Explore our Curriculum


“People live in the present. They plan for and worry about the future. History, however, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been?”   
- Professor Peter Stearns,  “Why Study History?” (1998)
Critical thinking, historical analysis, scholarly curiosity, and dynamic pedagogy lie at the heart of the history department. We seek to inspire students as they discover the beauty and purpose of studying the past. Studying history is an act of curiosity and compassion; thus, students understand the past to ground their present and open up their future. Employing diverse instructional and assessment approaches, we nurture skills in thinking, reading, writing, and speaking by providing diverse pathways for students to learn about themselves and others while remaining always open to multiple points of view. The department prizes collaboration and conversation.
Middle School is a time of deep discovery, focused analysis, and meaningful playfulness. Students learn work with primary and secondary sources as evidence in order to begin acquiring some of the key skills and reasoning of the discipline: sourcing, corroborating, contextualizing, chronology, context, cause and effect, as well as continuity and change over time.
Students in the Upper School apply these same methods in collaborative, humane, and increasingly sophisticated ways by continuing to critically read and analyze primary and secondary sources; evaluate sources for authenticity, reliability, and credibility; synthesize information from multiple sources to construct nuanced historical explanations; read recent historical scholarship; and identify diverse historical as well as scholarly perspectives. Recognizing the at times overwhelming glut of information at students’ fingertips in the complex information landscape of the 21st century, we teach the scholarly skills of sourcing while emphasizing discernment. A continued focus on slow, careful, and considered thinking underpins the entire curriculum as students cultivate the ability to ask important, meaningful questions rather than assert partial claims. Thanks to their training in history, graduates from Geffen are equipped to act with greater consideration in a complex and changing world and understand their role and responsibility in it.  


Middle School:
  • Humanities in grade 6; History classes in grades 7 and 8.

Upper School:
  • Humanities in grades 9 and 12 (these are cross-departmental courses and approved through the University of California’s “A-G” system as English courses); History classes in grades 10 and 11.