Posts Tagged 'Marquette University History'

The Jumonville Incident, 1754: An Experiment in Teaching History through Game-Based Learning

By Bryan Rindfleisch

On the 14th of June in 1754, George Washington – a newly promoted colonel in the Virginia militia – stood trial at Fort Necessity in a military court presided over by the local British commander, Captain James Mackay. Only two weeks previous, Washington led a detachment of colonial troops and allied Native Americans, escorted by the Mingo (Seneca) headman Tanaghrisson, into the Ohio River Valley where they encountered a French force commanded by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. Amid the fog of war, the two sides exchanged gunfire, a skirmish that resulted in an overwhelming British victory. However, during the battle, it was rumored that Jumonville had been killed under a flag of truce, a breach of military etiquette and one with consequences for the mounting tensions between France and Britain. To complicate matters, a series of conflicting reports emerged in the aftermath of the fighting, some of which accused Washington of ineffective leadership, of exceeding his orders by engaging the French force, and proving unable to stop his Native allies, particularly Tanaghrisson, from killing Jumonville for their own purposes. Therefore, Washington faced a military tribunal on June 14, forced to answer the summons of Mackay and other jurors like Lt. Col. George Muse, Captain Robert Stobo, and Captain William Polson. All the while, Washington’s testimony was cross-examined and weighed against other witness accounts, including fellow officers Jacob Van Braam and Thomas Waggoner, Native combatants like Tanaghrisson and Monacatoocha, civilians such as Christopher Gist and George Croghan, and even French prisoners-of-war. Therefore, in June 1754, Washington’s fate rested in the hands of a jury that had to sift through the testimonies of those on both sides of the conflict.

But things are not all what they seemed to be. In this case, the following scene did not unfold at Fort Necessity in June 1754, but instead in the Raynor Memorial Library at Marquette University in May 2017. In the place of Washington, Mackay, and Tanaghrisson were students in HIST 6110: Early American History, who assumed the roles of these historical actors and conducted this inquiry into the events surrounding the “Jumonville Incident,” a game designed by Nick Proctor, professor of history at Simpson College. Leading this demonstration was Dr. Jeff Fortney, assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, a practitioner of a new movement in higher education rindfleischknown as “Reacting to the Past” (RTTP), a game-based initiative designed to transform how historians teach, and how students learn about, history. As a testament to the growing popularity of RTTP, it is estimated that instructors at over 350 colleges and institutions in the United States incorporate it into their curriculums. I thought it prudent, then, to give this model of teaching a shot, albeit using graduate students as proverbial guinea pigs for this experiment.

Beyond my rather innocuous description above, what is RTTP? Think history meets role-playing, where students are assigned roles and given character sheets complete with their own individualized “powers,” tasked with pursuing objectives specific to their individual, and obligated to interact with their peers to achieve their own goals. This all sounds rather familiar to anyone who has experienced role-playing games before. But where RTTP differs is that students must first research their character, thoroughly read and dissect the primary sources pertaining to their individual (so as to inform the actions they take during the game), and in reacting to other students, justify their decisions using primary sources. Every action and reaction requires an intimate familiarity with their role and a thorough grounding in the historical context. In the case of the “Jumonville Incident,” this means that the student playing Washington had to familiarize himself with the skirmish using secondary sources, consult primary sources to compose his own testimony in which he defended his actions to the jury, scrutinize the other accounts of those who testified at his trial so that he might counter their arguments, and react in other ways consistent with Washington’s persona. To add drama to the mix, Washington and other student actors were constantly plotting behind-the scenes, inside and outside of the classroom, to achieve their ends.

RTTP is the brainchild of Mark C. Carnes, professor of history at Barnard College, who developed this game-based learning model in response to students who found his courses “sorta boring.” What started as an experiment by Carnes has become a movement in academia today, with annual conferences and play-testing conventions around the United States (this year’s conference is in New York City and the convention is in Wichita). The scenarios that instructors are able to choose from range from events in U.S. history such as Cherokee Removal, Greenwich Village in 1913, and the American Revolution in New York City; European history with games related to Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, or Henry VIII’s conflict with the Reformation Parliament; Global history specific to the Mexican Revolution, the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, and the independence movement in India (1945); and even Ancient history with the debates over democracy in Athens in 403 B.C. These games all vary in the time that it takes to introduce and play in the classroom, anywhere from one class period to four weeks’ worth of classes. Most of these games are available free-of-charge to university instructors, and are open to customization, so long as one provides feedback to the game’s designer and unless a game has reached a certain point in its development (what the RTTP Consortium considers Level 5), which is then published by W.W. Norton & Company. There is also extensive resources for interested instructors, including the RTTP webpage, a facebook faculty network group, twitter handle, and H-Net listserv that troubleshoots, bounces ideas off of one another, and provides feedback in either designing or implementing these games in the classroom.

From the beginning, though, Carnes and other instructors like Fortney are cognizant of the pitfalls inherent to role-playing as well as resistance by faculty and students to this teaching model. Between the amount of time and preparation RTTP demands from instructors and bearing the stigma of “gaming” rather than “teaching,” to having to gain the trust of students to “buy-in” to the model and asking instructors to relinquish control of their classroom to students, there are several downsides to RTTP. However, despite such potential drawbacks, and myself heartened by most students’ enthusiasm during the “Jumonville Incident,” there is also much to gain from game-based learning. First and foremost, students learn to not only read primary and secondary sources, but understand what it is to analyze and scrutinize those sources carefully, and how history itself is an interpretive process rather than facts set in stone. History is constantly reshaped, reinterpreted, and refashioned for a multitude of purposes, and students see that in action during a game such as the “Jumonville Incident.” Similarly, students appreciate the messy realities and the contingency of history, in which the past – and our understandings of it – are contested and fluid, far from static or lifeless. History is also dramatic, in which human actors have shaped and influenced the course of events throughout the past, whether at Fort Necessity in June 1754 or in Ancient Greece. In other cases, RTTP challenges students lived experiences and worldviews. One need look no further than the “Jumonville Incident” to see how Native Americans like Tanaghrisson were central figures at the trial and critical to the outcome of the game, which serves as an effective way of illustrating the importance of Native Peoples to the American past. Finally, the game-based model prompts students to collaborate continuously with one another, whether conspiring with or against each other, which creates a unique community and fellowship in the classroom. And whether they know it or not, students also take ownership of their learning in the process. All of this is to say that my experiment in “Reacting to the Past” was rewarding, and even though I am unsure if I will take the leap in the future by integrating game-based learning into my classroom, I see the merits of this teaching model.

For further information about RTTP, see Mark C. Carnes’s book, Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), or Inside Higher Ed’s review and interview with Carnes: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/27/book-advocates-reacting-past-pedagogy

Bryan Rindfleisch is assistant professor of history at Marquette and the author of the book manuscript George Galphin’s Intimate Empire: Family, Trade, and Colonialism in Early America, which is currently being considered for publication.

Where in the World Are MU Historians?

Years ago PBS aired a popular children’s show called “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” With the clever live-action sketches, animation, and an acapella group, viewers learned geography—not just where a country was on a map, but how the people of those countries lived.

One of the primary objectives of Historians@Work is to present the many “journeys” taken by MU historians and students.  Some are figurative, but many are literal.  The latter is certainly the case in this installment, as we learn about the upcoming summer research adventures of a half dozen of our associate professors.  Each was recently awarded funding from Marquette’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, which grants Summer Faculty Fellowships (stipends) and Regular Research Grants (for travel expenses) to two or three dozen Marquette faculty each year.

This summer our band of historians will outdo the fictional Carmen San Diego, as they conduct research in Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, and Italy, as well as Virginia, California, and Chicago.

This year’s awards, worth over $50,000, made history for our department—we have never received so many awards in a single year. This obviously reflects the interesting subjects these historians are exploring, as well as the success of their previous research.  Below, in their own words, you can read about their projects and their travel plans.

Michael Donoghue: Race, Identity, and Gender in U.S. Military-Cuban Relations 1941-1964  I plan to travel to Cuba and Virginia this upcoming summer to investigate the local records of U.S. Military-Cuban relations from 1941-1964 in Havana and Guantánamo City, Cuba and at the Marine Historical Division in Quantico.  3The focus of my research is on the intersections of race, identity, and gender that occurred between U.S. military personnel and the Cuban people from World War II until the closing of the U.S. Guantánamo naval base from Cuban contact in 1964 – and how these interactions contributed to the anti-American atmosphere of the Cuban Revolution.  I hope that this project will make a significant contribution toward our understanding of the many strands and forces that helped shape the Cuban Revolution beyond, high status actors, larger events, and economic indices, as it focuses on the personal and social relations that contributed to many revolutionary processes.  Michael is author of Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone (2014).

Alison Clark Efford, Suicide and Immigrant Emotions, 1882-1924  I received funding for two research trips, one to San Diego to investigate suicides among Japanese immigrants in the early twentieth century and the other to Chicago to research suicide, immigrant Catholicism, and the influential “Chicago School” of sociology. My larger book project explores the negative emotions that sometimes accompanied immigration by addressing the extensively documented act of suicide. I probe the inner lives of a variety of immigrants and shows how suicides drew wider attention to immigrant emotions. As early as 1861, the New York Times noted that the foreig1n-born accounted for about a third of the city’s population but three-quarters of its recorded suicides. By the turn of the century, the suicidality of immigrants was accepted as common wisdom. Whether commentators thought it reflected ethnic characteristics or the trauma of relocation, immigrant suicide became entangled with fears about alienation in modern society and rapid demographic change.  Alison is author of German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (2013)

Lezlie Knox, Mariano of Florence and Religious Life in Cinquecento Italy.    Mariano was a prolific author—in less than 25 years, he wrote fifteen treatises in both Latin and Italian.  These works range from shorter works on devotional themes to lengthy—really lengthy–histories of his religious order (male, female, and lay branches of the Franciscan Order) and his native Tuscany.  Many of these works remain in manuscript, due in no small part to Mariano’s cramped handwriting!  This grant will fund my completion of archival work in Italy, as well as time to do work at the Antonianum, the Franciscan Order’s pontifical university in Rome, which has one of the best libraries for my subject.  However, I am not just interested in Mariano as a Franciscan historian, but also in the ways his works describes religious culture in the towns and ecclesiastical centers of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Italy.  My study of his life and writings contributes to a broader 2understanding of society and culture during the later Middle Ages, particularly one which approaches that era as vital in its own right rather than symptomatic of later medieval decay or, conversely, a threshold to the humanistic attractions of the Renaissance.  Lezlie is author of Creating Clare of Assisi: Female Franciscan Identities in Later Medieval Italy (2008) and co-editor of the forthcoming Visions of Sainthood in Medieval Rome:  The Lives of Margherita Colonna by Giovanni Colonna and Stefania.  She has also received a $3000 Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society to help fund this research.

Laura Matthew: Circulations: Death and Opportunity on Mesoamerica’s Costa del Sur, 1500-1630  I will devote the summer to research for a book-length project examining migration, networks, and trade along Mesoamerica’s southern Pacific6 Coast in the century after European invasion. The SFF and RRG will fund a deep foray into the Guatemalan national archives, a first exploration of the regional archives of Chiapas, and travel along the routes described in the documents to achieve a more grounded sense of the places and spaces she is writing about.  Laura is author of Memories of Conquest: Becoming Mexicano in Colonial Guatemala (2012), recipient of the 2013 Howard F. Cline Memorial Prize from the Conference on Latin American History and the 2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize from the Southern Historical Association. 

Timothy G. McMahon, Beyond the Boundary Commission: Partitioned Identities in Modern Ireland   The United Kingdom government partitioned the island of Ireland through legislation in 1920, creating two states that claimed distinct identities (Northern Ireland as British, the Irish Free State as Irish). Partition had, however, been proposed and rejected on two prior occasions by many of the people who seemingly embraced it in the 1920s. A the new states sought to reinforce the distinctiveness of their populations, people living on either side of the new border continued to interact in spite of the new reality. The present project builds on the work of Rogers Brubaker to propose a new way of thinking about how the reality of a novel state boundary shaped identities, examining the 4interdependence of daily lived experience with movement politics and parliamentary legislation. Given the recent Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the possible shake-up of the United Kingdom—which has already seen calls from some in Scotland to secede and from some in Ireland and Northern Ireland to examine the relevance of the existing border—a detailed study of identity formation on this frontier has both historical and contemporary relevance. My proposal will enable me to undertake three weeks of archival research in Dublin and Belfast before spending approximately six weeks drafting an article to address the changed attitudes of the early 1920s.  Tim is author of Grand Opportunity: The Gaelic Revival and Irish Society, 1893-1910 (2008) and editor of the memoir Pádraig Ó Fathaigh’s War of Independence: Recollections of a Galway Gaelic Leaguer (2000).

Peter Staudenmaier, The Politics of Blood and Soil: Environmental Ideals in Nazi GermanyMy project aims toward a book manuscript examining controversial historical questions about the role of environmental protection efforts and ecological sustainability within the Nazi regime. Though scholars in a variety of fields recognize the prominence of “blood and soil” ideology in the Third Reich – the belief in an essential link between natural regeneration and racial renewal – there is no consensus on its historical significance or practical relevance. My research represents the first comprehensive analysis of the topic, based on extensive archival research5 over the past five years. It is structured around three main case studies: the emergence of early alternative agricultural movements during the Weimar era and their reception under Nazi rule; the role of Nazi “advocates for the landscape” in environmental planning during the Third Reich; and the ecological components of Nazi policy in conquered territories in Eastern Europe during World War II. I plan to use the Summer Faculty Fellowship to complete the final stages of research and begin writing the book.   Peter is author of Between Occultism and Nazism: Anthroposophy and the Politics of Race in the Fascist Era (2014).


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