In a spacious classroom in Aldrich Hall on the Harvard Business School campus, 100 students are passionately discussing a case called “Battle Over a Bank.” But these aren’t MBA students deliberating over how much the government should regulate the financial sector. This group of mostly undergraduates, guided by the award-winning Harvard Business School professor David Moss, is diving into the fierce 1791 debate over whether the Constitution could be interpreted to allow the fledgling U.S. government the power to form a bank at all.
This class, “History of American Democracy,” is no pedestrian historical survey course. It uses the case method—the business school’s signature teaching technique—to immerse undergraduates (as well as a limited number of HBS students) in critical episodes in the development of American democracy.
The field of history is often dismissed as dull, but educators like Moss are experimenting with innovative teaching strategies to teach history in a way that is effective, exciting, and productive. There’s “Reading like a Historian,” based at Stanford and aimed at the K-12 level, which explicitly hones the ability to take primary sources and interpret, construct meaning, recognize competing narratives, and contextualize as a historian would. “Reacting to the Past,” started at Barnard College by Mark Carnes, is a student-centered college curriculum consisting entirely of role-playing games. “Facing History and Ourselves,” which grew out of a course focused on the Holocaust, uses a multi-pronged approach to get young people in grades six through 12 thinking about the ramifications of genocide and mass violence as a way of reflecting on moral choices they themselves face in their own lives.