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 considers the impact of storytelling on human history, culture, and decision making. Students examine how oral storytelling shaped the values and beliefs of ancient societies, and then they create stories of their own that impart lessons to younger students. The class then examines why it’s important to know one's family story, and we read two young adult books – Ami Polonsky's Gracefully Grayson and Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese – that explore this idea. To understand how ancient stories still impact us today, we read Sophocles's Antigone and a graphic novel version of Homer's The Odyssey to explore how these narratives are still relevant. Finally, we examine how stories can shape our behavior through an in-depth study of World War I, World War II, and the Holocaust. We look at what stories made these conflicts and atrocities possible, and what stories helped its victims and perpetrators recover in the aftermath. By reading memoirs like Elie Wiesel’s Night and learning about people who actively resisted during the Holocaust, we explore how stories can help us heal and inspire us toward justice.

+ Media and Journalism

To understand the impact of the media on society, this class asks questions including "How are different identities – like class, gender, and race – represented in the movies and television?"; "How does journalism influence our understanding of others and of ourselves?"; and "What can we do to make the media a more just and authentic representation of our world?" First, students examine the history of labor and class in the United States, beginning with the Industrial Revolution. We read Katherine Paterson’s novel Lyddie, and we travel to Sturbridge Village and the Lowell Mills to learn about labor in the 1840s. Next, students look at how social class is represented in literature and film by reading S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders and analyzing how it compares to the movie adaptation. We also explore how media and journalism have affected our understanding of gender, reading texts including Liz Prince’s graphic memoir Tomboy, Bill Konigsberg’s novel Openly Straight, and the documentaries Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In. Finally, students examine how the media has been used in the ongoing fight for racial equality in America. We read texts including All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Green by Sam Graham-Felsen, and The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. We also analyze how news organizations cover race, using a curriculum from Facing History & Ourselves called “Facing Ferguson: News Literacy in the Digital Age.”

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. Included in this study is an overnight field trip to Deerfield, MA where students live as 1700s colonial settlers and learn about the various groups involved in the 1704 Deerfield Raid. Students then read a number of primary sources to help them create a composite fictional character and write a story about one group's experience during the raid. 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 to 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 Fault Lines in the Constitution by Cynthia and Sanford Levinson, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 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 culture reflect history?" In the first trimester, students rewrite Boston’s Freedom Trail tour, using primary sources to explore the mythology of America's founding. In the second trimester, students look at how art can portray history, often more effectively than non-fiction text. We study the Harlem Renaissance as well as selected poems, music, drama, and film. In the final trimester, students explore memoir focusing on James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. 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, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, 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.




+ 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 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 researching how wealth inequality affects American society. We learn about Imperialism and Colonialism in 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, focusing on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's attempt to heal the country after apratheid. After reading Marguerite Abouet’s graphic novel Aya: Life in Yop City, students write oral histories based on interviews of community members that address various themes in the novel. We end the year by reading and performing Shakespeare’s The 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.