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CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

The Constitutional Convention of 1787: Constructing the American Republic

by John Patrick Coby

America's Founding Charter

The Constitutional Convention of 1787: Constructing the American Republic has as its subject the most fundamental political-legal event in American history. Students in the game, playing delegates to the Convention, gather in “Philadelphia” to write a new constitution for the United States. Or is it that they gather to amend the already existing constitution, the Articles of Confederation, ratified a mere six years earlier? The job at hand is itself a matter of controversy. Informing the debates are two competing theories of republican government: Country republicanism, with roots in the Classical and Renaissance worlds and in the thought of Aristotle, Machiavelli, Rousseau, etc.—but called Confederalism at the Convention; and Court republicanism, arising from a “new science of politics” developed by authors such as Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, etc.—but called Nationalism at the Convention. The game attempts to teach the entire founding period, and not just the four-month Convention, by allowing, where appropriate, the thought of the ratification period to filter in—e.g., Federalist and Antifederalist writings. Sectional interests, backroom deal making, personal rivalries, foreign intrigue, and the danger of leaks all work to add drama to the proceedings. The game comes in three fully developed versions, differing by length and level of play--Advanced, Intermediate, and Introductory (called Standard). All versions use the same game book.

ABOUT THE GAME

Details

Disciplines
Political Science and Government; American Studies


Era 
18th Century; Modern History; Late Modern Period


Geography 
United States of America


Notable Roles

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris

Themes and Issues  
Branches of government, large vs. small republics, nationalism vs. federalism, slavery, commerce, western expansion 


Player Interactions 
Factional, Competitive, Collaborative, Coalition-Building


Sample Class Titles
American Political Thought; Founding Fights: Creating Constitutions


Level
Published Level 5 game (what's that mean?

Mechanics 
Rolling Dice, Differentiated Voting, Physical Props


Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is moderately chaotic. The advanced version is most demanding for instructors, while the standard version is least demanding.


Primary Source Highlights
 
Madison's "Notes;" "The Founders' Constitution;" "The Complete Anti-Federalist;" "The Federalist Papers"

Using the Game

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive. The Constitutional Convention may pair well with:

Assignments
You can adjust the assignments based on the desired learning outcomes of your class. This game may include traditional papers and research/thesis-driven writing assignments. All roles are required to give formal speeches. 


Class Size and Scalability
 
This game is recommended for classes with 12 to 40 students. This game  comes in three versions)--Full Size, 12 to 22 (with doubling up beyond that); Mid-Size, 12 to 22 (doubling up); Standard, 12 to 32 (doubling up).


Class Time
  

This game can be easily adapted to fit the time available in your course, and comes in three fully developed versions, taking between 8 and 15 sessions (1-4 setup, 6-14 game, 1 debrief). If you need an even shorter option, consider Raising the Eleventh Pillar: The Ratification Debate of 1788, a Flashpoints game that takes just one week to play. 

Read more about the different versions of this game...

Complete guidance on role assignments can be found in the instructor's guide, and questions can be directed to the game author.

The game comes in three fully developed versions: Standard (Introductory), which has 6 game sessions; Mid-Size (Intermediate), with 8 game sessions; and Full-Size (Advanced), with 14 game sessions.


GAME MATERIALS

Reacting Consortium members can access all downloadable materials (including expanded and updated materials) below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  Basic game materials (Gamebook, Role Sheets, Instructor's Guide, and Handouts) are available to any instructor through the publisher. 

Gamebook

Students need a Gamebook, which includes directions, resources, and historical content. The Constitutional Convention Gamebook is published by W. W. Norton. 

 ISBN: 978-0-393-64090-8
 Available wherever books are sold.

Role Sheets 

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, role-specific resources or assignments, and their character's secret victory objectives. 

.pdf file.

Instructor's Guide
and Handouts

The Instructor's Guide includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.   

.pdf files.

Additional Resources 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

John Patrick Coby

John Patrick Coby is the Esther Booth Wiley 1934 Professor of Government at Smith College in Massachusetts, where he teaches courses in political theory and American political thought. He is the author of six books and numerous journal articles, book chapters, and book reviews. Included among his books are Socrates and the Sophistic Enlightenment: A Commentary on Plato’s Protagoras; Machiavelli’s Romans: Liberty and Greatness in the Discourses on Livy; and, in the Reacting to the Past Series, The Constitutional Convention of 1787: Constructing the American Republic. At Smith he is the recipient of three teaching prizes: the Smith College Faculty Teaching Award, the Sherrerd Prize for Distinguished Teaching, and the Board of Trustees Honored Professor Award.

Reviews 

"This is a fantastic resource for engaging students in history. I played this game with my 11th grade civics class. The students had a lot of fun. There was competition, intrigue, alliance-breaking and -shattering, and, yes, some deception. While the students are playing, they're also learning. I could have lectured for hours about the relative merits of House terms and bored them to tears. But turn it into a competition, and suddenly THEY are the ones making the arguments!"

"It's working. I'd been feeling like I made a mistake by [using] ConCon asynchronously, but I'm currently a fly on the wall of heated slack deliberations. The arguments are nuanced and well-grounded. They're creating side channels for extra-factional private discussions, and they're cutting deals and brokering compromises. Amazing!"

"Incredible maneuvering, negotiating, compromise, backstabbing, passion, argumentation - a brilliant game session dealing with the composition of the Senate. Terrific roleplay and on-point discussion. If I were a better person, I'd be concerned that my students were up till 4 AM working on their papers and strategizing, sleeping through Organic Chemistry, and outlining strategies in Biotech. But I am not"

QUESTIONS

Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events


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reacting@barnard.edu

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