This past weekend (Jan 19-20), the FHI was a vortex of epoch-making political debates. In one room Abolitionists and defenders of slavery vie for the rhetorical upper hand in a literary salon on The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself hosted by Charles Dickens. Down the hall the drama of Indian independence unfolded in two different rooms, as the British Viceroy hosts a summit of political, religious, and social leaders on the foothills of the Himalayas.
Or, if you must be literal: the GreaterThanGames Lab and the FHI, with support from Wake Forest University, hosted a regional faculty conference of Reacting to the Past (RTTP). A pedagogical approach developed by historian Mark Carnes of Barnard College, RTTP consists of “elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas.” At the FHI conference, some 90 college faculty and graduate students from the Southeast and beyond (in a few cases way beyond, e.g. British Columbia!) played intensive, accelerated versions of two games: Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence, 1945 and Frederick Douglass, Slavery, Abolition, and the Constitution: 1845.
To get a sense of the RTTP approach, the remarkable mix of reflection and passion that the games are designed to inspire, check out the Twitter backchannel discussion during the conference.
Some notable Duke participants and their roles: GTG Lab Co-director Victoria Szabo as Charles Dickens, PhD Lab Co-director David Bell as Frederick Douglass, and Eileen Chow, Visiting Associate Professor of AMES, as Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We posted a few photos of the assembled “Reactors” on the FHI Facebook page. (Sadly, perhaps, no one came in full-fledged costumes!)
Adeline Koh, the Games Lab’s Humanities Writ Large Visiting Faculty Fellow for the year, was a poet of the Muslim League in the India game. More importantly, she played the part of conference organizer brilliantly. Adeline is developing an RTTP game herself, called Trading Races, which explores the complexities of the Affirmative Action debates at the University in Michigan in the early 2000s. In the video below, she tells us a little about Trading Races and the educational potential of role-playing games in the humanities classroom. The game will be get a test run in Eileen Chow’s Chinatown: A Cultural History course this Spring. The students are in for an absorbing – and fun – intellectual challenge!