History 308 -- Engaging Democracy
This courses uses various historically-embedded live-action role-playing games (from 'Reacting to the Past') to engage students with the historical practice of democracy.
Hist 308/PLSI 451:
Room: Burke 247
Office: SCI 220
Office Hours: MW 12:30-1:45,
& by appointment
Democracy is a messy and convoluted business. Noble and expedient, eternal and ephemeral, legal and political: creating and defining a political society involved great minds, great principles, and great compromises. These developments and the people that produced them also reflected particular eras and cultures. The premise of this course is that the best way to understand what happened is to try to get inside the heads of those who wrestled with the issues of government, society, race, money, justice, and war and peace by acting in their place. Your work will be informed by engagement with the principal primary sources with which your character would have been intimately familiar.
In order to do that, the largest portion of the course will be devoted to a student-driven reenactments of slavery, secession, and sovereignty debates in Kentucky in 1861 and the Kempton Park Conference defining a new South Africa in 1993, using the historical role-playing games model of the “Reacting to the Past” program. Each student will assume a specific role—such as a leader of KwaZulu or the African National Congress Executive, or the Governor of Kentucky or a Radical Republican—informed by real historical events and the ideas of important thinkers and political leaders. Each student will critically analyze those ideas and circumstances and present oral and written arguments in debates on such issues as slavery, commerce, and how to allocate the powers of government.
The course opens with a few lectures on the nature and history of modern democracy as it emerged in the 18th Century. We will review principles of effective oral and written communication of ideas. The game will be introduced by a contextual lecture and a review of the key issues and facts (including a quiz on the background reading). Then, the first Game begins.
The Winter of 1861 was a pivotal time for our country and for the border state of Kentucky. Long-simmering issues of race, slavery, state’s rights, and the national union were coming to a head in the aftermath of the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The Kentucky legislature included representatives of passionately-held beliefs on all sides of this complex set of issues. Amid the drumbeats of war, you will have to jointly determine the fate of your state and perhaps of the nation.
Following the Kentucky Game, we will briefly review the key developments in democracy during the 19th and 20th centuries. Then we focus on the history of South Africa as a foundation for our next game: It is 1993 in the conference center in Kempton Park, outside of Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela and State President F.W. DeKlerk have agreed on a last-ditch effort to stop the collapse of South African society and construct a foundation for a new South Africa. You represent one of the parties at the table to design a new government, address past grievances, and prevent civil war.
One of the key issues you will explore is the frequent (or, as some scholars argue, inevitable) distance between the idea of democracy and the actual results of trying to implement an ideal amid the practical human politics (usually complicated by race, class, and gender).
We will be using two modules of the “Reacting to the Past” program. In each historical re-enactment game, each of you will be assigned a specific role informed by real historical events and the ideas of important thinkers and political leaders. You will critically analyze those events and ideas in order to present oral and written arguments on these questions. During the Kentucky game, the class sessions are run by the Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives. Similarly, during the South Africa game, the Plenary Conference will elect a presiding officer at each session.
I merely act as the “game-master,” assigning your roles, preparing you to play, evaluating (grading) your work, and occasionally intervening to advance the game as it develops.
In the process, you will hone your research, writing, and speaking skills. You will practice the arts of negotiation and compromise. By participating in history, your engagement with historical issues and people will move your understanding well beyond the traditional reading/lecture/ exam learning process.
Your job (as an individual and as a group) is not to reproduce a particular historic document or decision, but to reproduce the process of its creation; and, because history is filled with individual personalities and contingencies, the results are likely to vary from what actually happened. But throughout, each of you must embody the values and circumstances inherent in your particular role, regardless of your own 21st century views and situation. Your immediate object in each game is to win, of course (there ARE extra-credit points available, after all), but what “winning” looks like will vary from player to player. You can only “win” by persuading your colleagues—orally and in writing—to support your specific substantive goals.
Writing Requirements: For each game, your character will complete about 8 pages of writing (2-4 separate assignments depending on your particular role). The essay, “Introduction to Reacting” (posted in iLearn) includes an appendix on “Writing for Reacting, including four “writing advisories”. You must master these advisories; you should read them all before you write each paper for Reacting. In particular, you will need to build the arguments in your papers on the core texts and on your own additional research. Each paper MUST include (properly cited) quotations from two primary sources.
You must post your required written work in BOTH Slack (to persuade your colleagues) and iLearn (for grading purposes) by midnight of the day when you make your formal oral presentation in class. There are certain exceptions, such as when you write something that is secret in character. If you’re unsure of whether you should post, contact me.
Speaking Requirements: You—or, rather, your game persona--will be speaking in class--a lot. Sometimes you will present an extended, well-researched argument from the podium at the front of the room. At other times you will jump to your feet and offer impromptu remarks and suggestions. Often you will meet privately with your faction to strategize and develop arguments. The best way to earn a strong “speaking” grade is to think through your arguments in advance, undertake research (in texts and the historical context) to support your positions, and devise rhetorical strategies that make it easier to reach out to your peers and persuade them of “your” views. Merely reciting what you read is not enough. Merely “stating your own position” is not enough. Effective speaking is not about how well you perform, but how effectively you connect with your audience.
Because your exact written words will be posted in Slack, there is no reason to read your speech aloud. Instead, you should speak freely--perhaps referring to a couple of 3x5 cards. Reading aloud nearly always ensures that your audience will become inattentive and bored. Moreover, after the first time, if you read a paper aloud, your classroom participation grade during that session can be NO HIGHER THAN C.
This course is designed so that you will learn how to analyze complicated texts and evaluate primary sources from a number of perspectives, developing your ideas and understanding through spoken and written assignments. In this way you will answer big questions such as:
- How should nations be governed? What are the greatest threats they face and how
- What is a “republic”? What do we mean by “democracy,” “liberty,” and “rights”?
- Can we (should we?) balance justice for the past with justice for the future?
- How do we balance liberty and order?
- What happens when compromises and ambiguities ripen into controversies?
- What about those who were excluded from participating?
By re-enacting these great moments in history, you will also learn about the pragmatic nature of politics, how to build alliances, negotiate, and trade-off some aspects of your principles to achieve a larger goal.
Upon completion of the course you will be able to:
- Understand key moments in the American and South African democratic development.
- Appreciate the practicalities of politics in an uncertain and contentious environments;
- Analyze, criticize, and advocate ideas (including those with which you do not agree);
- Construct arguments, including being able to identify and assess premises, conclusions, hypotheses, and evidence;
- Distinguish matters of fact from issues of judgment or opinion, and construct arguments that reach valid or well-supported factual and judgmental conclusions; and
- Demonstrate ethical conduct in reasoning, including candor, honesty, and respectful participation in the community of learners.
This course meets the following University distribution requirements and seeks to meet the University learning objectives (details posted in iLearn):
- US Government
- UD-D: Social Sciences
- Global Perspectives
- Social Justice
You are responsible for understanding course requirements and seeking clarification as needed. Please be sure to check iLearn before asking me. You are responsible for respectful and courteous behavior with each other and me. You are responsible for reading and responding to emails and other communications from me and for telling me when will not submit an assignment on time.
Components of the Course Grade:
- Kentucky Game
- Quiz (5%)
- Written (15%)
- Oral (10%)
- South Africa Game
- Quiz (5%)
- Written (15%)
- Oral (10%)
- General Class Participation (5%) – including attendance and participation, preliminary paper
- Research Paper (20%) – Details Below
- Final Exam (Take-Home) (15%) - Details Below
Class attendance is required: the games will not function if you’re not there. The context and set-up sessions are necessary for you to understand your role. Missing two sessions of either game without a valid excuse will result in your failure of the course.
You will submit one research paper (1800-2200 words (strict limit)) into iLearn by May 13 at the start of class. The paper will count for 20 points. It must be research based (showing engagement with both primary and secondary sources). It should also reflect your critical thinking and analytic abilities as developed during the course. Detailed guidance on this assignment is posted in iLearn. You must have an approved topic and thesis by March 18 Your rough draft is due on April 20. A late final essay paper will lose 1/3 of a letter grade each day (including weekends) that it is late. No paper will be accepted after May 17. There will be no extensions without a physician’s authorization.
The Final Examination will be ‘take-home,’ assigned on May 13 and due on May 17 at Midnight into iLearn. It will count for 15 points. It will be a set of longer essays. A late exam paper will lose 1/3 of a letter grade each day (including weekends) that it is late, commencing at midnight on the due date. No paper will be accepted after May 20. There will be no extensions, nor any early or make-up exams without a physician’s authorization.
Course Websites and Readings
Course communications will come through iLearn. If you have any questions about the course, its structure, or these requirements, please post a question in the Course Administrative Forum in iLearn. In-game communications will come through a Slack.com channel for each game: Kentucky1861 and 1993Johannesburg. I will provide sign-in details as each game begins.
You must buy Proctor, Kentucky, 1861 and Eby and Morton, The Collapse of Apartheid and the Dawn of Democracy in South Africa, 1993 (at the Bookstore or via bookfinder.com). I will hand out specific assignments, roles, and materials, in class or on-line.
I encourage you to visit me during office hours or make an appointment or communicate with me via email. This may be the best way to make sure you understand the material. But, read the syllabus, research paper guidance, or game books (as applicable) first.
Workshop on Historical Evidence and Sources
Read: Lepore, The Rule of History; Taylor, Missing Democracy
Democracy: Ancient and Modern (Lecture)
Read Markoff, Waves of Democracy, 102-141
Workshop on Oral Presentation
Preliminary Response Paper Due
How to ‘React’; How to Think about Writing about Democracy
Read: Introduction to ‘Reacting’; Harris, Research Papers
Research Paper Exercises Due; Role Assignment Questionnaire Due
The American Constitution (Lecture)
Read: Balkin, The Declaration and the Promise of a Democratic Culture
Kentucky 1861 Game Set-up; Delegate Introductions
Read: Proctor, Kentucky, 1861 Gamebook, role description;
Game Quiz & Character Quiz Due 2/24
Reacting Game 1: Kentucky, 1861
Written and Oral Presentations (per Role Sheets)
Preliminary Research Topic/Thesis Approval Deadline
Making Democracy Modern (Lecture)
Read: Maier, Democracy Since the French Revolution 125-53
South Africa Game Introduction
Read: Eby and Morton, Gamebook 8-45
Role Assignment Questionnaire Due
History of South Africa (Lectures)
Read: Gamebook 97-134, Reddy, 67-85
South Africa Game Prep
Read: Gamebook 46-71
Reacting Game 2: The Collapse of Apartheid and the Dawn of Democracy; Game Quiz Due 4/15
Written and Oral Presentations (per role Sheets)
Research Paper Rough Draft Due
Conclusion: Democracy: Micro and Macro (Lecture/Discussion)
Read: Dunn, Democracy 239-66
Research Paper Due by start of class
Take-Home Final Exam Posted
Take-Home Final Exam Due
Plagiarism—the use of an idea, or of the form of expressing an idea, without acknowledgment—is intellectual theft. Written work which is plagiarized (i.e. which is copied or closely paraphrased from other sources) is unacceptable and will result in zero points for the assignment and will be reported to the University. I use TurnItIn as one tool to detect plagiarism.
If you use the words of anyone else, you must put those words in quotation marks and footnote the source. If you use the ideas (account, explanation, concept, analysis, summary, etc.) developed by another person, but put it in your own words, you must footnote the source. If you paraphrase (summarize) what someone else has written, you must footnote the source. A simple rule may be helpful: NEVER copy and paste ANYTHING from the Web. If you have questions, ASK.
At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the purpose of the assignments is to determine what you know and think. A comprehensively footnoted paper which is merely ‘cut-and-paste’ is destined for a passing but very low grade. (adapted from E.R. Dickinson)
Students with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations are encouraged to contact me. The Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC) is available to facilitate the reasonable accommodations process. The DPRC is located in the Student Service Building and can be reached by telephone (voice/TTY 415-338-2472) or by email (email@example.com) or at www.sfsu.edu/~dprc.
Student Disclosures of Sexual Violence
SF State fosters a campus free of sexual violence including sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and/or any form of sex or gender discrimination. If you disclose a personal experience as an SF State student to me, I must notify the Dean of Students. To disclose any such violence confidentially, contact either The SAFE Place (415-338-2208 or www.sfsu.edu/~safe_plc/) or the Counseling and Psychological Services Center (415-338-2208 or psyservs.sfsu.edu/). For more information on your rights and resources, go to titleix.sfsu.edu
 You can see some videos of students’ participation and responses to the courses at: https://www.youtube.com/user/RTTPOfficialVideos .