The Lighter Side of History

24 September 2019 Comments Off on The Lighter Side of History

BY EKİN GÜNEŞ ÖZAKTAŞ

It isn’t a school day, but there’s more going on in the halls and classrooms than if it had been. A student dressed in a sharp black suit and purple tie briskly walks to the podium at the front of the room with a piece of slightly crumpled paper in his hand, eager to speak to those seated at the desks in front of him. “Gentlemen and lords of this council! I suggest that we move the army in Oxford toward Cornwall, so as to cut off the supply lines of the Parliamentarians, the very embodiment of heresy.” Upon further detailing this course of action, he yields the floor, and returns to his seat. He has just delivered an idea that could change the course of the English Civil War (1642–1651), resulting in a decisive victory for the Royalists, contrary to what actually happened in history. You may ask, “Why are students pretending to fight the English Civil War from a classroom in Ankara?” Well, this is a Model United Nations conference Joint Crisis Historical Committee.

The main purpose of Model United Nations (MUN) conferences, which have gained increasing popularity in recent years, is to create a simulation of the United Nations, in which students from various high schools and/or universities come together to debate world issues and come up with solutions, which they write up in the format of “resolutions.” These are then debated upon, and passed or failed. The atmosphere is relatively formal; delegates wait for their turn to speak, with a patience that is unexpected from high school students. Strict adherence to parliamentary procedures is expected, although this varies significantly based on the committee type and the seriousness and competence of the chairs presiding over the session.

Different types of issues are debated in different committees, taking place in different rooms. For example, social issues are debated in the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee, and political issues are debated in the Special Political and Decolonization Committee. Almost all committees at MUN conferences debate modern issues, paralleling the UN. However, there is one type of committee that is different: the Historical Committee. Here, delegates represent historical personalities involved in the scenario taking place; such scenarios include wars, governmental councils and the signing of peace treaties.

The most popular scenario for a Historical Committee is a war. Here, delegates write “directives,” which are publicly revealed commands discussed by the committee, and which must be put to a vote in order to pass, since they affect the entire committee. However, they can also write “actions,” which are secret commands for their personal gain. A directive may detail the movement of armies, and the tactics to be used in battle, while an action may attempt to assassinate other characters in the room, or use spies to watch them. The chairs presiding over the committee process the actions and directives, and decide upon the outcome, so they must have extensive knowledge of the historical period in question and be very experienced. In addition, the actions and directives must have a high level of detail if they are to succeed. The re-enactment of the governmental council of a nation at a certain point in history works in a similar way; however, a committee simulating the negotiation of a peace treaty will be debating the terms of peace, with significantly less warring and scheming.

Historical Committees are generally one of two kinds, namely Crisis Committees or Joint Crisis Committees. Crisis Committees take place in one room, with every delegate fending for themselves and the few they decide they can trust. Joint Crisis Committees take place in two rooms, with each room working as a team, and actions taken in one room affecting the other. The two rooms are usually two warring sides. For instance, continuing with our example of the English Civil War, they would be the Royalists and the Parliamentarians.

Just a few further examples of Historical Committees I have personally been involved in or witnessed include the Korean War, the American Civil War, the Ottoman Divan during the conquest of Wallachia, the Berlin Conference and even an Alternate History Committee about Operation Unthinkable, which is what would have happened if the Allies had gone through with their plan to retake Eastern Europe from the Soviets after the Second World War.

Participating in Historical Committees requires an in-depth knowledge of the personalities, conditions, battle tactics and technologies of the era. Thus, extensive research is required for any hope of success in a Historical Committee, although the amount of effort required will vary according to the quality and professionalism of the conference. Extensive background study guides are prepared for widely known conferences, and participants are expected to prepare well before attending.

The action in a Historical Committee allows total immersion into the time period in question, and thus passionate language (including insults of the era), costumes and props such as plastic weapons, large maps and flags are not uncommon. These make the committees truly come to life, and motivate the delegates to learn more and participate with increased passion and vigor in the debate of directives and the physical re-enactment of some key events, such as the interrogation of prisoners. Historical Committees in MUN conferences are unique in their function, educational value and how entertaining they are.