A summer of transitions

By Dr. Jonathan Truitt

Summer is a busy time for faculty. Expectations from ourselves and colleagues are that we will get loads of research done. Our families (ourselves included once again) request increased quality time as well. In a state where winter is half the calendar year, it is hard to object to this appeal. Finally, there are unexpected opportunities that we want to seize as well. 

This summer has been no different. For me, it has been one of transitions. I finished my book Sustaining the Divine in Mexico Tenochtitlanending a ten-year project (due out in August, buy them as stocking stuffer’s for your friends and enemies!).  Additionally, my co-authors and I are near the end of our nine-year Mexico in Revolution, 1912-1920Reacting to the Pastpedagogical game (revisions are due the end of August). As these projects have wound down, others are spinning up. My new, more traditional archival project examines games as a cultural bridge during Mexico’s colonial period. Two other new projects, one four years in the making and another nine months in progress, are where I want to stop and really focus.

Both of the projects are aimed at teaching through research. The first is “Rebel’s Guide to History” which entails a series of interconnected analog (paper-based) games designed to teach World History from the dawn of humanity to 1500 (a topic tiny in scope when compared to the history of the galaxy). The second, entitled Mexica Decision Points, is a video game that we are developing for mass consumption as a counter-weight to the continually-misconstrued idea that a handful of Europeans could simply wipe out a militaristic empire with very little effort.

 A still image from Mexica Decision points

A still image from Mexica Decision points

Both projects are team-based with at least four core writer/developers and an amazing crew of short-term supporters. Aside from the transition of projects, starting these projects with teams has been a significant shift as well. Many, dare I say most, projects in the field of history are the project of an individual or a series of individuals pulled together for an edited volume. There are exceptions, but I am beginning to believe that there should be more. The collaborations across unexpected fields (in these instances much of my collaboration has been with computer science, literature, education, and game design – and possibly more disciplines that I am forgetting) have been illuminating – all of us involved on these teams have learned a ton from each other. Our interactions and conversations have not only influenced the project we are working on together, but also our research and teaching in other unexpected ways. In fact, these conversations are what kicked off my new project on colonial Mexico. 

These projects have, in ways, been paralleled with work at CMU. The past number of years I was fortunate to be the chair of the Institute for Simulations and Games– where I got to work with some of the best colleagues I could ask for at CMU. We are now transitioning into a fully-fledged Center. This shift is pulling me further from the classroom space that I enjoy, but it also provides the opportunity to support my colleagues’ pedagogy and continue to engage across disciplines. Transitions can be a challenge, but they are not always bad.