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Course Goal

Recursive Learning

Recursive: Constituting a procedure that can repeat itself indefinitely.

Learning: To gain knowledge, understanding or skill through study, instruction, or experience. Learning is best done through a continuous cycle of dedicated practice and meaningful feedback.

The goal of this course is to teach the student several historical concepts by using the examples of four different ancient historical periods: 1) Emergence of Civilization/Ancient Babylon, 2) Minoans/Mycenaeans, 3) Pan-Hellenism/Origins of the Spartan System, and 4) Persia/Persian Wars. This class will endeavor to meet this goal of instruction by implementing structures which can best support the student to engage in recursive learning. Students will be evaluated both on their ability to implement the process of recursive learning and on their performance on assessments of knowledge acquired.

Course Description  

 Through concentrated study of cities that were centers of civilization between 3000 BCE and 400 BCE, this course will introduce students to the historian’s tool box. This tool box includes the following list of skills:

  1. Close reading for comprehension and retention.
  2. Effective listening and note taking.
  3. Developing coherent and cogent arguments.
  4. Analyzing historical data, including primary sources, and drawing informed conclusions.
  5. Translating thoughts and knowledge into proper and effective writing.
  6. Organizing materials and time for maximum academic success.

We will examine the history of cities—focusing on Babylon and Sparta—using a variety of print and visual sources designed to encourage the development of critical-thinking skills. Topics of study include politics and governance, philosophy, religious life, geography, war, and the arts.

The Big Question:


At certain times throughout history, individual cities have been so instrumental in fostering major developments in religion, politics, art and science, that they achieved a status of greatness. What makes a particular city, at a particular time, suddenly become immensely creative, exceptionally innovative, and universally important to humanity? This is the overriding question we will address over the course of the semester as we study the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Persia.

Course Concepts:

Because we can not hope to cover every aspect of the history of ancient civilizations in a single term, we will instead focus our attention upon only a handful of directive questions. Among these are:

1. How does geography shape cities and civilizations?

2. How do urban political and economic systems develop?

3. What is the definition and function of citizenship and does it differ from place to place?

4. How do different civilizations shape and express their cultural values and how do those values in turn shape their society?

5. How has our own world been shaped by ancient civilizations and what can we still learn from studying them?

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