This semester, I opted to take a simple introductory History course that is set to cover material from 1500 to present day in order to fulfill my general education requirements. I want to preface this by saying that History has always been an interesting topic that I have enjoyed learning about but it was something that I struggled with and did not come to me naturally. In high school, I took an AP US History course because the teacher was great and I wanted to learn more in depth about US History while taking away meaningful points by writing essays and having in depth discussions as opposed to some old lecture. I was also hoping to earn some college credit but none the less I am not one of those students who is bitter about taking history, but who gets very anxious and nervous.
History courses that I have taken in the past have been pretty standard; they require the memorization of important dates and timelines during a long boring lecture, two things that I am horrible at doing. Despite being anxious this semester, I chose to make the best of my schedule and opted to take it at a responsible time later in the morning that would allow me to enjoy it more and I chose the most recent timeline available. To my surprise, within the first week, I was told that my teacher does a lecture on Tuesday followed by an activity every Thursday called "Reacting to the Past." Now some of you might know what it is while others will be like me and think to yourself "What in the world does that mean?"
Reacting to the Past "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"(https://reacting.barnard.edu).
Now, what in the world does that mean?
For my class, we have been given the historical setting of the French National Assembly. We each are a part of a different faction or group and have been assigned a historically accurate character that has their own goals. In this case, we try to pass laws and complete tasks that fit our winning objectives, both personally and as a group, such as "getting the King out of power," "Give Women the right to vote," etc. The goal is to have as many of your objectives completed by the end of the game sessions. This can be harder or easier depending on your group, how many good speakers you have, and who has opposing objectives against you and your group.
So, after hearing about that, I was more intrigued and the second class meeting was started off with the pleading statement from my professor when he warned us about what the game would entail since it was vastly different from that of a traditional course.
"Please, even if you are naturally an introvert like myself, consider sticking through with this class. It will require you to speak and deliver speeches to reach your goals, but if you can get past that this class will be worth it in the end." Knowing that I hate speaking in front of a crowd and that I am not very outgoing, I almost considered changing my class right then and there, despite the game days intriguing me because I dread speaking. But, I forced myself to reconsider and stick it out and thankfully I did just that.
The next game day I was met by a congratulations as I was the first person called to receive my character packet and game session information and as the weeks have gone on, I am happier than ever to have this opportunity. This class and lecture has been great for me as I am a very visual and interactional learner. Even though the main lecture doesn't mainly revolve around the French Revolution, it is enjoyable to take a day off from learning the exam material to get into a character's mindset and argue for what they believe in. Mainly what has made the game sessions as fun is they have been in my group and my class. We understand that when we challenge another speaker's speech or motives, it is not meant to be an attack on them as a student but rather as an opposing revolutionary force. My group, the section leaders, play the role of heckling the National Assembly in order to speak on behalf of the people of France as we do not have the right to vote or speak without permission. Our group's goals and ideas tend to be seen as very radical and are often the focus of discussion as we have to "pick fights with everyone" in the classroom at times due to the nature of how the revolution was first viewed at the beginning.
This class has encouraged me to speak out and question other's based on research and knowledge about my role as a revolutionary and I cannot believe I would ever be saying that speaking was enjoyable. These speeches center around the topics being voted on for the day and lead to a slightly chaotic discussion but I can say that having to use your whit and knowledge to quickly form arguments is fun and takes the realism behind the revolution to the next level.
This interactive class seemed odd at first but I am excited to be taking this class; the interactive nature allows for flexibility and an unlimited number of ways for the game session to go, whether it is in your favor or not is mainly up to you and your supporters.
For those of you who might be optimistic if you ever get the chance to take a Reacting to the Past class, believe me when I say it will be more thought provoking work rather than hard facts but it will be enjoyable, even if you are like me and you are terrified of speaking. My advice is to just take the leap of faith and have fun with it.