French Revolution and Napoleon class offers unique role-playing experience

Lamar University is offering a unique class experience of role-playing the French Revolution and Napoleon this semester (HIST 4346), taught by chair of history and chair of university studies professor Dr. Rebecca Boone.

The “game,” according to Boone, is part of a pedagogy called “Reacting to the Past.”

According to the game book, “Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791,” the game “plunges students into the intellectual and political currents that surged through revolutionary Paris in the summer of 1791.” As members of the National Assembly gathered to craft a constitution for a new France, students wrestle with the threat of foreign invasion, political and religious power struggles and questions of liberty and citizenship.

“Reacting to the Past” was developed under the auspices of Barnard College. It is an award-winning series of immersive role-playing games that actively engage students in their own learning. Students assume the rules of historical characters and practice critical thinking, primary source analysis and argument, both written and spoken.

Using these role-playing games, the students are allowed to control the direction of the class with minimum interference from the professor. Each student is given a role to play and each role has its own situation, ideology and goals. The students become that person and try to persuade the others in the class to follow their role’s personal aims. The students learn how to speak convincingly and passionately.

“Public speaking is usually scary, but in the class, it’s easier,” said Boone. “For one, everyone realizes that the students are acting the part of a role. Secondly, they are backed up by their team, so some students are always cheering for them. The class really helps students develop as members of a team and gives them valuable lessons in leadership. Several of my students who went on to successful careers in law and politics claimed that the game inspired them to realize their talent and potential.”

Boone added, “Giving students a role also helps them learn the events and actions of the revolution have personal meaning to them. This competitive environment can become emotionally intense, but the students retain more information because it matters to them. This also enables them to realize how history looked in reality to the people who made it. It really opens up the students’ imaginations.”

Three games offered in the Department of History use this pedagogy including: French Revolution and Napoleon; Ancient Greece and Rome; and American Revolution.

Dr. Boone will be recreating the Athenian Assembly in spring 2023.

There are still spaces available in the French Revolution and Napoleon class this semester. HIST 4346 is open to all majors.