Social Studies
Social Studies

The Social Studies Department has a two-fold mission and commitment to students: (1) to help them understand and process the forces of history that have shaped our times and the world in which we live; and (2) to develop within students the skills and facility to understand and conduct historical research.

The first task is designed to provide students with knowledge and information so that they are familiar with the events of history, the concepts and ideas that have influenced and resulted from the course of events and the actions of people, and the patterns that have emerged among diverse peoples over time. From the subfreshman through junior year, courses survey the sweep of history from the emergence of humans to modern times. The places are varied – from the riverine civilizations in Africa and Asia to the plains of Europe to the shores of New England.

Having focused on developing this proficiency over several years, students then have several options as juniors and seniors. A course on race, class and gender in American popular culture examines the construction of these concepts in the context of early and later 20th century American history. A course on the world since 1945 examines the political and economic foundations of relationships between nations and peoples in the contemporary world. A course on interdisciplinary thinking aims to introduce students to a number of social science disciplines beyond history, and helps them learn how to combine the insights of multiple fields to try to understand complex social problems in the world today. A course on psychology is designed to give students a better sense of how psychologists study human behavior and thinking. For juniors and seniors who are interested, Social Studies Laboratory introduces students to various research methods in both the humanities and social sciences as they complete an original piece of student scholarship.


Introduction to Social Studies


(1 unit)

This course is designed to introduce students to various ways of studying and thinking about the histories and cultures of human societies, past and present. In the first part of the year, we explore the U. S. constitution and the history of rights in the United States. We will also learn more about how historians work: what kinds of evidence they look for, and how they use it to make sense of the past. In order to further develop skills in historical inquiry, we then work for several months on an extensive oral history project. This involves interviewing people from our local community who have been involved in struggles for equal rights, putting individual experiences into a broader context, and preparing these materials to be used in a student-produced radio documentary, which will be broadcast on public radio. Throughout the course, students are asked to consider different kinds of evidence and arguments, to ask and answer questions thoughtfully, and to think about the causes and consequences of forces that have shaped people’s lives in different times and places.

World History (c.1000 BCE-c.1500 CE)

(9th grade)

(1 unit)

This course will cover the histories of Ancient Greece and Rome, Western Europe through the Age of Exploration, Islam from its beginnings through the Ottoman Empire, and the civilizations of Africa and the Americas with particular emphasis on their contact with Europeans and Muslims. The focus will be on the political, economic, social, religious, and cultural factors shaping these civilizations. Emphasis is also placed on the cause and effect processes of history so that students can understand the larger and cross-cultural forces that shape our world.

Modern History (c.1500-1945)

(10th grade)

(1 unit)

This course continues with the rise of Western Europe to global prominence from the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation through the democratic and industrial revolutions and colonial expansion of the nineteenth century up to 1945. Special emphasis will be placed on the development of the characteristics and forces of modernity and their spread to the rest of the world, as well as the problems of modernity as seen in the two world wars and the Holocaust.

U.S. History

(11th grade)

(1 unit)

This course is designed to give juniors a basic understanding of American history and an introduction to selected interpretative questions derived from such study. The major chronological periods surveyed include: the pre-colonial and colonial periods, the American Revolution, the early National period, the Age of Jackson, Civil War and Reconstruction, the Populist and Progressive periods, the New Deal, the period of the World Wars, and the post 1945 period.

Race, Class, and Gender in 20th Century American Popular Culture (Fall)

(11th – 12th)

(1/2 unit)

This class will use the approaches of cultural history and the interdisciplinary field of American Studies to investigate 20th century American history. Using evidence from film, television, music, sports and periodical literature, this class will give students a deeper understanding of race, class and gender in American society. For example, the class might study the emergence of Rock & Roll to learn about race and integration, or films from the Great Depression to talk about class and economic opportunity. While students may develop a better understanding of “content” (20th century American history) in this class, the real goal is to develop a certain way of thinking. This class strives to teach students how to use popular culture sources as “texts” in order to illuminate the contours of race, class, and gender ideologies (as well as sexuality, political culture, foreign policy, etc.). While this style of thinking will certainly be useful for students in future history classes, it also provides a valuable framework for analyzing the current media landscape. The class has been modified to fit within one semester and will be offered in the Fall only.

Interdisciplinary Thinking: Using the Social Sciences to Study World Issues (Spring)

(11th – 12th grade)

(1/2 unit)

This elective course aims to introduce students to a number of social science disciplines beyond history, and to help them learn how to combine the insights of multiple fields to try to understand complex social problems in the world today. In the first quarter, students will learn the methodological approaches and analytical strategies that characterize disciplines such as cultural anthropology, economics, human geography, political science, psychology, and sociology. Working as a class, students will then practice using a multi-disciplinary approach as they tackle several world issues – such as global poverty, migrations and immigration, warfare, disease, women’s rights (specific topics may change from year to year). Finally, students will develop and work on their own individual projects on a current issue of their choice, using a multi-disciplinary perspective to analyze that issue. This onesemester course will be offered only in the Spring.

World Since 1945 (Fall and/or Spring)

(11th – 12th grade)

(1/2 unit)

This course focuses on the Cold War, the stresses of rapid modernization, in both the United States and developing world, and on the movement towards globalization since the end of World War II. Through readings, videos, and discussion, the course will examine the integration of national economies, the blending of cultures, and the impact of technological change. Students may sign up for either or both semesters.

Social Studies Laboratory (Fall)

(11th – 12th grade)

(1/2 unit)

This course introduces students to various research methods in both the humanities and social sciences as they complete an original piece of student scholarship. The goal of the course is to facilitate autonomous and creative research by allowing students the opportunity to dive deeply into a topic they find particularly interesting. Students can pursue more traditional research projects, such as a research paper or ethnography, or engage in digital humanities or public scholarship, such as 3D modeling, documentary film, or podcasting. In addition, students have the opportunity to participate in university initiatives and local community projects, like SourceLab or History Harvest, and use university resources such as the CU Community Fab Lab and University Library. Students will learn different research methods, the process or peer review, and professional scholarship presentation and dissemination skills. Students will spend a significant part of the semester engaged in independent research with mentoring from the instructor.

Introduction to Psychology (Spring)

(11th – 12th grade)

(1/2 unit)

This course is designed to give students a better sense of how psychologists study human behavior and thinking. After a brief overview of the history of the discipline, the course will explore a number of topics central to modern psychology, such as sensation and perception; nature, nurture and human development; ways that people learn and remember; language and its connection to our thinking; social psychology; emotions and stress; defining and treating psychological disorders. The course will introduce students to methods of psychological research and invite them to engage with the evidence put forth on different sides of current debates in the field.


Chris Butler (butler3) teaches Modern History and World Since 1945. He earned his B.A. and his M.Ed degrees at the University of Illinois.

Kimberly Hursh (khursh8@illinois.edu)
teaches Intro to Social Studies.

Ben Leff (leff) teaches Junior US History, Interdisciplinary Thinking and Race Class and Gender in 20th Century American Popular Culture. He is an alum of class of 2001. He holds a bachelor's degree in history and master's degree in American history from Brown University.

Melissa Schoeplein (mschoepl) is the Executive Teacher for the Department of Social Studies. She teaches Introduction to Social Studies and coordinates the Uni High Oral History Project. Ms. Schoeplein holds B.A in History from the University of California at Berkeley, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Brown University, and a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to teaching at Uni, she taught high school in the Washington, DC area and worked for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois. She is currently co-sponsors the subfreshman class and sponsors the WILL interns. When not at Uni, she is chasing her son around various area parks.

Andy Wilson (anwils84) teaches Freshman World History, Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, and Introduction to Psychology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Chadron State College as well as a master’s degree and doctorate In U.S. history from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.