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Crazy History Dinner Party

When I teach world history, I do it by topic rather than by sequence. Yes, I follow the general sequence of the years, but we go through the timeline of world history multiple times, each time exploring a different big question. The first topic of the semester is about government. How have different government systems treated the people they oversee? What expectations did the governed have of their leaders? What were the changing circumstances that each faced? Then, we look at why it is that governments today are different than those of, for example, Babylonia.

Teaching teens means that sometimes my corny history jokes hit perfectly, and sometimes they sit and stare at me like I'm an alien (actually, an alien might get more feedback). When it all comes together the way I want it to, it feels magical. So, when a class this week has been willing to run with my idea of a crazy history dinner party, where leaders across continents and years gather to dine, I wanted to share.

Joining us for dinner are Emporer Wu of the Han Dynasty, Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan of the Umayyad Caliphate, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo of Finland, King Louis IX of France, Julius Ceasar, and King Hammurabi of Babylonia. You should note that it seems that Hammurabi and Emporer Wu have opted to poke fun at Julius Ceasar by bringing both Little Ceasar's pizza and Ceasar salad to the party. As you can see, Ceasar is questioning who has done this. Several students pointed out that he may very well be feeling picked on, given how his besties had him killed.

The students were asked to imagine the conversation the men might have about leadership, and the purpose of government. I do this exercise because if they can express what each of the leaders may have felt about government using their own, modern, words there is a better chance that they actually understand it. So, these are the general conclusions they came to:

  • No one understands why Prime Minister Orpo cares what his people think or why they get to choose who is in power, but Emporer Wu definitely appreciates the emphasis on people and nature working hand in hand that he saw in the Finnish constitution.

  • King Louis thinks that King Hammurabi is too lenient

  • King Hammurabi appreciates the fact that the Finnish constitution is written down, but he probably would have opted for marble over paper

  • Emporer Wu thinks everyone would be better off if they worked more for balance with their citizens, a concept that King Louis, Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, and Ceasar find baffling.

  • When Prime Minister Orpo's cell phone rings, everyone is going to run

We will finish this "big question" by considering the reasons that the form of government around the world have changed, and what that tells us about history, and humans, and government. Next up, we will consider the idea of "civilization." What is civilized? What is barbaric? Who decides?

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