Reacting to the PastFebruary 18, 2011
I spent my office hour in the the Classics Department this week reading Jane Addams (on my Kindle, for the trifecta.) I’m lending myself to a Reacting to the Past game in the history department for the next several weeks – a role-playing game in which students hone their analysis, rhetoric, and writing skills by re-enacting debates around historical crisis points – this one is a game called Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman.
There are Reacting to the Past games on a wide variety of subjects; relevant to the world of Classics are the published and well-established “Athens Game” (The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BCE) and a game in development on Rome, Beware the Ides of March: Rome in 44 BCE, co-authored by Keith Dix of the UGA Classics Department.
A role-playing game sounds a bit silly, and not very rigorous, but the Reacting pedagogy is certainly rigorous and once the students get over their initial self-consciousness, not silly either. The great benefit of the games that I’ve seen – I played a round of the wonderful Red Clay 1835: Cherokee Removal and the Meaning of Sovereignty last year – is the engagement the students develop with the material. They must give speeches and write persuasive papers incorporating the arguments presented in the readings, so they become intimately familiar with both the primary sources and the larger issues at stake (what is democracy and who gets to have some? what is sovereignty for native peoples?). I have a friend who teaches Reacting who also notes that the games create a bond between the students that long outlasts the game, and is especially useful for her at a commuter school where students are slow to feel connected to the campus and each other.
UGA has used the Reacting pedagogy since 2003. UGA Reacting is hosting a conference this spring, March 25-27, in which participants will play an abbreviated version of either the Rome game or another game in development, about Darwin. This is an excellent opportunity to get an immersion in the pedagogy and share insights with other instructors about how to make it work in your classroom.