The Center for Learning and Teaching Newsletter Teaching News

Author's Department

Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT)

Document Type

News Article

Publication Title

New Chalk Talk

Publication Date



As a social-economic historian by training I always respected and admired the work of the French Annales School and especially the way in which such historians as Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, among others, in fact brought life into historical research and accounts and practically presented vivid almost visual representations of life in epochs long past. They, dared to step into the bedroom, the kitchen, the salon and in fact into the mentalités of historical actors. In so doing these historians present historical events through the mentalitiés of those that lived them, but without fetishising the otherness of such historical actors. Role-playing asks students to also see the past, or for that matter the present, as did those who lived and acted during these events. By focusing on the details of human relationships students are able to grasp the “humanity” of historical actors and thus comprehend in a dynamic manner the structures, parameters and limitations within which such actors acted out their respective roles. In this respect active and critical learning is enhanced as students are able to see that history and historical acts are not inevitable or predefined, but a result of the way in which chaos, disorder and turbulence articulate and produce actual happenings. It is this critical skill of moving beyond the sense of historical inevitability that is invariably communicated in scholarly texts, that students gain from role-playing and which cannot be “taught” via the medium of a traditional lecture or seminar.