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Humanities Courses

In humanities courses, students answer the "why" behind human thoughts and behaviors. They connect ideas, both historical and contemporary, attending to diverse perspectives; learn to communicate logically and clearly in both written and oral formats; and employ reason, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of others' arguments while crafting their own. The skills students gain aid them in their educational and professional careers. For example, many successful scientists have attributed their ability to create thoughtful, creative experiments to their experiences in the humanities, and medical professionals use critical reasoning skills on a daily basis when communicating with patients and diagnosing conditions.

CTY humanities students satisfy a natural curiosity by wrestling with questions about who they are and what they believe. Along the way, with the guidance of an instructor, they learn to address sometimes sensitive and controversial topics in a thoughtful, academic manner.

Students leave humanities courses better able to ask insightful questions, to think creatively and critically about the world around them, and to take academic ideas out of the classroom to engage in social inquiry. Most importantly, they leave more ready to be active and knowledgeable participants in the world in which they live.

Please refer to our Eligibility web page. The following humanities courses are listed below:

Sample syllabi for all courses are also available below

Humanities Course Descriptions and Syllabi

Journeys and Explorations

From Shoshone interpreter Sacajawea's pivotal role in the Lewis and Clark expedition to Ibn Battuta's thirty-year journey through Africa, Asia, and Europe, people have always been compelled to travel and explore. Such extensive journeys seldom leave travelers or the places they visit unchanged. Encounters with other places and people alter not only how we view the world around us, but also how we view ourselves.

In this course, students follow famous explorers and examine the impact of their expeditions. For example, they may sail with Marco Polo in search of silk and spices, follow the Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He on his military expeditions to Africa and India, or consider the response of Aztec leader Montezuma to the invasion led by Hernán Cortés.

Inspired by what they learn, students plan and conduct their own virtual explorations, which entail researching a specific region's culture, politics, history, and environment. One student might choose to visit Lake Tanganyika and its chimpanzees with Jane Goodall, while another might explore the Amazon River Basin aboard the Calypso with Jacques Cousteau. Through their explorations, students develop the skills necessary to appreciate the diversity and commonalities of places and people around the world.

Sample texts: Encounter, Yolen; The Incredible Journey of Lewis and Clark, Blumberg; Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354, Rumford; an atlas chosen by the instructor.

Students must have completed grades: 2 or 3

Session 1: Los Angeles (Windward)
Session 2: Alexandria, New York, Sandy Spring

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The Ancient World

During the period from 2000 BCE to 300 CE, cultures with lasting impact flourished all around the world. In this course, students learn about daily life, social structures, governments, economies, and religions across the ancient world and consider how traces of these civilizations live on today. In addition to reading historical accounts of ancient societies, students explore myths, legends, and arts. For instance, students may examine the images on Greek urns to reconstruct a typical meal-both its food and the rituals surrounding it. By examining which mummified animals have been found in pharaohs' tombs, students may discern Egyptians' beliefs about the world and the afterlife. Similarly, they may analyze the meaning of dragon images on the garments of Chinese emperors and generals, or consider how Indian oral traditions reflected in the 2,000-year-old epic poem Ramayana shaped the politics, religion, and art of modern South Asia.

In addition to group work, students complete individual research on topics of their choosing, and field trips to museums complement classroom work by contextualizing course knowledge with material culture. They acquire critical-thinking and research skills in addition to developing an appreciation for the richness and diversity of ancient cultures.

Sample texts: Ancient Rome, Connolly; The Ancient Greeks, Rees; India: Exploring Ancient Civilizations, Barr; Eyewitness: Ancient China, Cotterell; The Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World, Martell; City, Macauley; Ancient Egypt, Hart.

Field Trip Fee: $65

Students must have completed grades: 3 or 4

Session 1: Brooklandville, Los Angeles (Windward), San Mateo
Session 2: Alexandria, New York, San Mateo, Sandy Spring

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Big Questions

What is justice? What is beauty? What is the right thing to do? What is real? How can I be sure of what I know? In this philosophy class, students cultivate and refine critical thinking by considering fundamental questions such as these. While the questions in the course pique students' intellectual curiosity, the emphasis is not on the answers, but on the process of rigorously addressing these puzzling issues.

Students explore the methods philosophers use to develop and assess potential solutions. They learn to actively listen to other students, evaluate arguments, formulate their own arguments in a clear manner, and defend their conclusions against objections. Through discussions, activities, readings, and short essays, students develop the analytical-reasoning skills needed to ask challenging questions and be better thinkers across disciplines.

Sample texts: Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions that Help You Wonder about Everything!, White; What If…: Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy, Tittle.

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Easton
Session 2: Easton, New York, Sandy Spring

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The Middle Ages

Were the Middle Ages really the "Dark" Ages? How did the ideals of nobility, piety, and chivalry shape medieval people's lives? How did the flowering of art, culture, and science in Andalusia under the Moors compare to advances in the rest of Europe? What did the Crusades represent to Christian and Islamic societies? Students consider these questions and more as they explore the cultural, social, and intellectual life of the medieval world from the fifth to fifteenth centuries, including the rise of Islam and its interaction with European culture and religion.

Students examine a rich variety of medieval literature, including excerpts from Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and writings about monks, caliphs, and serfs. They also become familiar with characteristics of Gothic and Moorish architecture and use the legacy of art to trace the social, political, and religious character of the period. Projects range from writing reports on medieval inventions to creating profiles of people from various cultures and classes.

Sample texts: The Middle Ages: An Illustrated History, Hanawalt; A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, Konigsburg; The Rise of Islam, Child; Beowulf.

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Not offered
Session 2: Palo Alto

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The Renaissance

"Renaissance" means "rebirth," and in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Europe, this meant the rebirth of ancient Greek and Roman cultures. The Renaissance brought radical changes to Western civilization: reason surpassed revelation, strong city-states and a growing merchant class replaced feudalism, and scholars began to view the classics through a humanistic lens. But was this period simply a rebirth of ancient ideas and cultures, or the signal of an entirely new way of viewing the world?

This interdisciplinary course spans the Renaissance period and considers developments in philosophy, science, commerce, government, and industry. Students explore Renaissance cultural history by examining primary and secondary sources. They compare experiences described in works of literary masters such as Shakespeare to those depicted in artwork by such masters as Giotto, Dürer, Brueghel, and Michelangelo.

Students complete both individual and group projects. They could, for example, research and write reports on astronomical discoveries; interpret and perform scenes from Shakespeare's The Tempest; or design and construct models of Brunelleschi's Duomo in Florence. A field trip to a local museum or dramatic production complements topics covered in class.

Sample texts: The Tempest, Shakespeare; A Short History of Renaissance and Reformation Europe: Dances Over Fire and Water, Zophy.

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: Palo Alto
Session 2: Not offered

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Model United Nations and Advanced Geography

Whether countries are trying to address climate change, contain a rogue nation, or track the spread of a deadly virus such as ebola, they often present their concerns to the United Nations to facilitate international cooperation. How the UN achieves its goals is sometimes controversial; nevertheless, understanding the UN and how it works is essential to the study of international relations.

In this course, students learn how the UN addresses global concerns. They study the structure, authority, and processes of the UN through readings, discussions, research, and short lectures. They examine how physical, economic, cultural, and political geographies influence and inform policymakers’ decisions. Concurrently, students hone their writing, speaking, and critical-thinking skills and also gain a working knowledge of international relations and geography.

Students assume the role of ambassadors for a model United Nations simulation. Each student researches a particular country and determines where this country would stand on issues before the UN. As novice diplomats learning the art of compromise, students negotiate resolutions, learn parliamentary procedure, and build coalitions to represent their countries’ best interests. Students draft position papers and refine resolutions which are presented to a mock meeting of the General Assembly, Security Council, or another UN entity.

Sample texts: Basic Facts about the United Nations; An Insider's Guide to the UN, Fasulo; a major newspaper; an atlas chosen by the instructor.

Students must have completed grades: 5 or 6

Session 1: All residential sites, Brooklandville, La Jolla, Los Angeles (Windward), San Mateo, Sandy Spring
Session 2: All residential sites, Alexandria
, Los Angeles (Windward), New York, San Mateo

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