This course is a type of elaborate role-playing game, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills. The heart of the game is persuasion. For nearly every role to which students are assigned, they must persuade others that their views make more sense than those of their opponents. This course presumes that individuals play a significant role in history; it asserts that broader economic and social forces place constraints on what individuals may do, but that those forces do not determine human events. People do. This First Year Seminar will use two specific games: The Trial of Ann Hutchinson from early American history, and Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence 1945.
The Trial of Ann Hutchinson is set in 1637 in Massachusetts at a time when Biblical interpretation guided every aspect of daily life. The trial is conducted to determine if Hutchinson’s teaching activity was blasphemous, and delves into ideas about God, who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and what role our earthly existence plays in the afterlife. Defining a Nation is set at Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the British viceroy has invited leaders of various religious and political constituencies to work out the future of Britain’s largest colony. Will the British transfer power to the Indian National Congress, which claims to speak for all Indians? Or will a separate Muslim state Pakistan be carved out of India to be ruled by Muslims, as the Muslim League proposes? And what will happen to the vulnerable minorities?