From Minecraft to Mindcraft: Integrating Digital Humanities into History Courses

Sunday, January 4, 2015
2nd Floor Promenade (New York Hilton)
Amy Absher, Case Western Reserve University
The class was a “symbolic world seminar” focusing on 1939.  The educational objectives of this type of seminar include the exploration of languages used to describe, interpret, or construct the social and cultural worlds in a given moment.  The idea is that the words and images we use construct and reinforce the world in which we live. But, how does one teach imagined worlds? The solution was to have the students recreate the 1939 World’s Fair.  As a subject of study, The Fair provided a unique opportunity to combine three kinds of assignments: the research paper, the role-playing assignment, and the Minecraft assignment. In our case, we adapted Minecraft, a “sandbox” game that allows players to build the world in which they play, so that students could research and then build The Fair.  The students self-selected a group to join: “The Lived Experience” or “Minecraft.” “The Lived Experience” did library-based research to create scrapbooks and newsreels that taught their classmates what it was like to live in 1939.  The Minecraft team focused their library research on the builders of the fair, their motivations, and their inspirations; thereby, they taught their classmates how architecture and civic planning could be used as political statements. Of the seventeen students, seven chose the new technology.  This suggests that not all students jump at the chance to do 21st century active learning.  Though one might feel like celebrating the discovery that there are still students who want to spend hours reading popular periodicals in the library, the result of our experiment in digital humanities suggests that neither assignment would have provided a complete learning experience for the students.  Rather, we had to work together if we had any chance at gaining an understanding of history from the perspective of those who lived it.  This poster will visually highlight the students’ work and provide an argument for how to and the importance of combining the traditional assignments of a history course with new technology.  One student summed up the course by writing, “…we were not just learning about history in this class.  We looked deeper into the intentions of the actors in 1939, and we saw the American ideals and the symbolism in the World’s Fair.” Our experiment integrating digital humanities into a course suggests that there is no need to abandon one type of teaching for another because the goal of the history course remains the same regardless of the assignment structure.
See more of: Poster Session #1
See more of: AHA Sessions
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