CHC offers Reacting to the Past: Native Nations course

Students on Zoom in Reacting to the Past class
Click image to watch video

Story by Adrienne George, CHC Communications
Video by Eden McCall, CHC Communications

 

Sometimes to understand history better, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the real participants. And, as students have learned in Reacting to the Past: Native Nations (HC 444H/431H) with Professor Kevin Hatfield, sometimes those shoes belong to a “bad guy.”

 Reacting to the Past is a history course designed as a roleplay game, like Dungeons and Dragons, to reinvent the understanding of historical events such as the 1758 Treaty of Easton and the 1835 removal of Cherokee from their native lands – two games called Forest Diplomacy and Red Clay, respectively. Hatfield used these games, which already existed, to augment the complexity of these events and put the students into the roles of the actual historical figures. Over 300 RTTP games have been created or are in development by Barnard College to facilitate this method of learning. Of course, due to COVID restriction, the class was offered online this year, but is otherwise offered as an in-person class.

“The games intend to foster empathy and understanding of the ‘historical other’ in their particular time and culture,” explained Hatfield, one of the first professors at the University of Oregon trained as a game master in 2010. Although RTTP has been at the university for over a decade, RTTP: Native Nations is the first such class offered at the Clark Honors College. The first CHC RTTP course was offered in Winter 2020.  

According to winter term students, the approach is largely successful.

“People understand, and they’re frustrated,” student Temerity Bauer said about Native issues that appeared in the Red Clay game. “It’s nice to understand and share that frustration. If they even get a glimpse of that emotion, [our characters] not just names at a page, they’re real people.”

“It’s really interesting to put names to faces,” Sarah Kitten, another participant, said. “It makes you care so much more.”

Reacting to the Past games aren’t limited by black-and-white decisions made by the historical characters students play as. Rather than that, students play with a set of goals their character needs to achieve. The goal is to understand and adapt key historical concepts like causation and agency to hone their critical thinking and interpretive skills, according to Hatfield.

Using in-game knowledge specific to their roles, students can change the course of history with bribery, assassinations and business deals behind the scenes. Rolls of literal dice can affect whether those attempts succeed, adding a touch of risk and uncertainty that breathes life into historic events.

“Their narrative, experiences, and outlook become clearer and it's easier to see that history was not always set in stone,” explained Isa Richter, a preceptor of the game who had been a participant previously.

“I think I’ll remember these two periods of history so much better than anything,” Kitten said upon completing the course.

Reacting to the Past games aren’t limited by black-and-white decisions made by the historical characters students play as. Rather than that, students play with a set of goals their character needs to achieve. The goal is to understand and adapt key historical concepts like causation and agency to hone their critical thinking and interpretive skills, according to Hatfield.

Using in-game knowledge specific to their roles, students can change the course of history with bribery, assassinations and business deals behind the scenes. Rolls of literal dice can affect whether those attempts succeed, adding a touch of risk and uncertainty that breathes life into historic events.

“Their narrative, experiences, and outlook become clearer and it's easier to see that history was not always set in stone,” explained Isa Richter, a preceptor of the game who had been a participant previously.

“I think I’ll remember these two periods of history so much better than anything,” Kitten said upon completing the course.

 

Faculty interested in teaching RTTP at the UO are welcome to contact Kevin Hatfield (kevhat@uoregon.edu) with the Department of History. Williams Council funding is available for new faculty training.