Social Studies

For life beyond Penn Charter.

Whether for college or citizenship, graduate school or a profession, the Social Studies department equips students with the skills, strategies, and content that will serve them well after graduation. We encourage students to appreciate different perspectives, be they global, national, or local. Upper School courses develop research, writing, and critical reading skills through studies of the ancient and modern world, the United States, along with specialized electives and Advanced Placement courses.

"In our fast-paced and ever-changing world, it's increasingly important to help our students answer the question, 'How did we get here?'" Lee Payton, former department chair

Key Characteristics

Social Studies at Penn Charter seeks to weave together three significant strands: skills, discipline-specific content, and connections to the present and future. These strands emerge and re-occur in the curriculum through explorations of essential questions such as: What is a just society? What causes social change? How is our knowledge of the past constructed? What is the weight of history on the present moment?

Curricular Highlights

Interdisciplinary Coursework.The American Studies course, team-taught by Social Studies and English faculty, is a student-centered curriculum that focuses on reflection and community.

Philosophy. An in-depth study of prominent philosophers and topics that prepares students to lead philosophical discussions with Lower School students and lead extended peer discussions on current philosophical issues.

9th and 10th grade history. Students examine the interactions and influences of politics and geography on civilizations, with a particular emphasis on religion, philosophy, and social traditions in these cultures.

“All of my teachers are so passionate about their subject. My teacher last year could talk about the French Revolution for hours without even glancing at her notes.

She really cared about making sure we understood the material, and also that we were able to use our knowledge to argue different sides and engage with the curriculum in a more personal way.” Annika Murray, Class of 2019

Graduation Requirements

The graduation requirement in Social Studies will be met when students successfully complete the required full-year courses in ninth, 10th and 11th grades. Juniors and seniors are encouraged to pursue topics of interest beyond the required courses in a variety of electives. All of these courses are academically demanding and are designed for students who wish to pursue historical studies in a more focused manner.

Course List

All Year

Ancient and Medieval Civilizations


Required of all 9th graders, this course surveys the ancient and medieval world through close study of civilizations throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean, Asia, the Middle East and Mesoamerica. The course studies the interactions and influences of politics and geography with a particular emphasis on religion, philosophy, and social traditions in these cultures. During the second semester, each student completes a research paper on the topic of his or her choosing, and learns proper research, citation and historical writing techniques.  (9th grade)

The Evolution of the Global World


The course builds on the 9th grade focus on Africa, the Mediterranean, Asia and the Middle East, as these regions interact with the peoples of Europe and the Western Hemisphere. The course will focus on the emergence of what is considered to be the modern world from a global perspective. Emphasis will be placed on historical reading and writing skills, particularly as they are relevant to the analysis of primary sources. During the second semester, each student will complete a research paper on the topic of his or her choosing, and will build on proper research, accurate citation and historical writing techniques. The 9th grade skills program will provide a foundation for further skill development throughout the 10th grade year. (10th grade) 

United States History


The course, required for all 11th grade students, surveys American history from early settlement through the 20th century. The course will follow an essentially chronological sequence but will also deal with certain themes that recur in the national experience: the evolution of political parties, the growth of the American economy, the expansion of the power of the federal government, the evolution of the U.S. Constitution, the experience of American minority cultures, and what influenced changes in politics, economics, society and culture. Emphasis is placed not only upon mastery of facts but also upon relating facts to broader trends and processes. Students can expect written exercises, quizzes and tests on a regular basis. In-class activities might also include analysis of primary documents and artifacts, as well as participation in simulation experiences. A research paper will be required. (11th grade)

AP United States History



This AP course goes into considerably greater detail and depth with regard to the interpretation and analysis of critical issues in U.S. history. The expectations for this course are closer to college-level work than to a normal U.S. history course.  Reading and writing assignments will be more demanding than in the regular course.  Students applying should have strong social studies and English skills.  Success in the course depends heavily on students’ ability to cover material outside of class discussion. Students in this course are often expected to step into the role of a historian and analyze evidence with a critical, sometimes skeptical eye. Some summer reading in preparation for this course will be required. Students will be expected to take the AP exam. Students must have high honors grades in prior English and Social Studies courses, complete a timed writing prompt, and obtain their current history teachers’ recommendations. (11th grade)

American Studies


American Studies is an interdisciplinary course that seeks to explore American culture and identity through the intersection of history and literature and satisfies the graduation requirements of United States History and English XI. Collaboratively, students and teachers build and design curriculum. This course encourages student inquiry and the development of multiple strategies for responding to their own and others queries. It challenges students to listen carefully to each other, build on each others' ideas and experiences, and create new meaning and relationships with each other and with the material. Collaborative discussions and projects with Advanced Placement English, other departments, and organizations beyond Penn Charter are also objectives. The culminating experiences include the Junior Capstone project and the term paper. (11th grade)

AP Art History


This course is, in essence, a college survey course on the history of art. There is more emphasis on Western art, but the course also explores non-Western art and culture, including Asian art, Middle Eastern art, African art, and art of the Americas. Much of the course is based on the requirements of the College Board; however, special emphasis is placed on having students learn to analyze, synthesize and reflect upon art as it has changed and evolved over time. As most art has been religiously based, there is much exposure to the belief systems and iconographic language of a wide variety of living and past religions. Assessment is based on tests, quizzes, textbook chapter notes and a final presentation on an artist of their choosing. All students are required to take the AP exam in the spring. This course provides two credits toward the Certificate of Global Studies.  (11th, 12th grades.)




This year-long course is a thematically-based overview of the great questions of world philosophy. Through careful inquiry, debate and reflection, students will explore issues related to ethics, the state, freedom and choice, and the nature of mind and personal identity. Building upon the foundation laid in 9th, 10th and 11th grade social studies, this course will expose students to the ideas of a diverse array of thinkers, ranging from the very foundations of critical inquiry in ancient Greece, China and India to recent theorists working at the cutting edge of philosophy today, both in the United States and abroad. The course will rely heavily on student-led discussions and activities in preparation for the final project of the fourth quarter. Assessments throughout the course shall include traditional measures such as tests and papers. The culmination of the year of study will occur in the spring when, after specific teacher training, teams of students shall design and lead age-appropriate discussions and activities in both the Lower and Middle schools on themes covered earlier in the course. Using a Quaker protocol, these teaching teams shall then report and reflect back to the class both in writing and through a mixed media presentation about their teaching experiences. In addition to various handouts, students shall use Green, Engaging Philosophy: A Brief Introduction and Lawhead, Voyage of Discovery: An Historical Introduction to Philosophy. The course shall be limited to 15 students. (12th grade)

AP U.S. Government and Politics


Americans are not known for their active engagement in politics and their in-depth knowledge of the American political system. We are now moving into the uncharted waters of a Donald Trump presidency. We need educated and active citizens if we are to meet future challenges without losing sight of the admirable principles which have made America unique and “exceptional” in the modern world. This course provides students with a comprehensive understanding of the operation of American national government. Students will develop perspectives for interpreting, understanding and explaining political events. Topics will include constitutional arrangements, policymaking institutions such as the Congress, the presidency, the bureaucracy and the court system, public opinion and the media, political participation and voting behavior, political parties, interest groups, civil liberties and rights, and budget making. The course will stress the interpretive and analytical skills commonly used in political science. Selection may be based on a student’s previous grades and social studies teachers’ recommendations. (12th grade)

AP World History


The AP World History course is a senior elective that aims to give students a deep understanding of the interaction between different types of human societies. What are the forces that have, over time. lead to a more close-knit world? Students will examine these types of questions as they address major political, economic, religious, social, intellectual and artistic developments, all the while making comparisons across cultures. Through those comparisons, patterns and causes of change will emerge. The chronological time frame is from 1200 CE to the present and includes topics ranging from Mesopotamia to the European Reformation and 21st century globalization. Global coverage means a balanced representation of Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia. Ultimately, this course will challenge students to think analytically across multiple time periods and geographic borders. Selection will be based on a student’s previous grades and social studies teachers’ recommendations. This course provides two credits toward the Certificate of Global Studies, but it is open to all seniors.  (12th grade) 


One Semester

Introductory Economics

SS615, SS616

This course will provide an overview of economics. The goal for the course is to give students a sufficient understanding of economic concepts to be able to understand current economic events and incorporate that knowledge with their knowledge of government and society. One quarter of the course will cover selected topics in microeconomics (taught by one teacher), and the other quarter will focus on macroeconomics (taught by another teacher). The course will touch upon finance and accounting to help explain the real-world application of economic theory.  Topics will include supply and demand, financial markets, accounting, monetary policy and fiscal policy.  The course will feature a range of tests, quizzes, and projects.  (11th, 12th grade).

American Women's History


This course will approach American history through the lens of social history, tracing the shifting roles and expectations of women, and exploring topics such as gender roles, family life, legal and social rights, and various arenas in which women have had power to shape their world. Beginning with the colonial period and moving chronologically to recent history, this course will trace the pendulum swing of the nation’s views and expectations of women in both the public and private spheres. The course will explore the intersection of race, age, marital status and class within the context of gender; it will also explore the way in which being a member of an excluded group in no way protects against the temptation to exclude others. Our historical studies will be punctuated with discussions of more recent events and discussions of modern reflections on the course’s themes. Students will examine a number of primary sources in addition to the core text, and will supplement with various articles, reference sources, and film clips. Assessments will include tests, an archival research and documentary project, essays and discussions. (11th, 12th grades) 

Peace, Justice and Social Change I


This course will examine the early U.S. Civil Rights Movement in a broad context of 20th-century social movements. We will analyze the African American freedom movement’s influence on notions of equality, democracy and social policy. We will give particular emphasis to events from 1954 through 1962, with connections  to the present day. We will examine the connections between Brown v. Board and school segregation today; between the Montgomery County Bus Boycott and Freedom Riders and the Black Lives Matter Movement. A major focus of this class will be how religion has inspired movements for radical social, political, economic and ecological change throughout history. In addition, the nature and use of nonviolence will be a central theme as we study the different social movements that brought about significant social change in the nation. The basis of our studies will involve the individuals, organizations, events and legal developments important to the development of civil rights in America. The class structure will utilize speakers, local leadership and community groups, and possible fieldwork to explore these movements. Students will engage with the course material through a combination of readings, films, images, class discussions and lectures. Students enrolled in this course may receive either social studies or religious studies credit. (11th, 12th grades) Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices.

Penn: His School, His State and the City of Brotherly Love


This course will explore the unique and intertwined relationship of a man and the three great entities that he founded. Students will be led through a journey that begins in both pre-colonial America and Elizabethan England and ends with the establishment of the modern Penn  Charter in 1875. Students will examine both primary and secondary sources, watch films and take field trips to places where our rich history began. The inextricable force of Quakerism that guided all three of these entities will be emphasized, and Penn’s role as a “founding father” will be scrutinized. Key authors to be considered are Woody, Wickersham, Mulhern, Weigley and Kashatus. (12th grade)

American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century


The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, marked the most dramatic catalyst for change in American foreign policy since World War II. Has the new and evolving foreign policy of the Trump administration respected and built on the principles and traditions of the past, or does it mark a departure from past policy? This course will address this question and others by examining the international changes of the late 20th century and the challenges confronting America in the post-9/11 world. Materials will include both primary and secondary readings, documentaries and films. Activities will include traditional quizzes, tests and short papers as well as student-run discussions, simulations and a group project. This course provides one credit toward the Certificate of Global Studies.  (11th, 12th grades)

Global Issues


This course will investigate and discuss the major issues of our world today. Global issues are defined as those too complex to be solved by the actions of any one nation or organization. We will look at the history that shaped the current situation, identify the major players and perspectives involved, and discuss potential solutions. The course will focus on topics such as peace and conflict, economic globalization, nationalism and internationalism, environmental changes and human rights. Particular issues are chosen in partnership with the students in light of current events and their global significance. Students will read background materials, do research, write papers, make presentations and design projects that propose action steps for improving some of these situations. This course provides one credit toward the    Certificate of Global Studies. (11th, 12th grades)

Independent Study


This option is open to qualified and motivated students who would like to pursue a cohesive independent study under the guidance of a faculty adviser. A student may also pursue an independent study in any other topic area deemed acceptable to the adviser, the department chair and the director of the Upper School. This option can be exercised only if other requirements are met. Interested students should consult with the anticipated faculty adviser and the department chair. Available every trimester; credit will vary.