At UNMGallup, serious learning can be serious fun


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Students roleplay and “react to the past” as part of Modern Eastern Civilization class

By Richard Reyes, Tuesday, March 26, 2024

GALLUP, N.M. — Serious learning can be serious fun at UNMGallup, especially in the case of the Spring 2024 Modern Eastern Civilization class currently in session.

Matthew Mingus, the chair of the Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Division at UNMGallup, has been teaching students about the 1587 Ming Dynasty succession crisis as part of his Modern Eastern Civ class this semester.

But this class is not your average lecture. Mingus employs an active learning pedagogy known as Reacting to the Past, in which students take on the roles of historical actors and read primary sources to inform their discussions and the actions they take.

The purpose of Reacting to the Past is to engage students in a fun and interactive way while building empathy for the past and building arguments from primary sources. Mingus said the roleplaying aspect encourages students to understand others’ perspectives, as well as the importance of individual agency in the past.

For the subject of the 1587 Ming Dynasty succession crisis, students act as members of the Grand Secretariat of the Hanlin Academy with the duty of advising the Wanli Emperor as he decides which of his sons should succeed him.

Some of the advisors are Confucian “purists” who believe the emperor should name his first-born son as successor per tradition. Other advisors believe it is within the emperor’s right to choose his successor as the emperor favors the son of his favorite concubine.

During one particular class, students were highly engaged, delivering passionate pleas to the emperor while also challenging each other’s points of view while in character. Some students wore robes to play their parts, and one student even wore a fake mustache and beard to get into character.

This semester, students in Mingus’ Modern Eastern Civ class are also exploring the subjects of the 1894 Korean Kabo Reforms and Japan at the dawn of the Second World War.

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