Red Dead Redemption Is Being Used To Teach A College American History Class


History professor Tore Olsson is combining his love for history and his love for games in a new history class at the University of Tennessee titled “HIUS 383: Red Dead America.” The class will use both Red Dead Redemption and its sequel as jumping off points to explore the 1899-1911 period of American history.

In a Twitter thread explaining what the class’s syllabus will cover, Olsson admits that, taken alone, the games are “often historically inaccurate,” but still provide good jumping off points for the discussion of numerous historical issues including colonialism, racism, and the rise of monopoly capitalism.

Though often historically inaccurate, the games skillfully broach a number of crucial historical issues in the 1899-1911 period, such as:-The frontier mythology and its long afterlife-The expansion of monopoly capitalism and how railroads extended corporate power /2

— Tore Olsson (@ToreCarlOlsson) February 11, 2021

-The astounding inequalities in wealth that became obvious during the Gilded Age-Settler colonialism and the dispossession of Native peoples-The making of Jim Crow racial violence in the South -The Mexican Revolution and its transnational impacts /3

— Tore Olsson (@ToreCarlOlsson) February 11, 2021

-The memory of the Civil War and the making of the Lost Cause myth-Women’s suffrage and its opponents-American empire and the expansions of 1898-The cosmopolitanism of the American population, including Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and German immigrants, among others /4

— Tore Olsson (@ToreCarlOlsson) February 11, 2021

-Stereotypes of Appalachian degeneracy and poverty alongside the reality of corporate extraction and dispossession-The privatization of law enforcement via the Pinkerton detective agency -And MANY more – but in a nutshell, some of the biggest historical dilemmas of the era /5

— Tore Olsson (@ToreCarlOlsson) February 11, 2021

Olsson has credited fellow historian Jonathan S. Jones for inspiring him to develop the class, after Jones wrote a feature for Slate examining how Red Dead Redemption 2 depicts and lets players interact with the U.S.’s racist past.

Olsson says that the course won’t require owning the game on PC or console, though it will assume that most of the students will have played the game before. In a subsequent tweet, he explains that he hopes the unorthodox handling of history will help attract students from non-history majors. Olsson also hopes that his class will inspire other professors to think about game-oriented classes that’ll appeal more to young students than a traditional syllabus might.

Gamers who are lucky enough to attend the University of Tennesee Knoxville will be able to take the class in August, while the rest of us will just have to hope Olsson releases the syllabus online for those of us wanting to follow along from home.

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