Reacting to the Past

From the desk of Sace Elder:

This June I spent four days playing role-playing games with other professors in New York City. The event was the Reacting to the Past (RTTP) Annual Faculty Institute at Barnard College, where more than 200 faculty members from across the country and abroad gathered to play-test games, discuss pedagogy, and network with others who are using RTTP in their classrooms.


Reacting to the Past is a game-based, role-playing curriculum in which students adopt the personae of specific historical figures and work together to solve specific historical problems. The games ask students to put themselves in their characters’ shoes (sometimes literally, since dress codes are a part of many RTTP games) and engage the ideas that motivated their historical actors while confronting the interests and ideas of others. RTTP creates an entirely student-centered classroom, in which the instructor (or “gamemaster”) observes, quietly advises students, enforces the rules, evaluates student performance, and at times makes critical game-play decisions.

I went to New York having already run two RTTP games over the last couple of years: in my history of human rights class, a game that simulates the 1992 Rwandan crisis and the United Nation’s difficult decision regarding intervention; and a game for the intro to Women’s Studies about the 1993 University of Michigan Affirmative Action cases. Both games are currently in development, written by RTTP colleagues at other institutions. It is truly exciting to see students giving passionate speeches and arguing with each other about ideas they had never even considered before entering the course. The game also gives students the opportunity to use skills they may not have occasion to apply in more traditional classrooms, such as print design, newspaper editing, and extemporaneous public speaking. RTTP is more work for me, but it is well worth it. (For the record, when I prefer to call myself the “game manager,” for what I hope are obvious reasons.)

At the conference, I played the role of a delegate to the National Assembly during the French Revolution. Alas! In this revolution, the Conservatives gained the upper hand and put an end to the revolution before the first Constitution was even approved. In another game, the year was 1993 and I was the captain of the men’s wrestling team that was threatening to cut my and other men’s sports in the interest of complying with Title IX. (My coach and I managed to save wrestling, but not men’s volleyball or swimming. On the other hand, the Board of Trustees of our university was persuaded to increase the funds available for women’s sports.)

This Fall I will put my experience in New York to good use. I have adopted the French Revolution game (“Rousseau, Burke, and the Revolution in France”) in my honors section of HIS 1597G: Human Rights in History. I’m excited to see how the students enjoy the clash between the Jacobins and Feuillants, and am eager to see whom I might cast as Louis XVI and the Marquis de Lafayette!

My conference travel was supported with grants from EIU’s Interdisciplinary Center for Global Diversity and Faculty Development. Many thanks to both units for making the trip possible.

Eastern Undergraduate Awarded National Prize For Honors Thesis


It is nice to start the new academic year with an announcement that highlights the research efforts of an EIU History major. Last week the David Library of the American Revolution (“DLAR”) in Washington, PA, the pre-eminent academic research center on the American Revolution in the United States, announced that Michael Bradley was the second place winner of the DRLAR’s Omar Vázquez Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.  The Vázquez Prize recognizes academic excellence and the use of primary sources in undergraduate research on an Early American topic.  Michael’s honors thesis, “Incarcerated, Transported and Bound: Continued Resistance Among the Community of Transported Convicts from London to the Chesapeake, 1763-1775,” was completed under the supervision of Dr. Charles R. Foy. It connects criminal life and poverty in London, Britain’s criminal justice system, transatlantic migration of convicts and convicts’ lives in the Chesapeake, describes and analyzes how a community of convicts evolved and sustained itself across the Atlantic in face of a series of challenging and changing circumstances. In doing so, Michael has demonstrated the centrality of the experience being coercively transported to the development of community ties among London’s thieves and the Atlantic nature of that community. In recognition of the excellence of Michael’s scholarship DLAR will award Michael $250, have an abstract of his thesis read at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies seminar on September 11th and will catalogue Michael’s thesis in its world renowned collection. Kudos to Michael!

AIMA Executive Committee Met in Reading, England

From the desk of EIU’s Dr. Debra Reid, AIMA’s First Vice-President, webmaster and minute-taker:

The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), headquartered at the University of Reading, provided plenty of stimulation for the executive committee meeting of the International Association of Agricultural Museums (AIMA) July 2-5, 2015. Attendees represented nine countries (Canada, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Poland, Slovenia and the United States, and the delegate from Indian connected virtually). The meeting began with discussions about diversifying financial support through heritage lottery funds and capital development campaigns and continued through conversations about broadening visitor access to museum collections using digital means and social media outlets. Representatives from the UK’s Rural Museums Network also participated. Executive Committee business included review of statutes, planning for future meetings including the 18th triennial Congress scheduled for May 2017 in Tartu, Estonia at the Estonian Agricultural Museum, and formation of additional professional networking opportunities focused on agriculture and art; digital media; and rye and other crops. These networks join already active working groups focused on bread and on living animals in museums [the topic of a conference planned at the National Museum of Agriculture and Food Industry in Szreniawa (scheduled May 13-16, 2016)]. For information:


History Club Visits Springfield

From the desk of History Club at EIU President Emily McInerney:

Each academic year the History Club at EIU takes at least one trip to visit historic sites. This year club members decided to visit Springfield, IL. On April 11, 2015, club members and club advisor Professor Brian Mann visited many locations in the state capital.

The day began early with a now-traditional stop at Starbucks.  After the much needed caffeine boost and a long drive, we arrived at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, within the only National Park in Illinois. During a tour led by a Park Ranger, we got to walk through the only house the Lincoln family would ever own. Even though the house was occupied by others after the Lincolns went to Washington D.C., there remained some original furniture, toys (like Tad’s stereoscope), and “modern” luxuries (such as the Lincolns’ cast iron stove).

Conveniently, there was a coffee shop across the street from the National Park.  While we re-caffeinated, members were able to hear about Prof. Mann’s undergraduate and graduate school experiences.

We then visited the New State Capitol, which, many of us learned during the tour, was the filming location of Legally Blonde 2. Who says that recent history is not made in Central Illinois? At the capitol building we were able to see where both the Senate and House of Representatives meet, though they were not in session. Our tour guide explained how votes were tallied, where the public can sit during open sessions and how to know the days they meet.

After a short walk and drive, we headed over to the Old State Capitol in the heart of downtown Springfield. Here we saw where some of the Illinois legislative traditions began. We toured the reproductions of rooms where a young Abraham Lincoln studied for his law degree, worked as a state representative, and where his body was laid in state during the last stop of the funeral procession before being buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Aside from Lincoln history, the building tells stories of women’s rights, politics, and military history as seen through displays and artifacts.

After the Old State Capitol, we went across the street for a a visit to the Korean War National Museum before taking the obligatory group photograph in front of Lincoln’s law office next door.


Next we headed up to the north end of Springfield to the Illinois State Military Museum. Seeing the famous leg of General Santa Anna, members were taken through a timeline of the Illinois militia and wars in which it was involved.

We then drove less than half a mile to Oak Ridge Cemetery. Here we visited the Lincoln Tomb and final resting place of Abe, Mary, and three of their four children. Each aspect of the tomb’s interior represented a part of American history; from flags, to stars, and the quote, “Now he belongs to the ages”, uttered by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton when he found out Lincoln was assassinated.

What was very exciting was that each Lincoln historic site clearly was preparing for the reenactment of the Lincoln funeral train, marking the 150th anniversary of the funeral procession, taking place two weeks after our trip.

For lunch, the group went to Dublin’s Pub, giving everyone the opportunity to get a Springfield-famous horseshoe meal.

The History Club left Springfield with many photographs, inside jokes, and a new trivia team name.  Until next year!

Professor Receives High Honor, Completes Agricultural History Society Triple Crown

Debra A. Reid received a high honor from the Agricultural History Society at that organization’s awards banquet on Saturday evening, June 6, 2015. AHS president Sally McMurry announced Reid as a Fellow of the Society, an honor that recognizes high standards of scholarship in agricultural history, broadly defined, and in service to the society and to the study of agricultural history. For information on the Agricultural History Society, see:

Melissa Walker and Debra A. Reid, named as Fellows of the Agricultural History Society, June 7, 2015, Lexington, Kentucky. Photograph by Chuck Reback.

Melissa Walker and Debra A. Reid, named as Fellows of the Agricultural History Society, June 7, 2015, Lexington, Kentucky. Photograph by Chuck Reback.

The context for receiving this award became even more memorable given the location – Lexington, Kentucky – and the timing – the running of the Belmont Stakes. David Hamilton, chair of the AHS local arrangements committee, and faculty at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, timed the reception preceding the banquet perfectly, to coincide with American Pharaoh’s bid to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. Deb took her post at a table a distance from but with a perfect view of the large-screen TV in the Hyatt in Lexington, Kentucky. Deb grew up watching horse racing, and reveled in the wins of Secretariat in 1973. But the break-down of Ruffian in a match race in 1975 destroyed the aura of the sport. Thus, the ascendance of Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978 to Triple Crown status did not have the same romance as Secretariat’s win for her.


But Deb got to relish her own AHS Triple Crown of sorts, at the 2015 AHS on the same day as American Pharaoh’s win. . . Deb received 1) the John T. Schlebecker Award for Excellence from the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) in 2000, an award named for AHS president, former curator at the Smithsonian Institution, and ALHFAM founder, John T. Schlebecker; 2) the Gilbert C. Fite Dissertation Award from the AHS in 2001 (named in honor of a prominent historian of southern agriculture and EIU president from 1971-1976); and now 3) recognition as a Fellow of the Agricultural History Society. And the circle, it goes round and round. It’s been a long run, but Deb looks forward to many more years of racing!


Mark Antony Goes to Armenia

Lee E. Patterson returns to Armenia once again in his latest article, titled “Antony and Armenia,” recently published in TAPA, the official journal of the Society for Classical Studies (formerly known as the American Philological Association).


The piece examines the role Armenia played in Mark Antony’s eastern activities, especially his disastrous Parthian war.  It also situates Armenia in the wider politics of the Roman world that saw Antony ultimately oppose Octavian and ally with Cleopatra.  Contrary to the common belief that Antony annexed Armenia as a Roman province, Patterson posits that a proper accounting of the evidence, scant though it is, and of the broader historical context argues against Antony’s intent to reduce Armenia to anything other than a client state.  In an earlier publication Patterson argued against the emperor Caracalla’s annexation in the 210s.  This pattern is consistent with overall Roman policy regarding Armenia (the emperor Trajan being a notable exception), which Patterson is currently exploring in a book project.  The latest issue of TAPA is available to subscribers of Project Muse and can be accessed here.

Undergraduate History Research: From Royal to Clever Bastards

Eastern Illinois University History Department undergraduate and graduate of Charleston High School, John Bays, recently presented a poster at the Showcase EIU in March and then delivered a paper at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) at Eastern Washington University near Spokane in April on an intriguing group of courtiers.

John Bays at the Honors College's EIU Showcase in March

John Bays presenting at the Honors College’s EIU Showcase in March

This week John will be graduating with Departmental Honors after successfully completing his thesis on the political and cultural roles of the royal mistresses and natural sons of King Charles II at the English late-17th century court. Along the way, John received an Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (URSCA) award from Eastern to research this subject, traveling with his thesis advisor, Dr. Newton Key, to both the Rare Book Room at the University of Illinois Library and especially the Newberry Library in Chicago to read rare material from the 17th century as well as genealogical information on the bastards and their mothers. Rather than being ignored, the illegitimate sons were used by the king as part of the magnificence of his court, receiving honors and positions. Younger sons proved remarkably adept at surviving at court past the Revolution after their father’s death, and even into the Hanoverian era.

John began his interest in things historical in courses taught by Matt Schubert at Charleston High School. He was quite interested in the Tudor Court, but moved studying to late-17th century Stuart Court when Dr. Key suggested this subject. It takes a while to decipher the meaning of status and ceremony at courts, but John enjoyed going through “the process of becoming a real historian.” He especially liked the chance to present the material at the Honors Showcase and then at NCUR. NCUR found him in a session with gender and literary studies, where fielding “lots of questions” was “a really good experience.” Writing the thesis, John added, is a good “springboard to Graduate School,” and he enters the M.A. program in History at Eastern in the Fall.