Hanna Hones in on Two New History Electives

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Issue 15, Volume 109

By Karen Zhang, Jessica Jiang, James Lee 

History teacher David Hanna will teach two new one-semester history electives next school year. In the fall, he will teach a course on the Middle Ages, and in the spring, he will teach a course on the Spanish Civil War. Both electives will only be open to juniors and seniors and will be discussion-oriented.

The Middle Ages elective will cover history from the fall of the Roman Empire up until the War of the Roses (1455-1487 CE). It will serve as a “prequel” to AP European History, which Hanna currently teaches. Students will also examine art in the Middle Ages, such as illuminated manuscripts and stained glass windows, and architecture, like the cathedrals, because these are valuable primary sources, particularly for a course centered on the Middle Ages.

Hanna’s interest in the Middle Ages began when he was only five years old. “The Middle Ages was my first love for history,” he said. “My father took our family to England when I was five years old for the summer and we traveled all around, and I saw so many castles, cathedrals, and ruins. And I was passionate about it all my life.”

Unlike the Middle Ages elective, which will primarily focus on the cultural significance of the Middle Ages, the Spanish Civil War elective will cover the war itself (1936-1939), the historical context showing why the war occurred, and the unresolved issues from the war that still persist, such as the periodic rise of authoritarian and far-right governments. This course will also feature different mediums: visual art, such as contemporary propaganda; journalism; poetry; fiction; and film.

Currently, Hanna teaches about the Spanish Civil War in both his AP European History class and his AP US History class. This new elective will allow him to cover the material in depth. “It was something that I was teaching, but not nearly as much as I would hope,” he said. “In the AP European History course, I can maybe only do two lessons on the Spanish Civil War, but now I can spend months and go really deep.”

Some students want to take Hanna’s electives because of this and are excited for the chance to further explore the topics. “I was really excited for AP European History partly because I thought it would cover [the Middle Ages]. I was actually disappointed at the beginning of AP European History because the course starts at the Renaissance, so I'm really glad that I can now take a course that focuses on the period before the Renaissance,” junior Alex Nobert said in an e-mail interview.

Sophomore Carter Ley agreed, expressing interest in the Spanish Civil War course. “Dedicating an entire semester to a three-year period is unusual for social studies electives at Stuyvesant, so it should be a thorough and detailed course,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Knowing Mr. Hanna, I am confident he will integrate his extensive knowledge of historical trends, facts, and anecdotes, making the class a truly insightful experience.”

Unlike the two AP classes that Hanna teaches, students will not have to write essays, nor will his tests be multiple-choice orientated. “There is never going to be multiple choice because I loathe it. It doesn't demonstrate any real knowledge or understanding of history; it’s just regurgitation,” he said.

Instead, Hanna will be administering short-answer tests. “Sometimes it will be analyzing documents, sometimes expository. I think it is a very effective way to evaluate people’s knowledge of history,” Hanna said.

Additionally, due to Stuyvesant’s unique location in the heart of New York, Hanna and his students will have access to valuable resources and opportunities that are not available elsewhere. These will include such primary sources from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at New York University for the Spanish Civil War elective. For the Middle Ages elective, students will be able to visit the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. “There is an advantage of being in New York and teaching those topics. The experience is more enriching for students,” Hanna said.

Hanna hopes the students who choose to take one of his new electives are passionate and dedicated. “[I am looking for] students [who] are generally interested in the historical topic, whether it is the Middle Ages or the Spanish Civil War. I would hope that the subject matter is what would spur students to want to take the class,” he said.