In one of our recent blog entries, Pamela Walker and Martha Attridge Bufton reflected on the successes and drawbacks of teaching history through role-playing games, specifically Reacting to the Past’s Greenwich Village 1913. While noting that this kind of pedagogy has its limits and isn’t suitable for all topics, they thought that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks. “We are hooked,” they concluded.
In response to this, I’d still like to write my own blog entry about gamification and history teaching but haven’t quite figured out what to say yet. In my head are many different strands: John Eigl’s blog for us on student engagement, horror stories about the decline in history enrolments, the slightly traumatic experience I had at a recent conference on “Edutainment” (two words: Escape Room)… now, into the fray, comes this: the latest issue of the American Historical Review (Vol 125:1 Feb 2020). The storied journal announces, “in an ongoing effort to broaden the reviews sections…beyond the realm of the scholarly monograph,” and cover “films, historical fiction, graphic histories, document collections, pedagogical materials, digital sites, and even historically themed video games” (146), it has just published several reviews of Reacting to the Past (RTTP) games.
The games they review include: The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403BCE; Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor, 1587; Patriots, Loyalists, and Revolution in New York City, 1775-1776; Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal, and the Rise of Naturalism, 1861-64; Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-1889; Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence, 1945; The Collapse of Apartheid and the Dawn of Democracy in South Africa, 1993; and, yes, Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman.
I’d recommend reading them because they contain all kinds of viewpoints on gamification that go beyond specific games and get at the nitty-gritty of what we’re supposed to teach when we teach history. Some are cranky, such as James Secord’s review of the Darwin game: “Personally, I find it almost as difficult to imagine a curriculum that would allow for eight hours of game play on a single topic, as I would asking my students (as recommended) to sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ in class.” (153) Yet, he acknowledges that while he has issues with the details, the concept has much possibility.
Nothing says you’ve arrived quite like a flight of (pretty critical) reviews in a premiere publication so RTTP is certainly a “thing,” now, I’d say.
The February 2020 issue contains several reviews of graphic novels, too, fyi.
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