Reacting to The Past at Trinity College        

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Reacting to the Past consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned “roles” with “victory objectives” informed by classic texts in the history of ideas.  Game sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work.  Trinity College offers Reacting to the Past as part of the First Year Seminar Program and several upper level courses also use this pedagogy

Reacting to the Past was pioneered at Barnard College by Prof. Mark Carnes of the Department of History and was first offered at Barnard College in the fall of 1995.  Since that  time, Reacting to the Past  has been expanded and has spread to over 200 college and universities in the US and abroad including Trinity College and Smith College. The program has received substantial support from The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education. Barnard also received the 2004 Hesburgh Award for Reacting to the Past. Publication of Reacting to the Past books is being handled by Longman Publishers. Unpublished game materials for faculty use in courses are distributed through the web using the BEATL forum which is a faculty resource for discussion and distribution of RTTP information.

Reacting to the Past courses typically consist of two or three “games” a semester. Student resources for the game include rules and advisories and background information on the historical event central to the game. Games also include some of the great books of world literature. Trinity First Year Seminars normally use two games in the Fall term.  Some seminars use only a single game and include other traditional material as well.

Reacting Science is the use of Reacting games to teach non-majors science courses. There are four full length science games in regular use nationally, Evolution in Kansas, Acid Rain in Europe, Galileo and the New Cosmology, and Darwin and the Copley Medal. When these games are used to teach non-majors science, they include hands on activities and labs to insure that the science is understood. At Trinity, these courses have been approved to meet the science distribution requirement.

Prof. David Henderson is leading a consortium of colleges with funding from NSF-CCLI to develop shorter Reacting games for use in traditional science courses. The NSF is supporting the development of four such games, Is Pluto a Planet, Development of the USDA Food Pyramid, Climate Change, and Development of the Social Security System. These games are designed to take 2-3 class periods to play and it is assumed that when they are integrated into existing courses, the background material will be covered as part of the regular syllabus. The assessment of these games is being managed through James Madison University. Two additional short games have been developed based on the Acid Rain in Europe game, one focusing on general aspects of acid rain and one on catalytic converters and lead pollution.

Reacting has been featured in the New York Times (June 23, 2004, “Getting Into the Past by Getting into Character”), the Chronicle of Higher Education (cover story, November 16, 2001), the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere.  Interest in “Reacting to the Past” is growing rapidly, with dozens more institutions seeking to implement the pedagogy at their campuses, and, most recently, scheduled publication of an article by Mark Carnes in the Chronicle Review and another in Change magazine.

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Last updated: 01/08/10.


What's  New

Reacting Mini-Conference At Trinity - March 2, 2010

        Photos of the past Conference

Athens Game and Kansas Evolution and Creationism Game


Mark Carnes' article in the CHRONICLE is available at Barnard College web site. "The Liminal Classroom" . October 8, 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education cover article.


Photos and videos of students in class in Archive section