H-SHGAPE Question of the Week: Teaching Techniques

Chelsea Gibson's picture

Welcome to H-SHGAPE's Question of the Week! Each Wednesday, the list editors will ask a question about the Gilded Age and Progressive Era that we hope will provoke lively discussion. We encourage you to share your thoughts by typing in the "Post a Reply" box below the original post, or, if you're getting this by email, by clicking on the "Read More or Reply" link.

Have you used simulations in your undergraduate courses? If so, have they worked well? Are there any you would recommend? If not, are there particular concerns you have about using them?

Dear All, 

This is a good question, but I think it depends a bit on what a simulation is.  Is the point of the simulation to get students to work through different perspectives? I've certainly used class debates now and then to try to get the students to see the different sides of a historical issue as they were understood at the time. You can also have students take parts in reading multivocal historical documents, especially, say, congressional exchanges. Norton has a series along these lines, although I have not assigned from it yet. Of particular interest is here.

There is another sense in which a simulation might model a situation by showing its underlying dynamic out of its original context. Way back in college, I had a literature professor do this with the arms race during the Cold War. He said he'd auction off a dollar to the highest bidder, but the ground rules were that the second highest bidder also had to pay her/his final offer. The two highest bidders soon got caught in a race to not be second, and bid the price of the dollar up way beyond its value. The dollar represented nuclear supremacy, something a state might normally want to have, but which you still had to pay for if fell just short of your rival.

I know vaguely of some efforts to use computer simulations, basically small games, to teach history, but think others can address that better than I can.

Kind Regards, 

David Prior
Assistant Professor of History
University of New Mexico 


I have used one of Barnard's "Reacting to the Past" games on Greenwich Village in the 1910s, and it was a tremendous success among students. I can't recommend it enough. This type of simulation games takes a few classes out of the syllabus so I don't know if they are appropriate for the survey, but they worked excellent for a class on industrial America. They have a few games that can be relevant to GAPE, and their platform is easy to use and understand.

not really a simulation, but I also had my students play the board game "ticket to ride", assuming real characters, with a bit of modified rules to reflect the historical context of westward expansion and the railroads. It was a lot of fun, and student really got into characters - especially Jay Gould and J.P Morgan.

I also used debates in class. Muller vs. Oregon and the issue of protective legislation always seems to be popular among students. and there are plenty of documents to work with as a preparation.

Hi all --

Just a quick plug for Reacting to the Past. Those who use RTTP generally oppose the word "simulation" since the term suggests re-enactment of a particular outcome, but the games definitely qualify for the category being discussed here. If you haven't yet encountered these historical role-playing games, I strongly encourage you to check them out. One of the most popular fits squarely into GAPE territory: Greenwich Village 1913. I began using them last year and they have transformed my teaching! They engage students to an extent I've never witnessed before. Student response has been terrific and they involve extensive reading, writing, and public speaking, so wins on all counts! Check it out here: https://reacting.barnard.edu.

Good luck!

Abby Markwyn
Associate Professor of History
Carroll University
Waukesha, WI