late 1800s but will also include significant reading of contemporary news. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Race in Latin American History begins by examining the significance of race in the region from the colonial era through the 1930s, when a sea change in thinking about race resulted in the emergence of the ideologies that are prevalent in the region today. We will then examine the efforts of the post-1959 Cuban Revolutionary Regime to address racial injustice, and finish by exploring the current significance of race in the region through works in the fields of sociology, anthropology and political science. Major themes to be explored include: the importance of race in the Spanish colonial project, the impact of the wars of independence on race relations, the influence of international currents of thought, and the relationship between ideology and actual conditions. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
Courses Offered in Alternate Years
UAS Contemporary China takes up the continuing debate over the extent of China's power in the world. Contemporary China seeks to understand the role played by the most populous country on earth. Specifically, the course takes an in-depth look at China since the Revolution of 1949. We begin the course with the reign of Mao Tse-Tung and the impact of his efforts to modernize the Chinese State. Students investigate the Cultural Revolution and its various impacts in China and beyond. A significant portion of the course looks at life after Mao and critiques Deng Xiaopeng's decisions to "open" China to the west. The course continues with a close look at China's rapid industrial development and the ensuing environmental challenges this presented. Finally, students engage China's struggles with human rights and evaluate China's role in the global community. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Colonial Origins explores both the Colonial Period (1607-1765) and the American Revolution (1765-1788). Major themes in the Colonial Period include the origins and evolution of American Protestantism, the origins of European contact and relations with Native American tribes/nations and the transformation of both cultures in the course of contact; the origins of slavery and racism; the origins of an African-American culture; and the origins and evolution of a uniquely American culture in the colonial period. The American Revolution will cover the origins of the protest, the course of the War for Independence, and the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Readings will consist of an abundant and rich set of primary and secondary sources. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)
UAS Medieval History introduces students to the rich and complex civilization of medieval Europe. This class begins with a speech and ends with a pamphlet. In 1096 Pope Urban II summoned the nobility of France to engage in a holy war to recapture Jerusalem setting off the first mass movement in European history. In 1517 Martin Luther, an obscure monk in a small German university town nailed 95 theses to a church door calling for a debate. Within three years Luther's call had shaken the Church to its core. New technology like the printing press made possible a revolution that no one had foreseen. In this class we will examine the growth of the Roman Catholic Church's influence and power from the Crusades to Luther. We will study how a variety of people challenged and questioned that power. We will meet Peter Abelard, a scholar, Francis of Assisi, a monk, Joan of Arc, a French teenage warrior, John Hus, an accused heretic and Martin Luther, a priest who threatened to topple the most powerful institution in Europe. We will read autobiographies, poetry, letters, trial transcripts and inflammatory pamphlets. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only).
South African History introduces students to a continent rich in culture, religion, music and art through a focused study of South Africa. After a brief overview of the geography and demographics of the continent, students will explore the political, economic, religious and social organizations on a broad basis, extending from the pre-colonial period to the present. To hone in on South Africa, we will begin our study in the 18th century and continue into the 21st century. The focus will be on studying South Africa on its own terms rather than merely placing it into Eurocentric context of colonialism. (1/2 credit) (Juniors and Seniors only)