Home > Practical advice, Teacher examples > Interactive History Class 2019 – Teacher’s Log #1 (Week of 8/19)

Interactive History Class 2019 – Teacher’s Log #1 (Week of 8/19)

disclaimer: shockingly little/ sometimes no proofreading; I’m just trying to get the information and ideas out there fast.

So as some may know, I launched the second iteration of my Interactive History class, a senior elective at Cincinnati Country Day School. Last year it ran as a third quarter elective. While the class was very successful, I found it readily apparent that a reformed and expanded semester-long course could be even more successful. I had learned it was overly idealistic to suppose, in the first run of the course, that, say, reading one article on World War I would provide students enough refresher and new evidence to deeply critique a game on the topic. Hence the key difference (other than class time) in my approach this year: rather than encounter a briefer and necessarily more superficial investigation of the relevant history before playing a game, teach a small number of historical units in-depth and focus most of the games on these units.  Then, arguably, students could learn and do history in a deeper more meaningful way through a variety of media and channel that learning into more rich and substantive play, analysis, and critique of historical games.

For this first run of the semester-long Interactive History course, I have selected three topics both because of their importance in world history and because each topic has a good cluster of board and video games to explore:  The French Revolution 1789-1795, Imperialism and Colonialism, and World War I. We’ll see if I get through all three units this semster: I hope so.

Starting with this intro, I will attempt to post regular, quick, and rough updates on the course in the hopes that it can help other educators understand how such a course might be designed and function. I also hope it will provide some practical examples of how to use my historical problem space framework (McCall 2012A, and McCall 2012B) for analyzing and understanding games and how to critique them using historical evidence. It’s pretty easy to reach me via email (jmc.hst@gmail.com) , Twitter (@gamingthepast), or this blog, so please send any and all questions and feedback my way.

Introduction, Week of August 19th 2019

After giving a brief lecture on interactive history following the outline of my article from the Journal of Geek Studies earlier this year , with board games added to the talk (i.e. I gave the talk and noted that board games were subject to similar dynamics and we would also study them) , the first step was to get students practicing historical game analysis using the historical problem space framework I developed about 7 years ago (see the articles linked in the paragraph above.) I decided to borrow a lesson I recently developed for my Ancient World History ninth graders, and use the simple economic computer game developed in the 1960s, Hammurabi (Version 1 Close to the Classic Version; Version 2 A Clearer Newer Version). The game is quite simple but fleshed out enough to allow for a simple problem space analysis. (Update 9/2: I was really happy with the results of using Hammurabi in both this class and my Ancient World History Class. It’s a perfectly scoped first game for learning to do a historical-problem-space analysis. I hope to see benefits in the 9th grade classes when we move on to more challenging games like Civlization IV)

First, I explained that historical games often framed the topics of the past in terms of historical problem spaces, and this was, at times though not always, a convenient way to analyze the past. Then I introduced them to my latest-iteration diagram for a historical problem space.


Finally, I assigned Joshua Mark’s essay on Hammurabi over at Ancient History Encyclopedia as homework and tasked my students with taking notes and breaking down the info in the text into a real-world historical problem space for Hammurabi.

Next, we filled out a diagram of (one of) Hammurabi’s historical problem space(s).

I had students play the game Hammurabi for 20 minutes or so, then fill out another blank diagram, this time for the gamespace. We discussed it a bit, and then students wrote their first small essay overnight comparing the game problem-space to the real-world problems and environment Hammurabi faced. (Update 9/2: The strongest essays noted that the game does refer to historical elements, but noted that mostly the problem space presented (buying and selling land, determining the amount of grain to feed each person and the amount of land to work) does not match what we know about Hammurabi. A few even speculated what a more evidence-based (based on Mark) game about Hammurabi would look like).

After I graded the essays we discussed them a little and moved on to the French Revolution proper. The first game on the list was Courtisans [sic] of Versailles a board game about the cutthroat politics of courtier’s at the Sun King’s Court.

Courtiers Versailles

Students played the game and looked at a couple of secondary sources before analyzing the game.

Okay, now you’re up-to-date. I’ll go through the discussion we have had about the game so far in the next segment, and then work to keep current for the rest of the semester as the course develops. Let me know if there is anything you’d like to hear more about or like to try in your own classes.

Log #2

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