2023: Reconstructing the Past

Content Update

Curriculum Booster Pack

Note: Scholars participating at the Tournament of Champions and at the Dubai Holiday Special are invited to check out this Booster Pack in addition to the Starter Kit. Don't worry: the Scholar's Challenge will draw primarily from the Starter Kit.

Regional rounds from November onward will also cover both the Starter Kit and Booster Kit, unless otherwise specified.‎

Through a Relooking Glass, Darkly

    • History may have begun with writing, but art didn't wait that long. Consider efforts to reconstruct the earliest cave art. Then, discuss: is there a difference between painting and documentation—or between drawing and doodling? Were these early people artists? Does it matter what their intentions were?
    • France's famed Lascaux Caves became so crowded with tourists there to see their breathtaking cave art that visitors risked suffocation. The French arrived at a solution: a replica next door. Is it misleading to present such recreations as valuable enough to visit in place of the original? Does it matter whether they were made by human hands or a 3D printer? And is such a replica a better solution than just limiting the number of visitors per day?
    • Some art requires not replication but reconstruction every time people want to exhibit it. The Japanese Mono-Ha art movement was inspired by the collision of the natural and the mechanical worlds; many of its works were designed to deteriorate over time. Consider Phase - Mother Earth 1, by Nobuo Sekine, along with this recent recreation, then discuss: why would artists create works that aren't meant to last as long as possible? If new technology allows us to make permanent versions of them, should we?

History Began With Chapter 2

    • To document history requires documentation; you can't write about records you don't have. Learn about the world's earliest record-keeping systems, usually credited to the Sumerians or the Egyptians. Compare their early forms of writing—cuneiform and hieroglyphics—then discuss: would there be any advantages to living in a world where no one keeps written track of anything?
    • What came first, history or historians? You might consult Herodotus, a fifth century BC Greek scholar who many scholars call "the world's first historian". His rival Thucydides insisted that he had exaggerated details for dramatic effect, making him instead "the world's first liar". What is the difference between record-keeping and history-writing? How much fiction—or unverified information—can a work of history contain before it is no longer a work of history?
    • Historically, many societies have relied on oral traditions to pass on knowledge. Explore the following terms, then discuss with your team: how would an oral history of our own era differ from a written one?
      • legends | myths | folktales | memorates
      • oral history | collective memory | people's history

The Past as Reference Shelf

    • Historical artifacts—indeed, entire histories—are often destroyed intentionally, as in the cases below. For each, learn who was responsible for the destruction in question. Is the destruction of historical artifacts ever justified—for instance, in the cases of statues of past conquerors or slaveholders?
      • Persepolis | Valencia Bible | Old Summer Palace | Amber Room
    • Investigate the following strategies that early civilizations used to record their histories. What were their limitations, and can we learn from any of them today?
      • petroglyphs | cuneiform | nsibidi | quipus | Dispilio Tablet
      • oracle bones | cylcons | geoglyphs | runestones
    • Archaeologists don't just dig first and ask questions later—they follow the archaeological method. Today, they have more tools than ever to use along the way. They can measure radioactivity to date prehistoric events with remarkable precision, and can even use 3D models to hear what ancient people would have sounded like. Discuss with your team: what aspect of the past that we don't yet have the technology to reconstruct should scientists be working the hardest to unlock?

History with a Vignette Effect

    • In your own lifetime, you might have noticed the streets you walk down every day changing. New convenience stores pop up; old homes are torn down; restaurants come and go. Historians looking to reconstruct a cityscape from decades or even centuries ago need as much data as possible about what it looked like then. Consider the following photographic records of past cityscapes, then discuss: would they be enough to reconstruct the world as it existed when they were taken? What advice would you give to someone trying to photograph the world we live in today for future reconstruction?
    • Explore the Japanese art of kintsugi—the repair of broken pottery using lacquers that do nothing to conceal the original fractures. Practitioners see an object's breakage and repair as an integral part of the object's history. Discuss with your team: should the principles of kintsugi be applied to other forms of reconstructing the past?
    • Whether we see Edward Hopper's Nighthawks as a testament to solitude or a bittersweet tug toward a lost era of root beer floats, it has provided rich source material for new takes in both academic art and pop culture. Consider the selections below, then discuss: do works such as Nighthawks oversimplify how we see the past? Can images be too iconic?

Encore, Encore

    • Small bits of music can quickly conjure up a time and place. Consider the following examples of such musical riffs and motifs, then discuss: when is it okay to use a musical cliché as a storytelling shortcut?
      • Oriental riff | Arabian riff | Hijaz scale | Andalusian cadence
      • Tarantella Napoletana | Jarabe Tapatio | Yodeling
    • Many seemingly new works of musical theater are what one might call "re-skinnings" of older works: past plots, characters, and even settings brought forward closer to our modern world. For instance, West Side Story was a retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but Romeo and Juliet was itself a retelling of previous source material: the Babylonian tale of "Pyramus and Thisbe". Yet Pyramus and Thisbe are not nearly as well-known as Romeo and Juliet. Discuss with your team: why not? Are there some stories that resist adaptation to new settings?
    • Shakespeare included scenes in which characters performed works from their own past—including the story of Pyramus and Thisbe! More recently, Marvel's Hawkeye introduced a deliberately over-the-top musical version of its own heroes' past adventures, one that made even those heroes cringe; now you can attend a real-world production of it. Something similar happened with quidditch, expanded from the pages of Harry Potter into something you can play at colleges around the world. Discuss with your team: what other works from inside fictional universes would you like to see made real?

Running the Heart in Reverse: Nostalgia in the Creative Arts

    • Explore the Hawaiian musical tradition of mele. If your culture had its own musical tradition, would it be acceptable for musicians from elsewhere to write works based on it? Consider Paul Simon, an American singer-songwriter who traveled to South Africa and released an album, Graceland, of songs, such as this one, meant to sound South African. Would he face more controversy today than he did 40 years ago?
    • Some art looks forward, and some around, but much looks backward. Like songwriters, artists can express the yearning for an older time—or they can try to illuminate its shortcomings. Explore the works below, then discuss: are they nostalgic or critical? Can something be both?
    • Writers can sometimes express the yearning for an older, simpler time. Explore the works below, then search with your team for any similar artistic or social movements today.
    • Nostalgia can also be a yearning for a different place, often extra keen in the literature of those who have migrated from one place to another. Consider the following selections, then discuss: is it ever truly possible to convey the sense of a place to someone who has never been there?
    • Some songs and artworks become touchstones of national and even nationalist nostalgia, reaching for the "good old days" even as politics and culture evolve beyond them. Consider the following examples, then discuss: should cultures continue to celebrate songs that divide them in some way from the rest of the world?

Everything Old is Edited Again

    • Authors don't stop writing when a work is published; things get complicated when some of that writing is about their works, often in dialogue online with their own readers. Review the approaches of these two authors, then discuss with your team: can an author redefine something about a past work by sharing their own interpretation of it online?
    • Consider Geoge Lucas's re-releases of his original Star Wars trilogy in 1997; the changes in them inspired a generation of controversy. Should an edited version of a work replace the original, and does the answer depend on the preferences of the author—or of the audience?
    • When dubbing the Studio Ghibli film Laputa: Castle In The Sky into English, Disney added more music, sound effects, and ad-libbed dialogue. The result was met with mixed reactions. Discuss: how much is too much, when it comes to adapting a work for a new language, culture, or age group?
    • According to Guinness, the most adapted literary character of all time is Sherlock Holmes, with Dracula, Frankenstein, and Cinderella close behind. Their stories have been adapted into mediums as diverse as silent films, opera, and anime—often set in new time periods and cultures. Discuss with your team: is it time to let them all go? What do you think would take their place?
    • It's not just Spiderman who keeps getting rebooted. Napoleon has appeared in at least 189 films, from biopics to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure—190 if you count a short piece involving penguins. Do filmmakers have an obligation to portray historical figures as accurately as possible—and does that obligation vary based on the type of film?
    • Reconstructing old sets is something film and television studios must do when they return to past storylines and locations long after the original sets were destroyed. Consider these efforts to rebuild an old starship and an apartment where someone's parents met, then discuss with your team: would virtual recreations of the sets have been good enough?

Spreading the Olds

    • Many old European societies had town criers; they would holler breaking news, then leave behind a summary posted on a bulletin board. Technological advances, from the loudspeaker to the radio, have made criers obsolete. What other forms of journalism or news-sharing may be phased out due to new technologies in the near or not-so-near future?
    • A guiding principle behind nature documentaries is that those creating them should never interfere with their subjects. In 2018, a BBC crew broke this rule to rescue a group of stranded penguins. The choice proved controversial. Discuss with your team: did they do the right thing? Are there times when observers should be obligated to get involved?
    • In the late 1800s, the United States saw the rise of "yellow journalism", in which sensational coverage was prioritized over facts. The consequences may have included at least one entire war. Discuss with your team: were newspaper headlines the earliest example of clickbait? To what degree should news stories try to simplify complex situations in order for audiences to understand them?

Replaying the Past

    • To experience The Oregon Trail in its original form, you'll need to track down a floppy disk and an Apple II computer—or do you? Explore the surprisingly active world of retrogaming. Some gamemakers are even finding success in creating games that feel like vintage ones. Discuss with your team: should people learn to play vintage games before they play modern ones? You may also want to explore the subgenre of kusoge—old video games that are broken, incoherent, or poor in quality. What might explain their appeal?