World Simulation Project

Update: Full materials are now being uploaded to the World Simulation Wiki. You can also track the current World Simulation at Wesch's Introduction to Cultural Anthropology Wiki.

The World Simulation is a radical experiment in learning that is the centerpiece of the Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course at Kansas State University, created in a fit of frustration with the large lecture hall format which seems inevitable in a classroom of 200-400 students. Of utmost concern to me, was the nature of questions I was hearing from students, which tended to be administrative and procedural rather than penetrative, critical, and insightful. My least favorite question was also the most common: "What do we need to know for this test?" Something had to be done, so I set to work creating the World Simulation.


Students are asked to imagine the world in the classroom. We create a map that mimics the geographical, environmental, and biological diversity of our real world. The map is laid onto a map of the classroom, and students are asked to imagine themselves living in the environment that maps onto them. The class is divided into 15-20 groups of about 12-20 students in each group. Each group is challenged to create their own cultures to survive in their own unique environments.

The World Simulation itself only takes 75-100 minutes and moves through 650 metaphorical years, 1450-2100. It all takes place in large room where all of the "cultures" interact with one another with props for currencies, natural resources, and other elements that recreate the world system. I will explain this in more detail in a future post, but essentially we attempt to simulate (not "act out") world history in an attempt to understand the underlying social and cultural processes that interconnect us all. The ultimate goal is to allow students to actually experience how the world system works and explore some of the most important questions now facing humanity such as those of global inequality, globalization, culture loss, environmental degradation, and in the worst case scenario, genocide.

The simulation is recorded on 5 roaming digital video cameras and edited into one final "world history" video using clips from "real world" history to illustrate the correspondences. We watch the video together during the last week of class and have amazing moments together as we contemplate our world. By then it seems as if we have the whole world right before our eyes in one single classroom - profound cultural differences, profound economic differences, profound challenges for the future . and one humanity. We find ourselves as co-creators of our world, and the future is up to us. It is in this environment that even the worst questions take on all the characteristics of the best: What do we need to know for this test?


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created by Michael Wesch