Bringing Ancient Athens to Athens, Georgia: Reacting to the Past

Reacting to the Past is a pioneering education pedagogy consisting of elaborate historical games, in which students lead each other in explorations of great texts in the history of ideas.  Created by Professor Mark C. Carnes (Ann Whitney Olin Professor of History at Barnard College) and first offered at Barnard College in the fall of 1995, Reacting won the 2004 Theodore Hesburgh Award for pedagogical innovation.  This fall, over forty faculty members from thirteen colleges are offering Reacting classes, which typically consist of two or three "games" a semester.

This panel will describe the "original" Reacting game and the one of most obvious interest to CAMWS members: "The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 BC," created by Professor Carnes and Josiah Ober, David Magie Professor of Classics at Princeton University.  The game begins at the moment when the Thirty Tyrants have been expelled from Athens and the democracy restored.  Students are divided into different factions (radical democrats, moderate democrats, oligarchs, Socratics) and assigned roles (detailed descriptions of that faction's intellectual goals and possible strategies); the factions then convene to plot their course of action.  Students meet in the Athenian Assembly and law courts to debate reconciliation after the expulsion of the tyrants, the organization of Athenian government, the expansion of citizenship, the future of the Athenian empire, and the fate of Socrates.  In order to speak effectively and to advance the interests of their faction, students must grapple with the arguments of Plato's Republic and other contemporary critiques of Athenian democracy.

The panel will include three presentations.  One faculty member will introduce the Reacting pedagogy and the "Athens game" and describe its adoption at the University of Georgia.  The University of Georgia "gamemaster" (the supervising faculty member, who keeps students and the game on track) will describe the initial course offering of the "Athens game" at Georgia.  A student alumnus of the Reacting class will describe the course from the student's viewpoint.  We hope also to present a short video of one class session.

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