The students involved in this research used a technique called “Reacting to the Past (RTTP).” The method consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. The goal of RTTP is to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills.
“We created two semester-length simulations—or ‘games’, using the RTTP term—of key literary moments in French and Norwegian history,” Feat says. “For the French simulation, we designed the ‘Enlightenment to the Magic Kingdom: The Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns’, set in the 17th century. We focused on this late 17th century literary debate in which the 'Moderns', who praised recent literary styles, scientific discoveries, and achievements as a way to stress the independence of French culture from the influence inherited from the Greco-Roman world.”
“For the second, Norwegian simulation, we examined ‘Writing the Norwegian Metanarrative: Defining Culture for a Generation’, set in the 19th century,” Johnson says. “We arranged a debate set in 1836 as a way to help students understand the interplay between language, religion, and literature in an era when Norway grappled with determining a clear sense of national identity."
“Johnson and I have researched and published on these topics before,” Feat says. “With this technique, however, we found that the RTTP format and our team of students provided a fresh means of examining the humanities.”
Johnson confirms the effectiveness of the team-based research. “This project demonstrates a creative and innovative approach to introducing students to the conventions of academic research, and how it can be used to study history.”
Student Oliver thought it was interesting to learn how progressive some of the people were in 17th-century France. “They were accepting of other religions and sexual orientation,” she says. “It wasn’t at all what I imagined the 17th century to be like.”
Students Davis and Fisher thought it was fascinating to learn how the societal pressures are basically the same in 17th-century France, 19th-century Norway, and 21st-century America. Fisher says, “The struggles were really not all that different from what we face today.”
Students Miller and Aakre had similar discoveries. Miller says, “I learned how questions about literature, its structure, form, and content have driven and shaped some of the most predominant political debates of a generation.” Aakre thought it was exciting to see how historical figures from their research still bear influence and significance on our lives today.
Johnson clearly sees the value of this research. “It provides a new curriculum and approach to integrating literary history into our language courses.”
Feat also likes how the RTTP simulations draw students into history, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve academic skills. “In a way, we want to transcend the distance to which students grow accustomed in traditional courses,” she says. “They see how the historical characters’ thoughts, emotions, biographies become real and alive. This eventually promotes creativity, critical thinking, and engagement as core to the liberal arts experience.”
“We’re going to use our findings in our elementary language courses and present the simulations at professional conferences along with the students,” Johnson says.
“The ultimate goal is to have these simulations published to help promote immersion-type experiences in language courses on campuses. It will also help establish pedagogical partnerships with other language programs,” Feat says.