Academic Departments

History Department

The History department at VES is dedicated to developing critical, independent thought and expression among its students through a progressive and developmental sequence of courses. Faculty focus on preparing students for the challenges of a university education: reading texts, implementing strategies for note taking, and writing critical essays and research papers. The skills required for each course in our curriculum build on those learned in prior courses.

Teachers and students form strong relationships in the History department as a result of optimal student-to-teacher ratios and small class sizes. The Hopkins Writing Center provides a meeting place for students and teachers to work with one another.

Students are required to complete three years of history for graduation. Most students take Global Cultures in ninth grade followed by Modern World History, United States History and senior electives, including European Humanities and Economics. Advanced Placement courses are offered in World History and American History.

After completing the sequence of courses in the history curriculum, students should be able to understand the motives and ideas of historical figures and events, which will help them think critically and create logical and coherent arguments in their work in college and in later life.
  • Global Cultures

    Prerequisites: None. Open to 9th grade students. A limited number of 10th grade students have taken this course by student request with permission of the Department Chair.

    In this course students learn about the history of the world from the beginning of civilization to the Renaissance through different global spheres: Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, East Asia and the Americas. Content is taught through themes, including: What does it mean to be civilized? How do themes such as law, military, freedom, wealth and piety influence cultures? Why do cultures in different areas differ? Why are they similar?

    The course further develops the academic skills and critical and independent thinking necessary for success in a college-preparatory environment. In addition to a common text, students read primary and secondary sources, conduct their own research on smaller and larger research projects and write persuasive essays. Course activities are designed to facilitate discussion among classmates and an understanding of the issues across the world in the past and present.
  • Modern World History

    Prerequisites: None. Requirements: Students must be in the 10th grade to take the course.

    This course will continue to study topics introduced in the 9th grade Global Cultures course, and offers a survey course on the Modern World. After a study of the Enlightenment, students will study the Age of Napoleon and the implementation (and failed implementation) of many of these ideas. Afterward, students will study changes brought about by industrialization, the changes of relationships between European and non-European nations, and how resulting nationalist pride begins a cause and effect that results in World War, economic and political instability, another World War and a resulting Cold War. Yet the truly modern aspect of the course examines how changes from war and suffering result in greater rights for individuals, the desire and need for stability in life, and how some populations succeed in a post-war capitalist society. At the center of this course will be a guiding question: What makes a modern nation, and how does this impact the relationship between people and the government? A key aspect of this course includes connections across English and History departments. This course will continue to build common skills across both departments.
  • AP World History

    10th graders must have:
    1. Average grade of 88 or better in their previous English and history classes
    2. Support of the department and recommendation of their current history teacher

    12th graders must have:
    1. Average grade of 88 or better in their previous English and history classes
    2. PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 530 or better (or an equivalent score on the SAT, Pre-ACT or ACT)
    3. Support of the department and the recommendation of their current history teacher
    4. Score of > 3 on any previous AP exams

    Meet all criteria—Approved
    Meet 3 of 4 criteria—Approval Likely
    Meet 2 of 4 criteria—Approval Unlikely
    Meet < 2 of 4 criteria—Not Approved

    AP World History is offered to both sophomores and seniors. This course will generally follow the prescribed AP World History College Board curriculum guideline, spanning from 8000 BCE to the present day through an investigation of significant events, individuals, developments and processes through analyzing historical sources and evidence, making historical connections, inducing chronological reasoning, and creating and supporting a historical argument. As this is an Advanced Placement course, there will be considerable depth and breath in covered content, and thus the pace of the course will move quickly. Students will be prepared to take the AP exam in World History at year’s end, although the course will not be specifically taught to this exam.
  • United States History

    Required of all 11th grade students not taking AP US History

    United States History is a thorough course, ranging from the late prehistoric period through the beginning of the 21st century. The course covers traditional political and diplomatic history, as well as social, economic and cultural history. Major themes covered include, but are not limited to, exploration and colonialism, the early Republic, the causes and history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, industrialization and immigration, Populism and Progressivism, Imperialism, World War I, the Great Depression and the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, civil rights and Vietnam, Liberalism and the “New Conservatism,” and the Clinton-Bush period. United States History is required for graduation.
  • AP United States History

    1. Average grade of 88 in previous English and history classes
    2. PSAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score of 530 or better (or an equivalent score on the SAT, Pre-ACT or ACT)
    3. Support of the department and the recommendation of their current history teacher
    4. AP score of > 3 on any previous AP exams

    Meet all criteria—Approved
    Meet 3 of 4 criteria—Approval Likely
    Meet 2 of 4 criteria—Approval Unlikely
    Meet < 2 of 4 criteria—Not Approved

    AP US History is a college-paced survey of American History from 1607 to the present. While preparing for the AP exam is one of the goals, we hope to create an experience that brings relevance of American history to the lives of students. Students will learn solid communication skills through appropriate and effective analytical writing, public speaking and discussion opportunities, blogging and the basics of media literacy. Students also will gain a firm understanding of America’s past, place in the world and how this relates to their lives regardless of where they were born.
  • Economics

    Open to 12th grade students and selected 11th graders who need a fifth full-year course or have a desire to pursue an economics degree in college

    This course is designed to provide students with an introduction to microeconomics, macroeconomics and business-related fields associated with an economics degree. The class emphasizes skill development such as note taking, reading a college level text, the application of charts and graphs, and writing essays. In addition, the class incorporates numerous project-based learning assignments that require students to use technology in and outside the classroom as a means for providing materials necessary for completing the project. The underlying purpose of the course is to give the students an emphasis on the application of theory and principle to contemporary business and consumer practices.
  • Cold War Competition: the US, USSR, & China (F)

    Open to all 12th grade students and select 11th graders with department approval.

    This semester-length elective will survey the history of the Cold War and the global rivalry among the US, USSR and China that shaped geopolitics and culture for 40 years and left an influential legacy that is still salient in the 21st century. Using a rich array of primary sources, case studies, videos, newspapers and art, students will explore and understand the Cold War’s proximate and long-term causes, ideologies and strategies; the interplay between its major crises and détente; the global competition for influence; and the enduring political, social and cultural impact. Students will further gain a broader multicultural perspective by exploring how the Cold War played out in Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America.
  • 20th Century Conflicts & Challenges (S)

    Open to all 12th grade students and select 11th graders with department approval.

    This semester-length elective will survey how the international community used summits to address some the 20th Century’s biggest security, political, and economic, international crises and challenges. We will then examine the impact of these meetings on the international environment during the century and beyond. Students will also gain knowledge and practical application of conflict resolution through non-military means, how to effectively negotiate, and practice empathy in understanding different perspectives and personalities. We will end the semester exploring how summitry has become normalized and used to tackle modern economic, environmental, and social issues (G8, Davos, Women’s Rights, etc). We also will use primary sources, videos, news articles, and academic papers, and role play to facilitate our exploration and understanding of the era.
  • Psychology

    Open to students in grades 11 and 12, with preference given to seniors. Enrolled students must have taken Biology.

    This course is a broad survey of psychology topics and is designed to provide a thorough overview of the field. Students will learn the history and theory of psychology—comparing and contrasting the basic principles of different psychological theories, examine human growth across the lifespan, and analyze how the brain makes sense of stimuli.
  • Government

    Students are given an introduction to the functions, powers and properties of the American governmental system. Particular emphasis is placed on how the government has functioned from its founding to the present. Topics covered throughout the year include the inner workings of federalism, checks and balances, civil rights and national security. Through assigned readings, campaign ads and Supreme Court cases, students explore and analyze foundational elements of the American government, giving them the knowledge and skills necessary to become engaged citizens of America and the world in the 21st century.
  • AP Government

    AP US Government abides by the rubrics set forth by the College Board. This course begins with a focus on the theories of government and the creation of the United States Constitution, separation of powers, and the system of federalism. Additional areas of focus include linkage institutions such as political parties, campaigns and elections, interest groups, and the media, the three branches of American federal government and its bureaucracy, an understanding of civil liberties and civil rights, and how these structures and institutions affect public policy.

Department Staff

  • Martha Burruss

    Interim Anne McKimmon Winston Chair of History/Modern & US History Teacher
    Hollins University - B.A.
    University of Virginia - M.A.
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  • Christopher Button

    Associate Head of School/U.S. History Teacher/Head Coach, Mountain Biking
    Franklin and Marshall College - B.A.
    Pepperdine University - M.S.
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  • Robert Leake

    Director of Athletics & Afternoon Activities/Economics Teacher/ Coach, Baseball
    Washington and Jefferson College - B.A.
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  • Meghan Nealis

    History Teacher / Coach, Field Hockey/Leader, Outdoor Service Club
    University of Cambridge - PhD
    London School of Economics & Political Science - MSc
    Georgetown University - B.S.
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  • Zachary Wakefield

    AP US History Teacher/Head Coach, Wrestling/Asst Coach, Football
    Juniata College - B.A.
    Auburn University - M.A.
    Auburn University - Ph.D.
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  • Mao-Tong Wang

    Asst Dean of Students/Dir. of Residence Life/Coor. of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion/ Teacher/Coach
    University of Maryland at College Park - B.S.
    Kansas State University - M.S.
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A College Preparatory, Independent Boarding and Day School for Students in Grades 9-12
400 VES Road, Lynchburg, VA 24503 • 434.385.3600