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FSU Tag Line

Who should come to the workshop?
The Frederick Douglass workshop is designed to bring together members of the Maryland public with members of the local academic community, including faculty, administrators, and students.  Therefore, anyone who is interested in learning more about Frederick Douglass, U.S. and Maryland history, African American history, constitutional law, 19th century literature, early U.S. politics, the history of women's rights, and moral and political philosophy, and who would like to better understand and discuss the deep historical roots of racial conflicts in our society is welcome to attend.  Since this workshop will introduce an innovative learner-centered college pedagogy, we also want to encourage faculty and administrators who are interested in learning more about the Reacting to the Past, or who are thinking about whether one of the many RTTP role-playing games might be useful in their classrooms, to attend.  The workshop will be limited to 30 participants and will require application in advance.

What is Reacting to the Past?
Reacting to the Past (RTTP) is a series of role-playing games surrounding historical controversies, designed for use in college classrooms.  The games are complex, involving complex motives, subplots, and secret objectives.  Students do their own research and make their own speeches, bringing history to life in a way that can be quite compelling, emotional, fun, and surprisingly motivating.  (For more information go to

What is the game about?
The Frederick Douglass game introduces participants to a time and place almost unimaginable today, when advocating an end to slavery was far more controversial than supporting its perpetuation.  The characters include Frederick Douglass as well as a number of other real historical figures, many of whom were born in Maryland, including Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, author Frances Harper, and Chief Justice Roger Taney.  Debates focus on the intellectual and cultural clashes between the Defenders of the Constitution—the entrenched, respectable defenders of American slavery—and the Abolitionists—a small but dedicated, zealous movement calling for slavery’s immediate and universal abolition.  The question facing the country in 1845 was not a civil war—which was then unimaginable—but whether abolitionist critics of slavery could be suppressed outright.  In the first part of the game, all characters review the newly published The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself at an imagined literary forum hosted by the visiting author Charles Dickens.  Later in the game, characters debate whether Americans should uphold the U.S. Constitution with its clear protection of slaveholders’ power in requiring the return of fugitive slaves, or whether citizens are accountable to a higher law. 

What will happen at the workshop?
Participants will play a condensed version of the 5-week role-playing game designed for college classrooms.  Every participant will have a role in the game, assigned to them in advance.  The roles in the game fall into three groups:  the Abolitionist Faction, the Defenders of the Constitution Faction, and Independent characters with their own concerns and goals.  The main intellectual arguments espoused by these factions will be presented and debated, in character, by the participants during the game sessions at the workshop. 

The breaks and meals in between game sessions provide participants a chance to reflect on and discuss what happened during the game sessions, and they also serve a purpose within the game.  Many of the characters have objectives and motives built into their roles that will require them to educate, persuade, negotiate, and strategize with each other in between game sessions.  As in real life, in Reacting games much of the outcome of the game will be the result of what happens privately and unofficially.  During the breaks alliances will be formed, information will be shared, and deals will be struck, and facilitating these interactions is one of the reasons that we have built communal meal times into the format of the workshop, including a banquet on Saturday night which will also be the setting for one of the game sessions.

Interspersed with game play will be plenary lectures, panel sessions, and discussions, led by the convener and game developer, Dr. Mark Higbee, which will provide a chance to learn about and discuss the real historical events and context,  the main themes of the game, and  the RTTP pedagogical method.

What kind of advance preparation is required?
In advance of the workshop, participants will receive a copy of the game book, which explains the background, characters, and events of the classroom game, and includes necessary primary texts, such as a copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Participants will also receive a copy of Frederick Douglass’s The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, which they should read in advance and be prepared to discuss it in the first game session.  Most importantly, participants will each receive an individual role sheet assigning them a character and specific objectives that they will try to accomplish during the game (such as drafting and passing resolutions favorable to their cause).  Participants should have read over the game materials and be familiar with their role prior to the workshop, so that they will be prepared to speak in the game in order to advance their character's objectives.

What does it cost?
Thanks to the generous contributions of FSU and the Maryland Humanities Council, the entire workshop, including all meals and game materials, is free of charge.  Alcoholic beverages are not included, but may be purchased separately at the banquet.  (ID required.) 
Can I just come and observe?

We are discouraging non-playing observers at the workshop because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter.  Participants will be role playing and in order to be in character for 1845 they will be saying things that are racist, sexist, or unpatriotic.  Having observers who are not playing the game tends to increase self-consciousness and make it more difficult for participants to play their role well and become fully drawn into the game. 

About the covener:
Mark D. Higbee teaches African American and U.S. history at Eastern Michigan University. His Ph.D. is from Columbia University. Co-author of the Frederick Douglass game, Professor Higbee has been involved with the RTTP pedagogy since 2006 and currently serves on the board of the Reacting Consortium.  His RTTP class for first-year students was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education ("In Improving Higher Education, Which Core Matters More: Skills or Curriculum?", September 30, 2011). He has also published a study on student engagement and RTTP ("How Reacting to the Past Games ‘Made Me Want to Come to Class and Learn’: An Assessment of the Reacting Pedagogy at EMU, 2007-2008").