Pedagogical Proposal

One of the key difficulties in any historical pedagogical approach is the question of empathy. Commonly, students analyze questions of the past in the terminology and mindset of the present. This is understandable, given their knowledge base, but it is incumbent upon us, as educators, to provide the materials and training to allow students to place themselves in the positions of historical actors to inhabit their decision-making process in order to provide a greater understanding of the historical context of the events and persons they are studying.
Digital humanities provides one potential answer to this conundrum. Given its focus on visual and interactive media, students are more capable of developing a personal attachment, or at least some investment, in subject material with which they are directly engaged. And while many digital projects provide such interaction on an individual level, there is one avenue that allows for group participation as well as a greater opportunity for an empathetic approach: games.
In particular, I’m thinking of strategy games, along the lines of Hearts of Iron IV, Europa Universalis IV, and Victoria II. These games represent, respectively, aspects of the Interwar/WWII period, the Renaissance and Early Modern Period, and the 19th Century through a complex combination of economic, political, social, diplomatic, and military functions. And, in contrast to many other strategy games, considerable effort is taken to reflect historical disparities between nations in the realms of technology, population, and economic potential. A small class section, numbering say up to twenty-five students, and equipment permitting, could simulate or replicate a vast array of historical scenarios.
The goal here isn’t necessarily to recreate the Scramble for Africa or Operation Barbarossa, but to allow for students to place themselves into the position of decision-makers, and to provide for a better understanding of the geopolitical contexts of major events. The population and industrial pressures affecting France in the 1920s and 1930s, for example, have major consequences and limitations for players during that time span. The success of the individual in circumventing these challenges is less important than a tangible representation of their existence and impact.
Finally, it should be noted that this approach does not necessarily require a digital component. Simulations and role-playing activities have been utilized in pedagogical exercises fairly regularly. However, given the constantly decreasing cost of access to technology, and the comparative ease of use and dissemination, the efficiency of such a project would doubtless be improved dramatically.

Project Bibliography

Achats et Ventes: Bulletin d’Affaires (Saigon), June 1, 1927-September 15, 1929,
Chantecler (Hanoi), April 17, 1933-December 28, 1939,
Cri de Saigon (Saigon), March 1, 1912-June 13, 1913,
Depeche d’Indochine (Hanoi), November 8, 1933-December 5, 1933,
L’Ere Nouvelle (Saigon), August 17, 1926-June 22, 1929,
L’Éveil économique de l’Indochine (Saigon, Hanoi), May 19, 1918-June 16, 1935,
L’Information d’Indochine (Saigon), October 16, 1933-December 28, 1940,
La Jeune Asie (Saigon), March 18, 1919-April 21, 1921,
L’Écho annamite : organe de défense des intérêts franco-annamites (Saigon), January 8, 1920-September 14, 1944,
La Nouvelliste d’Indochine (Saigon), August 29, 1936-December 27, 1942,
Bulletin de Syndicat des Planteurs de Caoutchouc de l’Indochine, September 1918-June 1940,

Bone, Johnathan, Rice, Rubber, and Development Policies: The mise en valeur of French Indochina on the Eve of the Second World War, Proceedings of the Meeting of the French Colonial Historical Society, Vol. 16 (1992), pp. 154-180, Michigan State University Press
Brocheux, Pierre, Le prolétariat des plantations d’hévéas au Vietnam méridional: aspects sociaux et politiques (1927-1937), Le Mouvement social, No. 90 (Jan. – Mar., 1975), pp. 55-86, Editions de l’Atelier
Harp, Stephen, Marketing the Metropole: Colonial Rubber Plantations and French Consumerism in the Early Twentieth Century, in Callahan, Kevin and Curtis, Sarah, Views from the Margins: Creating Identities in Modern France, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2003
Peycam, Philippe, The Birth of Vietnamese Political Journalism: Saigon, 1916-1930, Columbia University Press. 2012
Tully, John, The Devil’s Milk, A Social History of Rubber, Monthly Review Press 2011

3d Printing, Ethics, and ISIS

This week’s readings focused on the question of 3D printing, specifically as it pertains to ethics, within the historical realm, utilizing several examples of printing projects that have developed in recent years.
The first of these was the reconstruction of a triumphal arch from Syria, the original version of which had been destroyed by ISIS during their attempted conquest of the region. This arch was placed in Manhattan, amid minimal fanfare, and with little in the way of supplementary information to provide context for visitors and tourists. Ostensibly, the reconstruction was created in order to display the resilience of the human spirit in the face of terrorism and extreme violence, while utilizing images collected by the community to complete the printing project. Ethical questions were raised by some of the attendees regarding the lack of emphasis on the crisis in Syria that destroyed the original, and the use of monetary resources that could have been better spent on aiding refugees. Others remarked that the project seemed more like an opportunity to showcase technology than to serve as a memorial.
Clearly, whatever was hoping to be accomplished by the project organizers has more or less failed in the realm of public opinion. A small, indistinct arch was erected in New York City by individuals with little connection to the incident in question, attended by few people, who were confused as to the motive of the entire event. However, the ethical flaw here is not in the usage of 3d printing to restore a destroyed piece of architecture. This type of technology provides considerable potential for the study of archaeology, artifacts, and architecture while maintaining their integrity. The benefit to analysts, and the lack of potential harm to the objects in question, provide little downside. The ethical flaw is in the ambiguity in the utilization of this reconstruction, not in the reconstruction itself.