Civ Lab: The Mother Country, Early Colonial Issues, and Mercantilism

For my next installment of Civ 4 as a Soc St tool, I figured I would talk about how to use the game to teach the early colonial issues.  When I learned about these topics we were usually directed to a few definitions and some notes that gave us examples of what the British did in real life.  The game allows us go even deeper to reenact in a virtual world how it all worked.  

When I start having my classes begin to build their nations they are all colonies that have a Mother Country, which allows them to exist and expand as they wish.  I always relate that they are all part of a larger empire that has a king or queen and if one of the largest alliances in the game.    When designing the game the Mother Country can be another class or you could be the Mother Country as a control country.  We do have control countries in the game, but the students do not know who which ones are a school and who is a control nation.  Having one class lord over another is always interesting to watch, since the controlling group always becomes arrogant and as the colonies buck up against the Mother Nation mistakes will be made by both parties.  But either way, when we start everyone is one large happy family.    


At the start of the simulation, the Mother Country rarely interacts with my classes and takes a hands off approach to governing, until problems begin to arise.  Normally, my classes begin attempting to expand their nation and test the Native population that has spread across all of the continents within the first week or so.  They are sometimes successful and sometimes they fail, but the native population, which is played by the computer’s barbarian nation always pushes back to keep them from advancing.  This stage in the game is when I get serious conflicts to begin to arise between colonial governments, my students in their local legislatures, and the Mother Country.  The debates usually have to do with how often they should attack the Native Americans or if expansion is morally just.    

The Mother Country starts with more resources, weapons, and science that gives them an advantage over all the colonies.  Trade begins to take place between the Mother Country and the colonies or between the colonies themselves, which always causes them to begin going up in the rankings.  Sometimes my classes become jealous of the wealth and power the Mother Country has accumulated and complains, but usually the fact they are too weak to do anything about it causes them to back down.  Also, plots are normally hatched during this period and negotiations take place at lunch between colonial governments in the cafeteria.  

After several days of building the colony, the expansionists usually win people to their crusade to expand the colony, which causes a legislature to vote to attack the Natives.  The battles vary in success, but someone takes a city and is given a choice of burning or keeping the city.  The debates are always fierce, decisions are made, and I can always tell what kind of class I am going to have based on the discussions that ensue.   If they choose to burn the village and kill everyone in it they normally celebrate their victory, but after it is all over the discussion is always somber when they realize they just killed everyone in the village when they burned it down.  But before this time, I say nothing and let them make their decisions so I do not influence their thought process.  From here I use the conflict as an opportunity to where I can talk about the Proclamation of 1763, which attempted to keep the colonists on the Eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains or conflicts between settlers and the Natives.  

There is usually a group that also wants to test the waters and declares war on a colonial neighbor.  They always think this is fun and both classes kind of puff their chests out as they battle.  I allow them to do this to simulate the conflict between colonies, such as Virginia and Maryland who once fought over the rights to parts of the Potomac River.   At this point the Mother Country always intervenes, punishes the instigator or tries to mediate a settlement.  It is through these conflicts that rules are always placed on the colonists that they do not like.  They always ask if they can break the rules, but I always deny them the right to revolt.  They are not mentally ready anyway to deal with revolting, but they have to be in a froth of anger before they push away from their Mother Country. 

After these initial events happen, new laws are imposed on the colonies where they are not allowed to trade with other nations to help simulate mercantilism.  I usually teach this material through the traditional means, such as notes, videos, and lectures before I start putting it into practice in the game.  This ensures they understand why the events are happening to them.  This causes the students to level of anger to increase, since I usually begin getting offers from the economics classes at one of the other schools, but every offer that comes in I always reject.  By this time, my classes are always languishing at the bottom of the rankings because they cannot get the resources or the technology to continue growing and their blood begins to boil. 

By this time, conflicts that are out of the students control begin to arise as other classes start looking outward for growth.  The other teachers I play with have their classes in Europe, which causes a tons of wars and forces them to try to colonize the new world to get the resources they need.  At this point, a war usually breaks out between the Mother Country and another nation, which then by default means the colonies are all at war.  Troops are almost always landed in the new world and the battles ensue, which is how I model the French and Indian war with my classes.  They are pretty much on their own, with the Mother Country bringing in some troops to help or using their navy to sink as many ships as possible.  The war lasts a week or so and when it is over the students are elated that they fought off the intruders.  They usually have a sense of comradery and that they are all a similar nationality when it is over.  They also have one large question:  Where was the Mother Country while we were doing all the fighting?  

At this point in the game the students are usually pretty content, but getting a little angry.  As teachers we make sure that the events kind of take the turn they need to.  We use the control countries to make sure things happen the way they need to and that no one class steamrolls everyone else.  All of these activities remember take place every day as we move through the material and I add new concepts as we learn them in class, which helps reinforce the knowledge.   

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