“Whose America Is It?”

At Fenway Middle College, a Boston alternative high school, the humanities course “Whose America Is It?” explores American society from pre-Columbian North America to the present from the point of view of the common person, using sources and approaches from history, literature, sociology, psychology, political science, and the fine arts. Students probe three periods–the discovery of America; the Industrial Revolution, and the Great Depression–to relate their challenges and struggles to the problems contemporary America faces. Sample questions for presentations include:

  • Use microfilmed pages of the New York Times stock index to follow the stock of three actual companies through 1929-30. Using several graphs and charts, explain their growth or decline. Be prepared to explain how the stock market functions, and how or whether its collapse “caused” the Great Depression.
  • Is territoriality an instinctive or a learned behavior? Support with specific examples from history, our readings, and your own experience.
  • Explain the differences between two Native American tribes with respect to their systems of government, legal structures, religious practices, relations with other tribes, ideas about property and gender roles.
  • With drawings, diagrams, or photos, compare the principles of steam power versus water power. Which are more effective in given situations? Which can do more work? What are the limitations of each?
  • Using drawing and diagrams, explain the scientific principles that allowed a particular invention or a scientific innovation to “revolutionize” an industry. Then be prepared to discuss the effects of that invention on how or where people lived, worked, shopped, etc.
  • Draw on scientific resources to explain what farming practices contributed to the “Dustbowl,” and how might that have been prevented. Which plants can grow in such dry soil, and what biological characteristics allow this? How can such considerations be of use today?