Learning history through role-play

Playing historical characters is a compelling way to learn history - and it’s fun!

In historical role-play exercises, students play a real historical actor, arguing for their views and trying to negotiate with other historical actors to achieve goals. You build skills in teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, negotiation, public speaking, empathy, and critical thinking. Classes are run by the students, with the instructor merely moderating.

The School of Historical and Philosophical Studies is rolling out a new second-year class (HIST20081 Reacting to the Past, semester 1, 2018) devoted to role-play games using the Reacting to the Past model developed at Barnard College in the US. Students will spend about half the semester playing a game set during the independence of India and half playing a game about Henry VIII and the English Reformation. No prior knowledge is required! If you want to get a taste of what it’s like, watch the Reacting to the Past video.

The School also has several classes that use multiple sessions of historical role-play, including at undergraduate level:

HIST20071 American History from JFK to Obama (semester 2, 2018): We run a game set at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, when the United States was convulsed by debates over civil rights and the Vietnam War. The cast of colourful characters includes Abbie Hoffmann, Ted Kennedy, and Fannie Lou Hamer. A short video about the game can be found on the Vimeo website.

HIST200080 Witches and Witch-Hunting in European Societies (semester 2, 2018): For several weeks of this subject, research and role-play a character in one of history’s most infamous witch panics: the Salem witch trials of 1692-1693! You will also discover why 50,000 people in Germany, France and other European societies were executed for witchcraft between 1350 and 1700 and explore community involvement at all levels: accused female and male witches, victims, witnesses, lawyers, inquisitors, scholars, judges, and executioners.

HPSC20001 Darwinism: History of a Very Big Idea (semester 2, 2018): You will be thrust into the intellectual ferment of Victorian England just after the publication of Darwin’s seminal work, Origin of Species (1859). The battle lines were drawn between the Establishment, who supported older religious ideas about the creation of the world and its species, and the supporters of Darwin’s new evolutionary model. The old order held the upper hand in Britain’s most important scientific society, the Royal Society of London. Could the members of this august body be persuaded to award Darwin its most prestigious prize, the Copley Medal? In this role play, you will be experience the conflict between science and religion as the decision to award the Medal to Darwin hung in the balance.

More Information

Barbara Keys