This course employs an exciting new approach to education called Reacting to the Past. Reacting courses consist of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts. Students in the class learn to construct arguments from the same intellectual sources their assigned characters would have used, and then support their positions through reasoned, sometimes impassioned, writing and speeches. As students take control of an unfolding historical drama and struggle for their characters to prevail, they become deeply engaged, both intellectually and emotionally, with the subject matter. Professors act as game masters, determining students' roles, preparing them to play, grading their work, and very occasionally nudging the game as it develops.
The content of the games varies-from the French Revolution to the creation of India to the US Constitutional Convention and beyond-but every Reacting course centers on methods and questions peculiar to the social sciences, and therefore counts for General Education credit in this group. By learning how to analyze complicated texts and evaluate primary sources from a number of perspectives, and developing their ideas and understanding through spoken and written assignments, students acquire familiarity with the ways practicing social scientists study social change. The course prepares them to evaluate both the large-scale forces and individual decisions that help to explain momentous historical turning points.