Professor Launches Innovative Way to Teach the Past

Ready to play – and learn? Assistant Professor of History Susanna Throop will employ an innovative way to teach the past by having her students take on the roles of historic figures and solve problems in the language and culture specific to the times of those figures.

Pioneered by Barnard historian Mark C. Carnes, Reacting to the Past (RTTP) has been implemented at over 300 colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. RTTP seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills. Throop attended the Reacting to the Past Faculty Institute at Barnard College from June 6-June 9, 2013, with partial funding from the Mellon Teaching and Learning Initiative.

Susanna Throop, Assistant Professor of History

In most classes students learn by receiving ideas and information from instructors and texts, or they discuss such materials in seminars. In RTTP courses, students learn by taking on roles, informed by classic texts, in elaborate games set in the past; they learn skills—speaking, writing, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, and teamwork—in order to prevail in difficult and complicated situations. That is because RTTP roles, unlike those in a play, do not have a fixed script and outcome. While students will be obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the historical figures they have been assigned to play, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively, in papers, speeches or other public presentations; and students must also pursue a course of action they think will help them win the game.

RTTP games are interdisciplinary, globally diverse, and set in virtually every historical period, from ancient Athens to Copenhagen, 2009. More information and videos of students engaged in RTTP courses can be found at

Professor Throop will be running the RTTP program Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament in her fall course, History 150: The Tumultuous Reign of Henry VIII. She also hopes to discuss how the RTTP program might support the Ursinus mission with other Ursinus faculty and administrators.