North Central College - Naperville, IL

Collaboration and Comparison

North Central College today is fertile ground for collaborations across disciplines and experiments with curriculum, facilities design and technology. It adds up to better opportunities for student learning and liberal arts education relevant to the 21st century.

Next year, honors students can enroll in a new interdisciplinary seminar titled Democracy and Identity: Reacting to Classical Athens and Modern India. Two North Central professors will bring to life key historical issues through the use of role-playing games, thanks to their trial of an innovative curriculum called Reacting to the Past.

“This is a way to engage students in history and historical texts in a substantive way,” says Shereen Ilahi, assistant professor of history, who is teaching the class with Michael de Brauw, assistant professor of classics. The pair decided to collaborate on planning and teaching the new course using their areas of expertise: classical civilizations and India under British rule.

Students will participate in two role-playing games during the term: “Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence, 1945” and “The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.” The Reacting to the Past curriculum for these topics and others originated at Barnard College.

The readings will come from original texts like Plato’s “Republic” and writings by Gandhi. “Students will spend one-on-one time with us preparing their roles,” explains de Brauw. “They will be cast as members of various factions during these important moments of historical strife. Their ability to use teamwork and persuasion based on logic and fact will be very important to the outcome. The overall goal is to make historical issues seem real and immediate.”

The underlying theme for both games is democracy, debated when India was gaining independence from Great Britain, and in Athens after a civil war. “We’ll consider the British perspective in 1947 and the question of whether democracy could be applied to the non-white world,” adds Ilahi. “Comparing these two nations at these points in time reveals the significance of shared cultural and ethnic identity in democracy.”

North Central NOW Spring 2012