Re-enacting British Civil War part of CentreTerm experience


January 21, 2012|By DAVID BROCK

You weren't seeing things last week if you spotted people in billowing 16th century garb among the usual track pants and t-shirts preferred by many students traversing Centre College's campus.

There is a simple explanation — Oliver Cromwell's forces were assembling for the decisive battle of the British Civil War on the lawn in front of Old Centre.

The re-enactment was one of the more conspicuous signs that it is CentreTerm, a month-long winter session when professors offer up crash courses in some thought-provoking subjects both on campus and around the world.

The students decked out in regal attire last week were part of Professor Amos Tubb's course for first-year students on the British Civil War.

"Acting out what we are learning about really helps us see what we have been discussing in a different way," said Zack "Oliver Cromwell" Davis, a freshman from North Carolina.


The Battle of Naseby, fought in 1645, sealed victory for Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army and Parliament, who would go on to wipe out the Royalist forces of King Charles I shortly after. It brought the British Civil War to a close and marked the first ascendance of professional, trained military forces.  

The experiential exercise is not new for Tubb's classes. In his other British History courses, including one on the Crusades, he has students preform re-enactments on an almost daily basis. 

"I'm usually not extremely interested in battles, but it is important to understand why they were won or lost," Tubb said. "I try different ways for them to understand and get involved with history. (A re-enactment) has to be historically accurate, but the students like to have some control and I am happy to give it to them."

After reading about and discussing the battle, students chose roles and Tubb diagramed the traditional format. Infantry forces would face one another in the middle of the field and lock in a kind of scrum while cavalry do battle on either flank in an attempt to attack the opposing infantry from behind.

In order to evaluate how well the class understands the 17th Century history they are reenacting, Tubb brings a decidedly 20th Century creature into the mix, assigning one of the students to play the role of a television reporter. The microphone wielding character conducted pre and post-battle interviews with everyone involved, which added a Monty Python sensibility to the re-enactment.

Although Tubb allows for some campiness — Cromwell likely didn't kneel a la Tim Tebow in celebration of his victory — the students are required to know what they are portraying. Roll playing and revelry notwithstanding, Tubb said the ability of the faux combatants to explain their roles and what is going on  on the imagined battlefield around them is transferable to the classroom. 

During CentreTerm, the small class size allows him to gauge whether real learning is taking place. 

"Out in the field you can see how people would have actually been lined up," said student Sam Norris of Pittsburgh. "You can see how things would work geographically instead of just on paper.”

The Battle of Naseby lends its self uniquely to lively dramatization. 

Not only were Cromwell's highly trained cavalry forces thwarted for a time by rabbit warrens (cue the stuffed bunny rabbits for the re-enactment), but part of the Royalist cavalry was fought off by the Parliamentarian's cooks before they could reach the back of the infantry line.

CentreTerm has become well known for its tantalizing course listings

This year students could choose from offerings that included options like The Ides of March: A Crime Scene Investigation taught by Classics Professor Jane Wilson Joyce; and Into the Great Abyss: Cave Ecology taught by Professor Matthew Klooster, which takes students to Carter Caves and Mammoth Cave.

While some classes require a heavy dose of imagination, others actually transport students to the places they are studying around the globe.

Drama Professor Matthew Hallock and Math Professor Alex McAllister have taken their class to Greece where they are teamed up to teach a course on Drama and Mathematics in Ancient Greece, while Chemistry Professors Conrad Shiba and Joe Workman went to New Zealand to study the physical science of volcanoes. 

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