Ever wanted to travel back in time, and be a fly on the wall during the pivotal events in Paris during the French Revolution? Ashland University students in the Honors Western Civilization II class were able to experience the next best thing.
This semester, these students are participating in role-playing simulations from the Reacting to the Past series. The name of the first simulation was "Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791-92" and students were assigned roles informed by classic texts from the period.
“Reacting to the Past simulations are complex games, set at pivotal moments in history,” said Dr. John Moser, associate professor of history at Ashland University. “The simulations seek to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve their overall intellectual and academic skills.”
Students in these games are assigned roles representing a actual historical figures—Louis XVI, Lafayette, Robespierre, Danton, etc. They are provided with specific instructions as to what goals they are to pursue, and they have to use the course readings to frame arguments, both written and oral, that will persuade others to support their positions.
Since the start of the semester, Moser and the students worked hard to prepare for the first simulation. Students were required to read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, as well as substantial excerpts from Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. The location in the Dauch College of Business and Economics was then transformed into the meeting place of the National Assembly as it struggled to complete a constitution for France.
Royalists, moderates, and Jacobins jockeyed for power as the crowds of Paris threatened violence against those who dared resist the demands of le people. Would the new France be a monarchy or a republic? If a monarchy, how much power would the king be allowed to have? Who would be able to vote: property owners, men in general, or all adults? Would property be defended as a "sacred and inviolable right"? Would the Catholic Church be independent, or subordinate to the state?
These and many other questions came up during the Assembly's deliberations. However, the Assembly had to deal with other pressing concerns as well. Peasants in the Vendee region revolted against restrictions on the Church. There were constant demands on the Treasury at a time when tax revenues had dwindled to virtually nothing. Worst of all, the Austrians and Prussians invaded France during the last session, just as the Assembly was making the final adjustments to the constitution. The royalists, fearing violence from the crowd, fled the country, and the king was arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death. In the final moments a battle raged on the outskirts of Paris, and a die roll determined the outcome—the Austrians and Prussians were forced to retreat. The Revolution had been saved!
So what is next for Honors Western Civ? “We’re going to magically transport ourselves to London in 1529,” Moser answered. “This time the students will all be members of Parliament, and it seems that King Henry VIII would like to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled.”