Wikipedia and Digital History

Digital History was quite a change from Graphs, Maps, Trees. It was like putting down The Epic of Gilgamesh and picking up Windows for Dummies. This is not a commentary on the quality of either book, but the frame of mind used for reading each could not be more different. Looking at my classmates’ blogs I can see many of them are relieved to have moved onward.

This book is practical and made me eager to make my own interactive page. I’ve already come up with a name: “Tea-time with Hitler.” My idea was inspired by Professor O’Malley’s hilarious “Magic, Illusion, and Detection” page and I want to do for the Munich Agreement what he’s done for the Gold/Silver standard debate, the creepy attitude towards masturbation by “health experts,” etc.–that is, I want to make history interesting and engaging and encourage people to approach it with less prejudice. [I don’t mean to sound like a suck-up by praising the Professor’s work; in fact, I didn’t even check out his page until I ran across it in Digital History, and discovered that he did not demonstrate the best bits on day one of class.]

“Tea-time with Hitler” will be a roleplaying game casting the user (“player”) as Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on the eve of the Second World War. The player’s goal will be to avoid war with Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany, by negotiating diplomatic treaties that allow for a fair peace and leave the player’s political reputation intact. The player will be assisted in his or her decision-making by real-world primary sources like newspaper headlines and government documents, as well as other British politicians who will feel free to give their own unsolicited advice either publicly or privately (keep an eye on Churchill!).

Peace will not be as easy to attain as avoiding a declaration of war–though declaring war will remain an open choice, one that will have terrible ramifications on the player if done without parliamentary/public consent. A player seeking to avoid war with Hitler will face real-life moral questions: For example, “Should I promise Poland military protection when I know I don’t have the military strength to back it up?” and “Do I have the moral right to give Hitler Czech territory that does not belong to me?” My hope is to create a game that would allow the user to understand the difficulties Allied politicians faced from 1937-1939 in trying to keep peace in Europe, an empathy not commonly felt by modern people. I want to get past that difficulty in understanding history that we encounter when one “already knows the ending.”

Maybe I’ll use this idea for my proposal paper. I’ll have to see how practical such a thing would be. Maybe I’ll give certain parts of Digital History another read and see if my idea still sounds like a sober one…

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