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Reacting to the Past

Bridging the gap between past and present

Live History

What if you did more than study history? What if you could live it? The History department at Simpson uses an innovative teaching method called Reacting to the Past role-playing games to get students to understand history from the inside.

Reacting to the Past is as close to time travel as you're likely to get. Ask Simpson graduate, Benjamin Williams:

"In the past couple of years, I've been an African-American slave, Thomas Paine, a Puritan, an advisor to the Emperor of China, and the British Governor General of India."

Many of the courses offered by the History department use Reacting to the Past simulations to immerse students as historical actors in a particular crisis moment in history. Through this experience, they learn how complex historical change is and the intricacies of the issues facing people in those situations. They know it because they’ve experienced it themselves in the course of the game.

One of the most interesting aspects of Reacting to the Past is the degree to which they are run by the students themselves. After a few preliminary sessions of traditional instruction in which the professor makes sure the students understand the historical context and main intellectual collisions of the game, they step back and let the students take charge. This is thrilling, disorienting and quite challenging for most students, but by figuring out how to run the game, the classroom becomes theirs.

Faculty Authors

The professors you'll have in history have also written many Reacting to the Past games used in classrooms around the country.

Nicholas Proctor, professor of history, has published the following games:

Forest Diplomacy: War, Peace and Land on the Colonial Frontier, 1756-1757, exploring the issues of war, peace and land that divided Indians and colonists during the French and Indian War.

Kentucky, 1861: Loyalty, State and Nation, examining how the people of a pivotal border state deal with the secession crisis that led to the American Civil War.

Modernism versus Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-1889, which dramatizes the rise of modern art.

Rebecca Livingstone, associate professor of history, is authoring Peacemaking, 1919: Treaty of Versailles, a game which delves into the complexities of defining peace at the conclusion of the First World War.