Roleplaying Music History: Honing General Education Skills via "Reacting to the Past"

Kevin R. Burke


In the post recession climate music history teachers are faced with many institutional initiatives to bolster the impact of the general studies curriculum on undergraduate learning and development. A need for more rigorous expectations of reading, writing, public speaking, and collaborative group work runs parallel to the ever-growing amount of content and repertoire in the music history sequence. This article suggests teaching music history across the curriculum via the role-playing model Reacting to the Past. Reacting to the Past draws on the motivational tools of gamification and liminality to guide students to active learning experiences. By assuming character roles, students engage with primary source texts and historical repertoire in publishing position papers, collaborating with peers in strategic factions, delivering oral speeches, deliberating through parliamentary procedures, and enacting major events. This article shares examples from games tied to the Council of Trent, the Invention of Opera, the Querelle des Bouffons, and the War of the Romantics, and provides resources for developing and running Reacting to the Past games in the music history classroom. Furthermore, the article offers tools for assessment using rubrics tied to the general studies curriculum that are published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.


Reacting to the Past; roleplaying; writing; public speaking; collaborative learning; general studies curriculum

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ISSN 2155-109X