Democratic Learning through
Reacting to the Past


Saturday, November 9


Boston University


Can democracy survive?

Four hundred years ago, 1619, in Jamestown, Virginia, English landowners established the House of Burgesses, the first legislative assembly in the American colonies and the beginnings of American democracy.  It was also the year that the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown introducing slavery to the American colonies.  The ramifications of both informed the design of American democracy.  They struggled to answer the question: can democracy survive?  Today, we struggle with it, too.  With its hypocritical origins, do we possess the skills to defend and sustain our democratic institutions?

Many college mission statements affirm a commitment to democracy, but often they fail to explain how traditional pedagogies help students make informed judgments and take an active role in their own democracy. On November 9, 2019, Campus Compact for Southern New England, in partnership with the Reacting to the Past Consortium, will offer a workshop on Democratic Learning through Reacting to the Past (RTTP) Pedagogy hosted by Boston University. Reacting to the Past (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. 

RTTP seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual, academic skills, and civic skills.  The workshop will explore the RTTP pedagogy as a means to advance democratic learning and integrate civic building skills into the curriculum.  As an introduction to the RTTP pedagogy, the workshop will feature the game Bacon’s Rebellion, 1676, developed by Verdis Robinson, Campus Compact’s Director of Community College Engagement.  The workshop will also explore the various ways RTTP can be employed on campus. 


About the Featured Game: Bacon’s Rebellion, 1676, was developed in 2014 by Verdis Robinson and has been played in colleges and universities across the U.S. and most recently a featured game in the 2019 Annual Institute of Reacting to the Past at Barnard College.  Once regarded by early scholars as a precursor to the American Revolutionary War, Bacon’s Rebellion symbolized and epitomized the patriot’s enlightened revolutionary ideals through a premature uprising against the tyranny of hierarchical rule. Modern scholars argue in favor of an approach that focuses more on America’s original sin- the terrible transformation from a society with slaves to a slave society. This game transports the classroom to Jamestown for the Virginia Grand Assembly in 1676 to deliberate about the “Indian Problem.” However, the fate of Virginia is at stake.  The game is based on the research and scholarship of Dr. James Rice, Chair of History at Tufts University and author of Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America.