Forest Diplomacy: War, Peace, and Land on the Colonial Frontier, 1756-1757

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Forest Diplomacy begins with Pennsylvania and the Delaware Indians engaged in a vicious and destructive war. The focus of the game is a peace negotiation, which seeks to end the conflict. At the outset, students familiarize themselves with the historical context, previous treaties, firsthand accounts of the war, controversies over Quaker pacifism, and various Iroquois and Lenâpé cultural texts. Then, students divide into three groups: Interpreters, Pennsylvanians, and Indians. Initially, the latter two groups meet separately, but interpreters may shuttle back and forth. This gives students an opportunity to identify with their assigned cultures. It also allows distrust and suspicion to fester. Students reunite when formal treaty deliberations begin. The structure of these meetings is dictated by the traditional rituals of Indian forest diplomacy, which are intended to create a dispassionate space in the midst of the bloodthirstiness of war. Understanding the attendant cultural conventions becomes an essential element in peacemaking. Ignoring the protocols negates clever compromise on issues like scalping, the liquor trade, settlement, treaty-writing, and land ownership. When negotiations conclude, students must still maintain the peace. Negotiating a clever compromise is one thing, but if the treaty remains disagreeable to a significant number of participants, it collapses amid renewed violence. However, if enough participants can be convinced that the treaty represents a just peace then it will stand.

Unlike most “Reacting to the Past” games, Forest Diplomacy includes very few purely “indeterminate” roles; instead every role includes a degree of flexibility. Consequently, participants must interact and pay close attention to one another in an attempt to discover the ground upon which they can compromise. Given the disagreements between and within the factions and the cultural divide between Indians and whites, this will not be easy, but it can be done. As a result of playing this game students better understand the historical dynamics of western expansion as well as the sharp challenge of forging peace across lines of cultural incompatibility and historical antagonism.

About the Author:

Nicolas W. Proctor is an associate professor of history at Simpson College. He is the author of Bathed in Blood: Hunting and Mastery in the Old South (University of Virginia Press).