Ravens Explore the Past, Hone Global Insights in World History Series

Ravens Explore the Past, Hone Global Insights in World History Series
  • One World
Janice Lewine

The two-year course continuum, Foundations of the Modern World and Emergence of the Modern World, helps students understand the events that shaped human history and better connect them to the global context of current events.

Understanding how events in the past made things the way they are today is the essence of studying history. Ravenscroft’s approach to teaching world history takes students from the beginnings of ancient civilizations to the impact of global convergence today, providing them with the tools to analyze and critique not just names and dates but the very ways in which history is documented and understood.

Because of its vastness, world history at Ravenscroft is taught in chronological order as a two-year continuum: Foundations of the Modern World in eighth grade and Emergence of the Modern World in ninth grade. The rigor and depth of the two-course sequence means students are better able to analyze current events, understand their global contexts and participate as citizen leaders in a world with increasingly porous boundaries and interdependencies.

Foundations of the Modern World

Ravens begin their journey 250,000 years ago with the emergence of the human species and the patterns of human influence. They learn about the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Indus River Valley; the significance of ancient writings such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Bhagavad Gita; and the origins of formal systems of government and world religions. They also explore the contributions of the Maya, Inca and Aztecs; the effects of colonization in the Americas; the impact of the Renaissance; and Europe’s influence across the globe.

“We try to look at how different civilizations are impacted by those who’ve come before them and how their decisions impact future generations. It’s all interconnected, so when the students get to the Upper School and teachers mention things like classic civilization or the Middle Ages, they can make reference to those things and understand what the teachers are talking about,” said Josh Gallagher, who teaches the Middle School course. “For example, we look at Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. We try to make connections with the past and the present, look at where those places and groups of people were located, and discuss what’s happening there today to develop that geospacial reasoning.”

As part of the eighth-grade study of Paleolithic-era humans, students in Alan Carter’s class look at examples of cave paintings and discuss what they show about the people who created them (diet, tool use, clothing, group roles, etc.); students then create their own cave painting showing their understanding of prehistoric hunter-gatherer nomadic life. Here is a sample by Eva Awasthi ’27.

To understand the networks of exchange, trends and conflicts that transformed civilizations and forged the beginnings of modern society, students analyze primary-source documents and answer thought-provoking, document-based questions as part of a particular unit of study. This work develops their skills in reading comprehension and writing, both of which are important to work they’ll do in the Upper School.

They also increase their geographic knowledge, such as how ancient civilizations thrived near waterways, by labeling maps in Canvas. “By doing it this way, I can make comments and give immediate feedback. They leave class knowing what their grade is, and that enhances their learning,” Gallagher said.

Alan Carter, who also teaches the eighth-grade course, said students enjoy taking an active role as historians to understand the broad events that shaped human history. “History is not a static set of facts that you memorize; history is often a discussion and open to debate. It’s fascinating to hear a student’s new way of thinking, like why a civilization collapsed. As eighth-graders, they put in the work and rise to the challenge.”

As a review exercise for their study of Ancient Greece, eighth-graders in Alan Carter’s class create review documents about either Athens or Sparta then share with students from the other group. At left, Reed Cummins ’27 hangs up her group’s review on Athens; at right, Cameron Moran ’27, Rainy Ye ’27 and Karolyna Huntanar ’27 work on questions about Sparta.

Alex Fink ’27, a student in Alan Carter’s Foundations of the Modern World course, prepares to work on a review project for the class’s study of Ancient Greece.

Harappa Analysis

Harappa (in modern-day Pakistan) is one of the four river-valley civilizations covered in the first unit of the Foundations course, with students examining archaeological remains, making inferences about what their civilization was like and constructing two arguments about why that civilization might have collapsed. This analysis is by Rainy Ye ’27.

The Emergence of the Modern World

In the second year of the series, students examine the transformations that took place from the 15th to the 20th century. Revolutions in thought and politics, the dawn of the industrial age, the motivations of imperialism, the impact of the Great Depression and analyses of World War II and the Cold War are among the topics. These are often among students’ favorite units of study.

Students in Erin Kate Grady’s ninth-grade world history class look closely at the Mughal Empire’s tradition of painting miniatures and then create their own miniatures in the same style. Here are drawings by Sheila Awasthi ’26 and Addison Diener ’26.

Connecting intentionally to the work of Lead From Here, Ravens in these courses explore global issues and diverse perspectives, which help shape and inform their worldview. For example, students complete a blogging project about a current global concern and develop an opinion about it. In the second semester, they attend a Cold War dinner party in the person of a historical figure from 1947 to 1991 — providing a food representing that person — and passionately debate aspects of the conflict from their character’s point of view. Ravens have also discussed the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and the complex motives behind the conflict.

“We’re giving them a voice as ninth-graders to start thinking about the problems and their proposed solutions,” said Upper School world history teacher Melanie Spransy, who is also Director of Global Education. “We try to make it experiential. We have a heavy focus on collaboration, which goes with the theme of the class.”

As Melanie Spransy’s ninth-graders round out their study of Europe’s absolute monarchs, they demonstrate their understanding of the history by creating resumés highlighting one leader’s achievements and goals. View projects above by Sam Caplan ’26 here and Yoning Liu ’26 here.

Rather than learning about historical events from a textbook or lecture as was common in the past, today’s students are benefitting from the digitization and online availability of raw materials, including artifacts, manuscripts, diaries and photographs, which hold greater appeal. “The idea that we can move away from lecturing and directly deliberate content in that way definitely makes it more engaging,” Spransy said.

Fellow Upper School world history teacher Erin Kate Grady seconds the importance of delivering curriculum in this way. “We focus on historical-thinking skills and ways of engaging with information that can be applied broadly to any content, with any history the students run into. They’re well equipped for the harder classes in the Upper School and also have a historical lens that they can bring to current events.”

In addition to creating their monarch resumés, students in Emergence of the Modern World give interviews in their persona; here are Nikki Gupta ’26 (as England’s William III) and Xaden Wilson ’26 (as Frederick III of Prussia).

Sam Caplan ’26 portrays his absolute monarch, Charles V of the Hapsburg Empire, during an interview with classmate Joshua Ward ’26.


Ethan MacLaren ’25 and Elijah Smith ’25

Sophomores Ethan MacLaren ’25 and Elijah Smith ’25 said Foundations of the Modern World and Emergence of the Modern World not only increased their knowledge of world history but also their understanding of different perspectives.

“Both courses helped develop our analytical skills by doing group activities that usually had a reflection at the end. This reflection allowed us to analyze how our class activity turned out and how that could have happened in and affected the past,” Ethan said. “One of the most memorable assignments in ninth grade was when we were paired with someone else in the class and were assigned a country. We would have to write notes to different groups who were different ‘countries.’ These notes were meant to form a mutual connection and modeled as diplomacy. Our goal was to ally with as many countries as we could, but quickly we realized that we could make friends with other countries by having a common enemy.”

Elijah said, “A few of the assignments in eighth grade were writing a first-person account from a historical perspective — for example, a soldier in Caesar's army fighting in Gaul — and analysis of the art of a given time period. An assignment that I enjoyed in ninth grade was picking a side on whether the Industrial Revolution was positive or negative and then arguing with our classmates about it. I really enjoyed learning about Chinese history, specifically the Silk Roads time and early communist time, and about Roman history as well as mythology. These courses helped tremendously with my global perspective and competency because of how they show the world in a completely different light than what we are used to in the 21st century.”