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Teaching Islamicate History to Undergraduates Using Role-Playing
I am currently teaching a class using the framework provided by the popular gaming series “Assassins Creed.” This class was also inspired by the articles Playing with the Past: Digital Games and the Simulation of History edited by Matthew Wilhelm Kapell and Andrew B. R. Elliott, as well as other pedagogical literature related to gamification of education. The “Assassins’ Creed” digital games focus on modern characters inhabiting individuals throughout history in order to accomplish both narrow and global missions. The game is loosely inspired by popular perceptions of the history of the Nizari-Ismailis (the Assassins). The class that I am teaching was aimed at upper division undergraduate history majors at a regional comprehensive institution in the city of Los Angeles, with a large population of Middle Eastern heritage students. Like the creators of “Assassins’ Creed” I also used the history of the Nizari-Ismailis as a framework to understand history. Each week students confront a specific incident or idea associated with the history of the Nizari-Ismaili community. Students form teams based around characters from the “Assassins’ Creed” games; one team represents the viewpoint of the Nizaris; another team plays those who oppose them; a third teams focuses on other parties from the same period but not directly involved with the Nizaris; and the fourth team represents a modern perspective. The teams research characters using both assigned readings, and sources that they find themselves. They then role play their chosen characters and are confronted by teams representing other points of view in a debate-type setting. This strategy allows students to “travel back in time” and understand some of the most important events and historical processes through the eyes of individual people involved. The idea is to encourage students to look at the history of the Islamicate world from a variety different viewpoints. If the strategy of role-playing succeeds, students will gain a broader and more visceral understanding of what is to many students a very unfamiliar historical landscape. For my paper for MESA 2023, I propose to give a largely qualitative analysis of the outcomes of this experimental class.
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Islamic World
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