Sep 01, 2020 2020-09-01
Part of the Democratic Knowledge Project at Harvard University, the Declaration Resources Project supports teaching and learning about, and ongoing engagement with, the Declaration of Independence. One of the resources in development is Portrait of a Tyrant, a six-episode adventure game for students to learn about the Declaration of Independence, its historical context and contemporary relevance. The game is designed to be embedded in a six-week curriculum unit on political institutions and the philosophical foundations of democracy. The game’s heroine, Briana Little, is an adolescent person of color, living in an insecure state of freedom, who adheres to a persecuted religious faith. Joining her, students learn how the colonists assembled their various complaints into a shared list of formal grievances, along with the basic concepts that gave the founders a blueprint for a democratic republic. Briana spends the game adventuring among, and often aiding, other relatively powerless people in colonial America. Through their eyes, students see how the grievances in the Declaration were powerful forces that affected everyone, from the richest to the poorest in society. With events ranging from a ship being burned by colonists to an illegal meeting of local representatives that ends in a tar and feathering, students learn the text of the Declaration from the types of individuals who felt most aggrieved. The final episode is set in Philadelphia in July 1776, as the Continental Congress is debating and deciding on the final text of the Declaration of Independence, including the excision of the grievance addressing slavery. Portrait of a Tyrant makes ample and innovative use of primary source images, texts, songs, and poems. Forward progress in the game often rests on the extent to which students can master both the rhetorical forms and the political substance of the arguments the colonists were having in the years leading up to the American Revolution. An episode guide provides teachers and students with additional information about the specific elements out of which each episode has been composed and suggests ways to integrate the game into weekly classroom discussions. The activities were developed to assist teachers and parents managing a shift to remote learning during COVID-19. Portrait of a Tyrant is currently in the pilot stage.