Game On: Making Medieval History More Fun

Making medieval history more fun 

There are no quizzes, tests, or exams in HIST 406W Research in Medieval Sources. But it’s not all fun and games. Well, it’s not all fun anyway. Games are an important part of the course.

The final project for students enrolled in the course is to design and develop a board game that covers a fifty-year span of history in medieval Europe.

It’s more challenging than it might seem. Dr. Glenn Kumhera, assistant professor of history, learned that early in his career when he created a version of the board game Risk as a way to teach students about ancient empires.

“When I made the game, I realized how much research was required to put it together,” Kumhera said. “I thought: Why not have students do it? They could learn a lot from doing this type of in-depth, directed research.”

So Kumhera created HIST 406W, which was first offered at Behrend five years ago. Though tests aren’t part of the curriculum, months of reading, volumes of research, and plenty of writing make it a demanding history course.

The game students developed this year is set in Western Europe from 1375 to 1425 and is built around the transportation of people and goods throughout the region. There are fifty-four historical events that travelers (i.e., players) may encounter. Students were required to write a narrative for every one of them.

“They had to find out who would be traveling back then—peddlers, clergy, soldiers, people on religious pilgrimages—where they would be going, which route they would take, and how they would get there, whether on foot, by horse, or by boat, and how long it would take to reach their destination.”

Students find this type of research interesting and it gives them a deeper understanding of the subject, which Kumhera said is evident not only in the research papers they do along the way, but in the final game.

“The knowledge of the material is reflected in the product,” Kumhera said. “They don’t just memorize historical facts about the time period, but develop an actual understanding of it.”

Then, they must explain it. 

“It gives them practice distilling a narrative,” he said. “They have to think creatively about how they can present information to someone with no background in it.”

Students enjoy the challenge

“The game portion of the course adds a fun and interactive aspect to the class,” said Cody Reinstadtler, a Mechanical Engineering major who is minoring in History. “The focus papers we were required to write along the way gave us a chance to delve deeper into the minute details of who and what, historically, had an impact on the region.”