Brian Mello & Mark Stein ask students to take history into their own hands.


'Revolutions & Protest in the Middle East' approaches historical and modern-day protests through an interdisciplinary lens. Students do more than learn history; they reenact if as if they were there.


Tue, 28 Jun 2016 16:02:00 EDT

Brian Mello and Mark Stein are no strangers to working together. The associate professor of political science and associate professor & department chair of history both have backgrounds in studies of the Ottoman Empire and modern-day Turkey, and they often see, in their words, a “tremendous degree of overlap” in the way each views the history of the region.

Their cluster “Revolution and Protest in the Middle East” challenges students to analyze historical and modern protest movements and to project themselves into each situation. As part of a simulation, students embodied the groups involved in each protest and proposed responses that served the interest of their groups.

Cluster courses encourage Muhlenberg students to integrate knowledge from multiple perspectives and disciplines in order to understand and solve real-world problems. Because the courses are taught concurrently or consecutively, students explore a specific topic critically through the guidance of at least two faculty members.

In Mello and Stein’s class, the professors asked students to conduct a simulation with a game where students weighed the benefits and risks of action or inaction. The turn-based format required students to pool resources and seek alliances with neighboring or rival factions within the model environment. While the situation was historically informed, students were given the option to follow a historical model or forge their own path based on the needs of their adopted caucus.

“The idea was to find moments in history in the region where there were instances of revolution, protest and uprisings,” says Mello. “We wanted to make recent events seem less out of the blue, less anomalous, more historically rooted within the context of political developments in the regions.”

As a basis for the simulations, students studied four different periods of uprising in the Middle East: the Iranian revolutions of 1979 and 2009 as well as the Egyptian revolutions of 1919 and Arab spring uprisings of 2011. Participants were asked to engage with history in a completely new way, and many found themselves enthusiastic about learning a topic beyond a traditional reading/writing approach.

“Adding events up to contingency, to just sheer dumb luck, means that details fall out of a lot of historical analysis,” says Stein. “Having students conduct simulations shows them how movements in history can be very fluid, very chaotic, very changing.”