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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *