In History Classes, the Play is the Thing
Thursday, August 13, 2009
This fall, Jeffrey Hyson, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, will transform his freshman Western Civilization I classes into fascinating games. Hyson will use an innovative pedagogy developed at Barnard College called Reacting to the Past (RTTP).
“Most history courses teach what happened,” Hyson says. “What is often missing is the importance of individuals – their actions and decisions. An RTTP class immerses students in the historical record through extended role-playing games that presume individuals play a significant role in history.”
During the semester, students will enter two radically different worlds: the Athenian Assembly, circa 403 B.C., and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, circa 1637. They will role-play characters from a rabble of Athenian democrats and oligarchs, and will later portray Puritans involved in the trial of Anne Hutchinson.
In both instances, students will study the forces shaping the historical moment by studying primary sources, and will speak, discuss and write in character for weeks at a time, forging alliances and strategies to achieve objectives.
“Student evaluations indicate that they become deeply invested in the games, studying texts and contexts more intently than they would in traditional lecture classes," says Hyson.
Hyson is not the only SJU professor enthusiastic about RTTP. Roger Martinez, Ph.D., a teaching postdoctoral fellow in history will use the trial of Galileo for an upper level course “that will require students to bring critical thinking, emotional intelligence and intellectual creativity into play,” notes Martinez.
Katie Oxx, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of theology, will use RTTP for a seminar in African theologies. “It really does bring history alive in a richer and deeper context than I have been able to recreate in other classes.”
Saint Joseph’s is a member of the consortium of 40 colleges and universities that developed the pedagogy, and is the only university in the Philadelphia area to offer courses using RTTP.