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Reacting to the Past is an active-learning pedagogy of complex role-playing games. Reacting promotes engagement with big ideas, and improves critical, practical, intellectual, and academic skills.


Class sessions are run by students. Instructors advise students, and grade their oral and written work. Reacting roles and games do not have a fixed script or outcome. This is not re-enacting. In Reacting games, students are assigned character roles with specific goals and must communicate, collaborate, and compete effectively to advance their objectives. While students are obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the figures they have been assigned to play, as well as the context and facts of the historical moment, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively in papers, speeches, or other public presentations. Students must pursue a course of action to try to win the 'game.' 

Students learn by

  • taking on historical roles informed by classic texts
  • making decisions in a historical role in elaborate games set in the past
  • developing skills such as speaking, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and teamwork
  • working to prevail (win the game) in difficult and complicated situations

Regardless of the subject matter or level of development, every Reacting to the Past game includes the following components:

      • A student Gamebook, which outlines the historical context, game premise, central debates, and rules;
      • An Instructor's Manual with complete instructions on running the game on a day-to-day basis, complete with course handouts;
      • A packet of role sheets to be distributed to students with instructions on their individual goals and strategies for game play;
      • A variety of companion texts / primary source readings (which may also be included as appendices to the student game book).

Additionally, different games have various additional pieces, ranging from financial documents to balloting sheets to optional modules that complicate and enrich the standard game rules.


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