By Shane Donglasan
This January, students are not only learning history, they are living it. Participants in an independent study project are immersing themselves in 16th-century England during King Henry VIII’s Reformation Parliament, a period of history that fundamentally changed the nature of English government.
Taking on roles as lords, commoners and members of Parliament, students are learning about the intricate nature of historical change through live action role-playing, or LARPing.
In the role-playing game, Henry VIII is seeking to end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry his new love, Anne Boleyn, who he hopes will give him a male heir.
Amid the king’s marital issues and dynastic problems, factions in Parliament form to use the royal divorce to sever England’s ties to papal Rome and convert the country from Catholicism to Protestantism.
“This is part of a pedagogy called ‘Reacting to the Past,’” said Carrie Beneš, professor of medieval and Renaissance history. “Instead of a lecture course, students re-enact great moments or debates of the past. They’re expected to take on characters and do the necessary research to make things happen the way they want.”
The characters have their own agendas and must convince other characters to join their side. While the game does not have to reflect exactly how events unfolded, participants have to stay true to their roles to keep things historically plausible.
“Right when we started, we all got really into our characters,” said first-year student Adrienne Hill. “Even when we see each other outside of class, we’ll still address each other by our characters’ names and try to make deals with each other. I feel like our characters are a part of us now.”
Students in the ISP said the role-playing game has been an opportunity to practice their writing, debating and public speaking skills.
“They get a sense for why historical argument is important,” said Beneš. “You’re not just writing a paper with sources to back up your argument. You have to talk to a room filled with people and provide examples to convince them to vote the way you want them to vote. They are making that connection between academic-style writing and broader persuasive argument that students don’t always get the chance to make.”
The LARPing ISP, which is made up of 20 students, also allowed for some creative collaboration with another group ISP, “Stage Combat: Basic of Armed and Unarmed.”
Students in the latter ISP staged a surprise combat scene in the middle of a LARPing session.
Apart from getting the chance to re-enact the thrill and intrigue of the past, Beneš said she hopes students get a sense of the complexity of historical issues and how easily things could have gone a different way.
“I like seeing how the events of history lead up to events today,” said first-year student Sierra Lamb. “We’re getting to really dive into the issues and figuring out the nuances and caveats of it all.”
– Shane Donglasan is the marketing writer/project coordinator at New College of Florida.
By Shane Donglasan