FYSM 1405A: Playing History
Fall 2024-Winter 2025

Instructor: Professor Pamela J. Walker

Do you like serious fun? Are you tired of being in front of a screen or sitting quietly while a teacher talks?

Do you want to play historical games, meet other students, ask big historical questions, and figure out university life?

This course uses Reacting to the Past (RTTP) games to draw students into the past. Students will take on historical roles like a journalist, the King of France or a peasant protesting unjust laws. Games are set in times of historical change and upheaval like the French Revolution or the end of World War One. There is no fixed script or outcome. You will be obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the historical figures you play and you must devise your own means of expressing those ideas persuasively, in papers, speeches, or other public presentations.

Everyone has to figure out how to win the game. That might mean overthrowing the King and establishing a republic or making the King’s hold on power even more secure. Players will collaborate and compete with others. They will work to understand historical documents and to develop their response to the central problems of the game. You will debate, deceive your enemies, engage in skullduggery, or plot to sabotage your opponents. After the game, we will look at how the historical events differed from the way the game unfolded and reflect on the big historical questions we asked.

As one student said, “Because of Reacting, I don’t just know the facts, I know the history. And that’s pretty epic.”

This seminar will introduce you to historical thinking and help you to develop skills in persuasive speech, research, critical analytical thought and academic writing. These key skills are not only fundamental to success in university but are also essential to a successful professional career.

Class Format: This seminar will be taught in person with a maximum of thirty students.

Assessment: Students will be graded on their participation in the historical games and class discussions. They will submit frequent short essays that will examine key historical questions. The papers will require independent research using techniques that will be taught in class. Students will also write longer essays on topics of their choice. There is no examination in this course.

Read about game based history classes:


Student comments about this course:

My experience with Reacting to the Past was truly one I will carry throughout the remainder of my undergraduate studies. Reacting to the Past was a great introduction to the exploration of historical arguments through an interactive game, which gave me the opportunity to develop analytical and communication skills while creating personal relationships with my other classmates. This experience taught me to use skills I didn’t know I had and is something that continues to generate interest from employers when listed on my resume.

I took [this] FYSM and I can confidently say this class was beneficial in many ways. Not only did I make amazing friends because of the formulation and size of class, but I also learned valuable skills that helped me excel in every course. I highly recommend. PS: it’s very fun if you get into it.

Questions? Email pamela.walker@carleton.ca