Reacting to the Past

Are any faculty at Penn State using Reacting to the Past?  I just learned about it and sounds fascinating.  This is program developed at Barnard College by anthropologists and historians that involves students in role-playing games as a way to learn not only about important events and transition points in history, but also writing and communication skills. The games emphasize historical contingency, but can also highlight the role that individual people can play in shaping history.

An article about it by David Walsh, editor of George Mason University’s History News Network, indicates that it is flexible enough to allow faculty to emphasize different aspects of history, historical scholarship, and even different learning objectives. 

Description from the Reacting to the Past website:

“Reacting to the Past (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills.”

I’ve not had a chance to delve deeply into it, but I wonder if any faculty members have taken this into cyberspace–it certainly seems to have potential.

1 thought on “Reacting to the Past


    I don’t think it’s exactly this model, but I know several faculty that Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) do large-scale, ‘whole class’ simulations where student-teams represent different countries, and each country has a set of objectives that guide the team’s decision making. I have not seen it in action, but SRA students are exposed to this in several different classes and generally report fantastic experiences. Maybe we can track down someone to come give a talk or brown bag on the experience.

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