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“More than Bringing History to Life: Experimental History as an Interactive Pedagogy”

Lee Brice

There are currently a variety of interactive pedagogies available to teachers including computer simulations and the more complex Reacting to the Past role-playing games, a number of which are being used in Classics and History department settings. The interactive methodology that I will discuss in this presentation is experimental history, an approach that is often confused with reenactment. I will discuss how it differs from reenactment and why this difference can make experimental history an effective interactive pedagogy.

When traditional historical methodology does not answer our needs or those of our students it is time to seek out something different. A common problem we face as teachers regardless of our field of specialization is how to help students find answers to some of the most difficult historical questions, such as when sources are unavailable or inaccessible, and teach them to search for the answers in a methodologically valid manner. As more commonly recognized in the natural sciences, there are some problems that can only be fully explored and illuminated by experiment. What works in the natural sciences can work in the ancient history classroom, but such experiments risk being dismissed as lacking rigor and substance (Brice and Catania 2012).

Although historical reenactment can be informative and entertaining, it is often insufficiently rigorous as an interactive pedagogy. Reenactment is often devoid of the kinds of specific guidelines that permit effective hypothesis testing (Griffiths 2000). The need for standardization and rigor is where experimental history can answer as an interactive pedagogy (Brice and Catania 2012, 69-70).

In my presentation I will address the difference between reenactment and experimental history and demonstrate through case studies (ballista building and Roman military training) why the latter is appropriate as an interactive pedagogy. In terms of the classroom, students and I were able to use these projects to explore “experimental history” as a methodology and how it is different from historical reenactment. In this way the students were engaged in a collaborative exploration of new methodologies, an opportunity that undergraduates do not often have at smaller state universities. The conclusion I will present is that experimental history can be an effective approach in the classroom when combined with other more traditional approaches.

Session/Panel Title

Interactive Pedagogy and the Teaching of Ancient History

Session/Paper Number


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