Reacting to the Past project enhances history class at SAU
By Maria Dalmasso
Laurinburg, NC - St. Andrews University’s Department of Liberal and Creative Arts participated in several successful projects during the 2013-2014 school year. One of these projects was Reacting to the Past [RTTP], which students had the chance to participate in as part of a civil war class taught by Associate Professor of American History Dr. David Herr.
Reacting to the Past is a series of elaborate games, all set in the past, where students are assigned roles from classic historical texts. Sessions are run entirely by students, with instructors advising and guiding the students.
“I have a colleague at another institution who was trying a game and recommended it to me,” said Herr. “I spoke with the RTTP folks and they assisted with my starting a game here.”
The selected game focused on Kentucky in the early days of the Civil War as the state leadership made decisions about remaining loyal to the Union or joining the confederacy.
“I signed up for this class because of my interest in history, specifically the American Civil War,” said Stuart Marshall, one of the eight student participants of the project. “The subject is interesting enough, but when I learned that the class would be an immersive, interactive role-playing environment, I knew I had to take the opportunity.”
Although the role-playing environment caught student attention, the act itself required a different kind of commitment.
“Students had to invest in their characters and they were initially reluctant to do that. The degree to which they had invested played a large role in their success within the game,” said Herr. “The more they knew about the historic circumstances the better they were able to engage the opportunities within the game.”
“Once they got the hang of acting in character, they used the history,” Herr added. “They searched through it for clues about what actions to take.”
Marshall had his own way of preparing for his role of Inspector General Simon Bolivar Buckner.
“In order to immerse myself in the role, I researched the man himself. He was a fascinating man,” Marshall said. “Especially difficult has been the fact that I was both a legislator and the Inspector General. I had my own opinions, but I was in the service of the State and their orders. I had to hold my tongue and walk the line in order not to be fired or overthrown.”
Herr agreed that there can be many challenges with this type of learning process.
“The game is challenging for students without any background in Civil War history,” Herr said. “They have to learn a lot in a little amount of time.”
For Marshall, the background existed strongly enough to provide a fun experience.
“The best part of the class was butting heads against others,” said Marshall. “I had two members of the class arrested and executed for treason against myself and other members of the government. They have been resurrected into new roles and I’m sure they’re already plotting against me again. But that’s the fun of it.”
“I would like to run a game with more participants in the future, but for our first effort, I am happy to have a small group,” Herr said. “We are able to stop the action and consider options easily.”
Marshall added, “My only regret with this class is that more people didn’t take it. The more people, the more interesting the debate; the more divided the opinions and motives.”
Faculty at over 300 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad has implemented RTTP games. For more information on the RTTP games visit https://reacting.barnard.edu/.