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Professor brings historical role-play to classroom

by Hannah Lynn Robinson


Role-playing seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills, says Rebecca Brannon, professor of history at James Madison University. Brannon has introduced role-playing games to her classroom, as a new way for her students to understand and connect with historical events.

As Virginia commemorates the 400th anniversary of important events in Virginia history— bringing representative democracy, people of African descent, and women to Virginia to make Virginia what it is today— Brannon turns to games as an innovative way to re-introduce history to her students.

Students play a multi-week historical role-playing game where they act as members of New York’s elected legislature and the people, such as women, enslaved people, and landless white male laborers—feeling real emotions of the past every time they lose a point.  

“Re-acting roles, unlike those in a play, do not have a fixed script and outcome, so while students will be obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the historical figures they have been assigned to play. They must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively, in papers, speeches, or other public presentations; and students must also pursue a course of action they think will help them win the game.”

If you are interested in interviewing Brannon or would like to attend the last session of the semester on Monday, April 15, please contact me. I would be happy to connect you with her.

This method comes from a growing, new approach called Reacting to the Past.

Media contact: Hannah Robinson, 520-222-2808,

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Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Last Updated: Monday, October 28, 2019

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