The Riverdale history program encourages students to make sense of the dynamics that have shaped the contemporary global system and prepares them to become rational, knowledgeable, and humane democratic citizens and social actors, capable of effectively and ethically responding to the national and global challenges of the modern world.

History 6

History 6: The History and Culture of New York City

Students in History 6 immerse themselves in the cultural, geographic and social history of New York City. The course traces four major themes: resources, labor, immigration, and urban planning from the Lenape roots of the city to the present day. We take a case study approach that allows students to go in depth within specific historical periods and make comparisons and connections across time. The course is writing intensive, with a focus on making formal arguments through carefully structured paragraphs that support ideas with evidence. There are also opportunities for creative projects and field trips throughout the year that let sixth graders live out the experiences of New Yorkers across time and place. The year culminates with students' becoming experts in the history of a specific sector of the city, writing detailed reports on their findings and then creating a giant model that brings the city we studied to life.

History 7

History 7: American Politics and Government 

How can we understand the same events from different perspectives?

Why do written rules succeed or fail?

When is compromise necessary?

What’s the difference between what is right and what is legal?

These are the questions we will be exploring in seventh grade history. We will spend the year in an in-depth study of American government: how it was designed, how it actually works, and the challenges that could shape its future success or failure. This includes some significant historical background, but it will also mean discussing and debating current issues and events.  

A key component of the course will be a series of simulations, in which students take on the role of various political players: senators, diplomats, judges, and protest leaders. You will be asked to make tough decisions and compromises, use your public speaking skills to give speeches in favor of your positions, and write formal arguments and informal reflections on your experiences.

The course also emphasizes persuasive writing, careful annotation of primary and secondary sources, and the ability to make connections between theory and reality, past and present.

Learning With Simulations

Washington, take note. In 7th grade history, Riverdale students debate bills that address contemporary issues, and yes, they learn to negotiate. Click here to watch them in action.

History 8

History 8: World Geography and Ancient Cultures

History 8 combines the study of world geography with the study of ancient and traditional societies. The choice of cultural material is driven by an attempt to study meaningfully the geography of Asia. This comparative study of early civilizations emphasizes the physical setting and the movements of peoples, cultures, and cultural traits, especially religions. Historical texts, maps, literature, myth, and art are used to study ancient societies in most parts of the world. It is hoped that students will find ancient history a collection of good stories. 

In the field of geography, the course focuses on the locations of most of the famous and important physical features in the world: mountains, rivers, deserts, seas, etc. Students become practiced in reading maps and in showing on maps how human history evolved, particularly how peoples and their cultural traits spread, through trade, conquest and religion. The modern countries are learned along with the physical features; at the end of the year students will know the name and location of every contemporary country in the world.

In the study of ancient history the course looks into where the early peoples of western Asia, the Mediterranean basin, and Europe came from, how they created civilizations, and especially how they changedthat is, how and why civilizations flourished and then declined or disappeared. In the first half of the year, there is more emphasis on social structure and politics: the use of power by those who wield it over other people within their own societies and over outside peoples. Thus, the emphasis is on empire builders and empire destroyers, gender relations, the creation of classes and class struggles, and the existence and nature of militarism. All of these phenomena are studied in the context of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, and the early Germanic peoples in Europe. In the second half of the year, the course will pay particular attention to the evolution and spread of the great religious traditions that developed in and spread from ancient Asia: Hinduism, Buddhism, the Chinese traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Several skills will be emphasized in addition to those associated with map work and the study of geography. The most important of these is the development of vocabulary in the field of history, politics, and social science. Also much attention will be put on writing very clear comparisons and explanations and on the use of apt examples and evidence. Considerable time is devoted to analyzing the cultural significance of works of art and examples of architecture; students learn to recognize art forms and styles as well as certain famous structures and works of art.

Assignments include almost daily readings, along with written work about those readings. Learning and making maps are regular tasks. There are very frequent quizzes on the contents, particularly vocabulary, of the reading, which includes a descriptive text, along with many excerpts from ancient sources. Students develop the skill of learning directly from the reading. Usually two cumulative tests are given in each quarter, and cumulative semester exams are given in January and June. In addition to short comparative exercises and short essays, one or two full essays are assigned in each semester.

In October, the study of ancient Greek culture in this course coincides with study of Sophocles’ Antigone in English 8, culminating in a project based on the students’ understanding of the play, its historical context, and some of the ideas in the play that are reflected in Thucydides’ Melian Dialogue, in Plato’s account of the death of Socrates, and in the 19th and 20th century ideas of Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, among others.


Riverdale Country School

Mind • Character • Community



Lower School
1 Spaulding Lane
Bronx, NY 10471
LS: (718) 549-7780

Middle/Upper School
5250 Fieldston Road
Bronx, NY 10471
MS/US: (718) 549-8810

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