History students experience the past

Rote memorization and lengthy readings represent an unfortunate stigma attached to history courses. But Ben Tyner, assistant professor of history, is changing that. 

Last semester's Medieval History class used an elaborate month-long game set amid the second crusade of 1148 to help students better understand the characters, stories and impact on the world. After being assigned roles of—in most cases— actual historical characters, each student stayed in character to write papers, make speeches and create factional alliances in order to win a series of three votes on the viability, leadership and destination of a Holy War. 

Tyner reformatted the classroom in a circle to encourage interaction. Even though he served as mediator and used assigned reading to move the class through game, the students dictated the pace and direction of each period.

“Suddenly, assigned reading seemed urgent,” said Jessica Perrone, sophomore English and history major. “You’re studying to win and learn the character. I really understood the politics once I injected myself into the culture.” 

Perrone assumed the role of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem. Through careful study of geography, statistics and treaties, she made alliances with other characters to meet her objectives. Her strategy and alliance ultimately won the game. 

“From studying and researching the information I decided to use old elegant English and a larger vocabulary when writing papers or giving speeches,” said Perrone.

The game was designed by Reacting to the Past historical games started at Barnard College in New York and has been used in some other classes at Union by Mark Robison, professor of English. Based on the success of this course, Tyner hopes to include similar games in all his upper division history classes in the near future.