Leveling the Playing Field? Immersive Historical Role-Playing Games in the College Classroom

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on Teaching

Friday, April 3, 2020, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: Race; Teaching and Pedagogy


This panel addresses a critical discussion about inequality and the future of teaching history in American higher education. We come together as history faculty who have used immersive historical role-playing games, including those published by Reacting to the Past. Each panelist will present a short paper about his or her experience teaching with role-playing games and how they have engaged students with two types of inequality: (1) the inequality of the past, and (2) the inequality of the American educational system

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Tamara Venit-Shelton, Claremont McKenna College
Tamara Venit-Shelton is Associate Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College. She earned a PhD in history from Stanford University, and was a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Fellow and Assistant Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Reed College prior to her current position. She studies the social history of the American West, with a particular focus on race, labor, and the environment. Her first book Squatter’s Republic: Land and the Politics of Monopoly in California, 1850-1900 (University of California Press, 2013) studies the ideal of landed independence and its significance for Gilded Age politics in California. With the support of a 2017 ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship, she is at work on a second book about the history of Chinese medicine in the United States from the colonial period to the present. It will be published by Yale University Press in Fall 2019.

Panelist: Dorothea Browder, Western Kentucky University
Dorothea Browder earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Gender and Women’s History Program, and is an associate professor of History at Western Kentucky University. Her study of the YWCA Industrial Program, Laboring Women, Race, and Coalition in the Young Women’s Christian Association, 1908-1950, currently in manuscript form, will be the first book-length study of that program, which organized tens of thousands of working women. Her research explores intersectional politics, coalition-building, and radical social work in the early to mid-twentieth century, with particular focus on implications for the history of the long civil rights movement and for the history of transnational women’s labor organizing. She has published research in a number of venues, including the Journal of Women's History, the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Rhode Island History, and the forthcoming The World of Jim Crow (from Greenwood Press). Her scholarship has been supported by the Coordinating Committee on Women in History, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion.

Panelist: Elizabeth Bryant Denham, Houston Community College
Elizabeth Ann Bryant is a Professor in the History Department at Houston Community College in Houston, Texas. She earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University in 2012 with her dissertation focusing on the impact of New York based Rabbi Stephen S. Wise on the United States’ response to the Holocaust. Following graduation, Dr. Bryant spent two years in Poland, under the auspices of a Fulbright Grant, researching Nazi-deemed homosexuals in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Currently, Dr. Bryant is working on converting her dissertation into a monograph about Stephen Wise’s influence on policies of rescue and relief of European Jews during the Roosevelt administration.

Panelist: Mark D. Higbee, Eastern Michigan University
Mark Higbee earned his PhD at Columbia University, and is a faculty member at Eastern Michigan University. He teaches American history courses, with a focus on the Black freedom struggles of the 19th and 20th century. He has been using Reacting to the Past games in class since 2006, and is, with James B. Stewart, the coauthor of the Reacting game, to be published later in 2019 by W.W. Norton, Frederick Douglass, Slavery, and the Constitution, 1845.

Panelist: Elizabeth Worley Medley, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
Elizabeth Worley Medley finished her PhD in 2016 at Florida State University. She is now an assistant professor at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, ABAC, in southwest Georgia. Her interests include public history, women and gender history, and American history. Dr. Medley's institution is in a small rural community and she has found Reacting to the Past to be a significant asset to her classroom. While most of her students are traditional students, they come from a broad range of backgrounds and abilities as well as some having excellent secondary education, while others coming from programs that need more support and resources. Reacting to the Past is a great equalizer in her classroom. By using multiple streams of communication, including writing and public speaking, this program creates ways for students with different skill sets and experiences to all contribute to a team's success. It also affords students from different academic levels to contribute while improving their collegiate skills. The gaming and role playing concept helps students, disadvantaged by rural communities with less access to opportunities and resources, overcome those valleys to prepare for future coursework and for life after college.