Humanities

Humanities classes weave together many strands of content and analysis. Across classes, students learn to:

  • Communicate clearly and effectively in written, oral, and visual forms.
  • Read and analyze diverse texts including fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, technical literature, plays, and poetry.
  • Explore history and human interaction to better understand our current world and the process of historical research.
  • Analyze literary and artistic sources alongside historical texts to understand both more richly.
  • Understand and use the social sciences, including economics, philosophy, geography, and psychology.

The Humanities curriculum engages students by exposing them to the work of others and by challenging them to generate their own. Students read books and write essays, but they also simulate historic civilizations and events, write and perform plays, debate contemporary issues, engage in Model UN conferences throughout the region, design and build memorials to historic events, interview experts outside the Meridian community, and carry out original primary source research.

Our Courses

Division One (Grades 6 and 7)

+ Heroes and Villains

By studying the culture and politics of both ancient Greece and the 20th Century, this course asks questions including, “How do we decide who is a hero and who is a villain?” and “Why are many cultures founded on the ideas of good and evil?” Students begin the year reading Greek mythology and generate their own versions of this literature, including a new origin myth, Greek-style pottery, and an original tragedy or satire that they perform for the entire school. In the second half of the year, we jump forward in time to see the ways in which classical storytelling influenced the modern era. We examine the causes and consequences of World War I to fully understand the political and cultural atmosphere that made the Holocaust and World War II possible. Finally, students look to the emergence of the superhero in American culture. Students then research an individual who stood against the Holocaust and create an original comic about his or her life and activism. Texts for this course include the D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, Quiver by Stephanie Spinner, Antigone by Sophocles, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Maus by Art Spiegelman.


+ Media and Journalism

By examining many forms of media – such as newspapers, magazines, television, movies, and advertisements – this class asks questions including “What is newsworthy?” “What does it mean to be objective?” and “How does the media impact our understanding of others and ourselves?” Students begin by analyzing how news stories are structured and write original articles in a variety of forms. To enrich their understanding of international issues and reporting, students also participate in a Model United Nations conference and spend a day at The Boston Globe. In the second half of the year, students focus on media literacy and the influence of popular culture on society. We analyze how images send messages without words and how the media represents different groups within our culture. As a synthesis of journalism and visual media, we study photojournalism. Students study the work of influential photojournalists and ask questions about the impact and ethics of documentary photography. The year culminates with a photo essay on an event or individual in our community. Texts for this course include Nothing but the Truth by Avi, The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone, 10 Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly, and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Division Two (Grade 8)

+ Constitution Nation


In this course, students ask the question “How do people organize?” in order to gain an understanding of how governments form and function. In the first trimester students place themselves in the late 1700s by reading historical texts, early conversations between the Founding Fathers, historical fiction, and the U.S. Constitution. Next, we look at the Bill of Rights and the role of the Judicial Branch in those rights. In this unit, students also learn speech techniques and debate each other in a traditional format. After learning about our society and its origins, students embark on a dystopian literature unit better understand the failings of government. Students then write an in-depth research paper on why they feel a particular country’s government exists as it does today. Some texts for this course include Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Constitution Café by Christopher Phillips, 1984 by George Orwell, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Division 3  (Grades 9 and 10)

+ American Historiography

Through studying the Black American experience in the 20th century, this course asks the question “Who writes history?” and “How does history create culture?” In the first trimester, students rewrite Boston’s Freedom Trail tour for the 20th century by focusing on Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and mass incarceration. In the second trimester, students look at how art can portray history, often more effectively than non-fiction text. We look at Jim Crow, Hip Hop, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. In the final trimester, students explore memoir focusing on W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and Assata Shakur. It culminates in students expressing a part of their own lives in a medium of their choice. Some texts for this course include The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, Native Son by Richard Wright, Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, and The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois.




+ Western Thought: Europe and Africa Through Each Other's Eyes

In this course students examine the origins of the pervasive but often invisible Western lens through which we process our world. This course asks the question, “How did our ‘Western lens’ develop, and how does it work to consciously and unconsciously shape our actions?” Students explore 16th and 17th century European literature, history and art, focusing on the ways in which the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution, and Industrial Revolution changed the world. Students study Capitalism and Communism and the impact of economic theories and practices on modern societies while reading The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner and researching how a specific modern product is made. We learn about Imperialism and Colonialism in Western and Southern Africa by reading King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. We also study South African history by reading J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and an exploration of apartheid through film. After reading Marguerite Abouet’s graphic novels Aya: Love and Life in Yop City, students write oral histories from interviews of community members based on various themes found in the novels. We end the year by reading and performing Shakespeare’s The Tempest and reading Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest.

Division 4  (Grades 11 and 12)

+ Civilization from East to West

We looks at the ways in which ancient peoples of Asia traded and communicated while supporting and maintaining separate cultural traditions. This course asks the questions, “How is ancient history reflected in modern societies?” and “What influence have both Eastern and Western cultures had on each other?” In the first trimester, students read Mark Kurlansky’s Salt as a model for their own original, intensive, ten-page research papers on an important commodity that is either currently traded or traded in the past. The studies of Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Islam are central to the course, and students read selections from the Tao de Ching, The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, and Siddartha by Herman Hesse. In addition, students read contemporary and ancient literature from countries along the Silk Road including Gene Luen Yang's graphic novels Boxers and Saints, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin, and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. Students develop original projects based on their readings of these texts. Students also read large portions of the Qur'an, investigating various interpretations of the text and writing academic research essays regarding secularism and gender in Islam. We end by grappling with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating art installation pieces focusing on partiular time periods within the conflict and developing an audio tour for visitors at Exhibitions.

+ Historical, Literary, and Cinematic Perspectives on Gender

Note**: This course changes each year it is taught and is designed around student interests. This description covers its 2014-2015 curriculum.

This class examines the question “How is gender created, maintained, and destroyed?” through three distinct strands. Students begin by looking at the world of film and watch movies together to discuss not only plot but direction, writing, and editing. Students then generate original screenplays and, in partnership with Boston Neighborhood Network, they learn how to operate cameras and edit their footage into short films. In the second trimester, students study the American South. They examine the Civil War and the abolition movement and how the latter helped to foster women's suffrage. Students also study contemporary issues of race and gender in the South and how American politics and culture have shaped LGBTQ and reproductive rights. In the final trimester, students explore the foundations of international law and human rights, including Spain’s attempt to prosecute Augusto Pinochet and the establishment of the International Criminal Court. They use this information to design and create an original multiplayer board game. Texts for this course include The Five C’s of Cinematography by Joseph Mascelli, In the Blink of an Eye by Walter Murch, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, Sula by Toni Morrison, Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, The Pinochet Effect by Naomi Roht-Arriaza.

+ Identity and Environment

Note**: This course changes each year it is taught and is designed around student interests. This description covers its 2016-2017 curriculum.

In Humanities this year, students chose to learn about three distinct subjects: the Vietnam War, feminism in education, and urban inequality. Although these topics are radically distinct, students will explore all three by analyzing how environment impacts identity, and vice versa. In the first trimester, students study the Vietnam War. They begin by analyzing the phrase “another Vietnam” to understand the war’s legacy in the United States and why it remains an urgent topic to study today. Then, through examining primary sources, documentaries, radio programs, Hollywood movies, and history books, students will analyze the war’s complexity and why it had such different meaning and consequence depending on the individual. In the second trimester, students will begin by examining pedagogical theory, and then move on to explore larger questions concerning the state of women in the educational world. What has it meant, historically, for a woman to be educated in this country? How do educational institutions continue to grapple with gender in relation to classroom dynamics, dress codes, sexual harassment and assault, and transgender rights? In other words, how does gender identity influence school environments, and vice versa? In the third trimester, students study urban inequality. Using the HBO television series The Wire, students will look at how poverty is systematically maintained through factors including policing, access to resources, schools, media coverage, and political practices. Students will look not only use Baltimore, where The Wire is set, as a case study, but also analyze other poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the U.S., including those in Boston. Students will use both large-scale research studies and individual stories to understand these environments and how the individual operates within them.