Upper School


The Ellis History Department is transforming the ways in which students learn about the past as they become engaged global citizens and leaders.

In the junior year, students take on the roles of historians, using Pittsburgh as their laboratory to conduct non-traditional primary research in community archives and museums. Whether participating in a simulated archaeological dig or a 17th Century European witchcraft trial, Ellis history classrooms are innovative and emphasize active problem-based learning, interdisciplinary approaches, and collaboration. At all levels, students employ digital media and tools to enhance the teaching and understanding of history: the ninth grade web-based Uluburun shipwreck project allows students to uncover the global trade routes of the ancient world, and a faculty-curated online historical exhibit on Soviet propaganda introduces students to the weapons of mass persuasion of dictatorships. In all courses, students develop advanced skills such as critical thinking, research, analysis, and communication as well as a deep understanding of diverse perspectives in order to successfully negotiate and master the complexities of the modern interconnected world.

History Curriculum

List of 8 items.

  • World History I

    Required Course | Grade 9

    This course examines ideas, values, concepts, and institutions pertinent to the development of world civilizations before 1500. Areas of study range from the Bronze Age to the colonization of the Americas and include the earliest riverine civilizations, the ancient and medieval Mediterranean, the origins of world religions, East Asian dynasties and cultures, and the colonial encounter in Africa and the Americas. Students are instructed in the use of evidence, secondary material, and historical analysis and an emphasis is placed on the various methods of inquiry. Contextually integrated into the course are twenty-first century information literacy skills, equipping students to locate sources in both print and online venues, to analyze information in a critical and scholarly manner, to synthesize their knowledge, and to produce an organized and well-documented research paper.
  • World History II

    Required Course | Grade 10

    Modern World History spans the period from 1600 to 1945 and consists of two distinct areas of study. During the first term, students concentrate on the major religious, political, social, and economic developments that propelled Europe into a position of world domination. During the second term, students examine the development of indigenous cultures in Asia and Africa, focusing particularly on European influences. Students also investigate the origins of the major world conflicts of the early twentieth century. Readings for this course include a variety of primary and secondary documents and emphasis is placed on the various methods of inquiry. Class discussions and a variety of materials, primary and secondary sources, newspapers, statistics, fiction and films are used to formulate and evaluate several hypotheses and concepts.

    Prerequisites: World History I
  • Survey of American History

    Required Course | Grade 11

    The primary focus of this course is on the people, issues, and events that have changed this country since it was first settled. This course requires students to master historical and analytic skills––including chronological and spatial thinking, historical research, and the interpretation and analysis of primary sources––as they investigate the progressive development of all aspects of American society and culture. This course also seeks to encourage active questioning, analysis, and opinion––approaching history as a dynamic narrative rather than a static record.

    Prerequisites: World History II

  • AP United States History

    Elective Course | Grade 11

    This course focuses on the connections of changing ideas in American history such as politics and the Constitution, ethnicity and gender, and literature and art. The course encourages each student to develop their own interpretation of events and ideas and to think independently while examining the ideas of others. Students will develop confidence in the use of both primary and secondary source information in reaching a range of their own conclusions about what they’ve learned.
  • Economics

    Elective Course | Grades 11-12

    This course covers the fundamentals of macroeconomics and helps students develop the capacity for economic reasoning. Topics include supply and demand, markets, income distribution, unemployment, inflation, economic growth, international economic relations, and fiscal and monetary policy. Students will use group discussions, problem sets, simulations, and presentations to determine the variables and patterns that shape what they know as the “economy.” The course culminates in two capstone projects. One requires the skills of an economic historian, while the other requires the vision of an economic forecaster.
  • History Seminar: Gender and Power

    Elective Course | Grades 11-12

    This course aims to engage students in some of the major issues involving gender and power in global history. In this college style seminar, students will study a wide range of historical texts exploring gender (written and visual) and the historical and cultural contexts that produced them. Students will consider how ideas about gender and power relations have been defined in different societies over time and to what extent such ideas have changed or remained the same. The course will explore these topics in Elizabethan England, early witchcraft trials, the French Revolution, the Victorian Era, the Roaring Twenties, and the 20th century. Throughout the course, students will conduct document analyses, write weekly papers, and participate in historical simulations. In the final stage of this course, students will develop and design a gender project on a contemporary issue.
  • AP Comparative Government & Politics

    Elective Course | Grades 11-12

    This course explores the global diversity of governments and politics outside the United States. Comparison of political systems clarifies the structures and policies that countries have used––effectively or ineffectively––to govern themselves. Why are some countries stable long-term democracies, and not others?  This course looks specifically at China, Great Britain, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia, and the distinctive political and cultural dynamics of each.  Using these six countries, students move beyond discussion of abstract concepts and definitions, to the exploration of concrete “real-world” scenarios. Through comparison with other government systems, students will also develop a clearer understanding of government and politics in the United States. This course will prepare students to take the AP Comparative Government & Politics Exam
  • AP European History

    Elective Course | Grade 12

    Advanced Placement European History is a comprehensive study of the political issues, social and economic developments, and cultural and intellectual movements that shaped (and still shape) Modern Europe. In this course, students will learn to analyze historical materials, to write effectively, and to develop the ability to assess evidence and historical interpretations. This course will prepare students to take the AP European History Exam. Students will also gain the essentials of historical and critical thinking applicable and crucial to becoming 21st century global leaders and citizens.

    SAT II: American and European history may be taken upon completion of relevant courses.

Co-curricular Highlights

List of 2 items.

  • Potlatch

    Each year Ellis anthropology students engage in a Potlatch to understand a “prestige economy.” This is a type of economy which is not based on market forces. During a Potlatch, indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast traditionally gave away massive quantities of food, clothing, and household items to a rival village. Potlatches were held to celebrate a particular rite of passage, but they were also competitions for prestige between two rival tribes. Cultural anthropologists think that Potlatches also served the function of redistributing wealth.
    Because of the variation in climate in areas where Potlatches were held, indigenous groups would have prosperous years interspersed with lean years. A prosperous host group would give away food, blankets, candlefish, and other accumulated goods to a less fortunate guest group. The gifts allowed the guests to survive the winter but they took them grudgingly and promised to give a return Potlatch in which they would give away more than they were receiving. Ellis anthropology students divide into rival tribes and compete in two extravagant Potlatches.
  • The Dig

    The grade 9 simulated archaeological excavation is an exercise in authentic learning. It is used to acquaint students with archaeological methods and the use of primary source material to reconstruct an ancient civilization. This experiential introduction to archaeology is also a forum for interdisciplinary education. It utilizes the scientific method and integrates the disciplines of geology, botany, economics, mathematics, art, photography, computer technology, and archaeology. The students excavate artifacts, ecofacts, and features, and use this primary source material to reconstruct an ancient culture. They also learn to appreciate Anasazi culture, which is represented by the material remains in the simulated site. Students work in teams during the excavation and analysis of artifacts. They also learn about archaeological ethics by excavating and reburying simulated skeletal remains.
    The ninth grade history students who excavated the site are first acquainted with archaeological terminology and techniques in the classroom and then given assignments for the day of the dig. There are many different jobs on the site, and students rotate through several positions. Adjacent to the site, a lab is set up for washing the artifacts, describing and cataloging them, drawing pottery, and finally repairing pottery. Everything recovered from the excavation is carefully labeled with the proper level and square number. There is also an experimental archaeology component to the dig. Students practice flintknapping, create jewelry using a stone drill, and make cordage from plant fibers. After the dig, all of the data from the excavation is assembled, and the students write a site report. They use photographs and site maps to reconstruct the context of the site. After the dig, they are able to describe the different periods of Anasazi culture using only the excavated primary source material.