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ON COURSE

Murder, Mayhem, : e n i c i d e M d n a Math, Anything’s Possible When Strangers Meet

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t’s no accident that Marcelle Doheny’s world history course greets juniors with the provocative title When Strangers Meet. The brand new students enter the classroom as cultural strangers with roots in the far corners of the globe—Japan, China, Mexico, the United States, and India. Together they follow the threads of history as they weave a rich tapestry that will become a backdrop for contemporary times. She is wrapping up weeks of guiding them through the rise and reach of Islam, this day leading students to explore its expansion into the Indian subcontinent, where two great but vastly different religions and cultures met in a rich and volatile alchemy. Strangers meeting…through trade, through conquest, through the appeal of different faiths that sometimes seemed more generous, at least in death. The results of that long ago commingling, she reminds them, are staggering—Arabic numerals, the concept of zero, astronomy, navigation, medicine—all eventually making their way to Europe, then on to the Americas. Doheny was part of a group of Andover history teachers who developed this entry-level history course more than 10 years ago—before 9/11, she says with a touch of irony. A large share of its genius is how it informs the present. In addition to Islam, the yearlong course covers the rise of nation states in Europe and the early interactions of European explorers and Native Americans. (Doheny admits this is her favorite era and during this unit makes ample use of the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and its wealth of artifacts—what she calls “unwritten history.”) The course design’s intent, she says, was to present the primary episodes and their cataclysmic impact on history

in an “overarching narrative that didn’t cover such an immense time frame that depth was sacrificed.” This is no whirlwind survey of facts and dates, but an initiation into the multidimensional, interdisciplinary intellectual approach that is Andover. An additional unwritten agenda: to ensure that “students learn to think like historians—how to develop a thesis, how to use details to support that thesis, and how to find meaning in the information.” In the halls of an academy that prides itself on its global leadership objectives, this is the foundational course that puts into the young scholar’s hands the tools to weave his or her own intellect and passion into life. A British native, Doheny has taught history at Andover since 1992. At the October trustees’ meetings, she was appointed to the Frederick Beinecke Foundation for Teaching in recognition of her dynamic, enthusiastic approach to the classroom. Dean of Faculty Temba Maqubela said in announcing the appointment, “This is a teacher’s teacher, a giant of the profession.” Her mind is a restless one, always working on some new and unusual way of refracting contemporary life through history’s prism. So stay tuned. A classical oboist, Doheny is developing a new interdisciplinary course with the music department’s Christopher Walter that explores the relationships of 20th century composers to totalitarian regimes—Shostakovich and Stalin, Wagner and Hitler, Copeland and the McCarthy era. It’s going to be called, appropriately, Out of Tune, yet another permutation of what is possible when strangers meet. —Sally Holm

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On Course: Winter 2009