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Reacting to the Past is a remarkably effective pedagogical tool for engaging students in historical primary sources. Historically grounded roles defined by multi-page role sheets guide play starting from a specific historical moment, with all the motivations and sources available to participants in that moment. Students must remain faithful to their roles, employing the game manual’s documents within defined game mechanics, but they are free to attempt to change history. Implementing this game in my art history courses, I observed students who had been disengaged from art historical content over the entire semester, if not most of their college careers, dip their toes in the water for the first time. I saw how students, for whom the conventional methods of lecture-note-exam created agonizing anxiety, realized that perhaps educational experiences need not be perpetually traumatic.
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