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Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $27.03
  • May 2014
  • ISBN: 978-0-393-93731-2
  • 142 pages
  • Territory Rights: Worldwide

Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France, 1791

Reacting to the Past


Gary Kates (Author, Pomona College), Mark C. Carnes (Author, Barnard College)


Part of the Reacting to the Past series, Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France plunges students into the intellectual and political currents that surged through revolutionary Paris in summer 1791.

Students are leaders of major factions within the National Assembly (and in the streets outside) as it struggles to create a constitution amid internal chaos and threats of foreign invasion. Will the king retain power? Will the priests of the Catholic Church obey the “general will” of the National Assembly or the dictates of the pope in Rome? Do traditional institutions and values constitute restraints on freedom and individual dignity, or are they its essential bulwarks? Are slaves, women, and Jews entitled to the “rights of man”? Is violence a legitimate means of changing society or of purging it of dangerous enemies? In wrestling with these issues, students consult Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, among other texts.

Reacting to the Past is a series of historical role-playing games that explore important ideas by re-creating the contexts that shaped them. Students are assigned roles, informed by classic texts, set in particular moments of intellectual and social ferment.

An award-winning active-learning pedagogy, Reacting to the Past improves speaking, writing, and leadership skills, promotes engagement with classic texts and history, and builds learning communities. Reacting can be used across the curriculum, from the first-year general education class to “capstone” experiences. A Reacting game can also function as the discussion component of lecture classes, or it can be enlisted for intersession courses, honors programs, and other specialized curricular purposes.


Endorsements & Reviews

Reacting to the Past is the most absorbing and engaging teaching I have ever done. . . . Students engage each other with a passion I have rarely seen in a classroom.” — Elizabeth Robertson, Drake University

“Combines the student instinct for competitive gaming with the academic values of critical thinking and persuasive speaking.” — Craig Caldwell, Appalachian State University

“It is one of the best ways I know of engaging students in great books and significant moments in history.” — Larry Carver, University of Texas at Austin

“It's the most rewarding teaching you can do, because students will take ownership of their learning.” — Jeffrey Hyson, Saint Joseph's University

Student-led classroom

Reacting to the Past is the perfect solution to a “flipped” classroom experience: students take charge of their own learning by assuming roles in a moment of historical crisis.  

History comes alive

Reacting to the Past games do not have a fixed script and outcome. While students must adhere to the beliefs and worldview of the historical figures they have been assigned to play, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively in speeches or other public presentations. For these assignments they draw on the rich selection of primary sources in the student game manual.  

A proven pedagogy

By playing games in the Reacting to the Past series, students develop speaking, writing, critical-thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and teamwork skills. For its innovative approach to teaching and learning, Reacting to the Past has been supported by organizations like the Teagle Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. 

The Reacting Consortium

Reacting to the Past was developed under the auspices of Barnard College, which hosts an annual institute where interested faculty can learn more about the series by playing condensed versions of the games. To learn more about the annual faculty institute and other events near you, go to the Conferences and Events page. 

    Introduction: A Cloud on the Horizon
    Historical Context
    The Game
    Grading: Written and Oral Work
    Class Schedule Overview (for fourteen-class version of game)
    Class-by-Class Reading Requirements and Questions

    Appendix A: Primary Documents
    Appendix B: Rousseau’s First Discourse: On the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences
    Appendix C: Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France
    Appendix D: Gershoy, The French Revolution and Napoleon
    Appendix E: Kates, “Introduction” to The French Revolution: Recent Debates and New Controversies
    Appendix F: Recommended Reading