Ignorance is the curse of God
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to Heaven.
— William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2
The history program at Pierrepont has two main objectives: to guide students through a comprehensive and context-grounded study of world history and to provide the tools necessary to be effective students of social and political life. The curriculum is best described as traditional: we teach mainly through primary sources and rely heavily on the study of contemporaneous literature and art forms — the icons of a given culture — to gain insight into a particular culture or historical period.
The history program is cumulative: later courses build on the themes and work of earlier courses, providing the basis for comparison and the study of difference. Each course revisits recurring themes in the dynamics of human society: the scope and definition of culture; the relationships among various socioeconomic strata; the impact and repercussions of political actions; the place of religion and ethics in social and political life; and the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of government.
The youngest students begin with specific topics — life in ancient Egypt, the Trojan War, Arthurian England and Medieval Feudalism — and read a range of stories distilled from the literature of these periods. A subsequent course, Origins, undertakes an intensive study of hominids and the advent of the modern human. It continues with an overview of the development of cities in the late Neolithic Period and the early history of the Near East. Students read translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Law Code of Hammurabi and Genesis. The subsequent course on Greek history includes the Iliad and the Odyssey; selections from Hesiod, Herodotus and Thucydides; samples of lyric poetry; several Greek plays; and dialogues of Plato. A course on Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages includes selections from the New Testament, the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, Beowulf, the Song of Roland, the Poem of the Cid, among others. The study of the Renaissance includes, for example, Dante’s Inferno, Machiavelli’s The Prince, selections from Boccaccio and Chaucer, and More’s Utopia. Following that, the students embark on a four semester comprehensive study of American history. Each of these courses includes a study of contemporaneous art and music, often in conjunction with those departments.
From the outset, we teach students how to produce organized and thorough research papers. With the younger students, the focus is on narrow topics that they can research comprehensively; through a series of exercises, we take students from sentence to paragraph writing to the ultimate production of comprehensive essays that present research findings in a structured and well-reasoned format. In subsequent years, students undertake research projects that are broader and more encompassing. Classes include readings, discussion and lectures to help students gain a greater facility with reading difficult texts and the challenges that they present.