Chairing a Historical Committee

Introduction

A Historical MUN Committee is a committee that takes place in the past and simulates a topic and committee from a completely different perspective than a regular committee. In a Historical committee, Delegates represent their country completely differently, with far more history and background to base their position, and more opportunities to create something new and set the world off on a completely different path.

Historical Committees should be taken very differently from a crisis committee. A Historical committee is still a committee, with delegates representing countries, or sometimes delegates of a faction, debating around a topic, and resolving it through a resolution. A Crisis committee, whilst also taking place in the past, has a completely different expectation from delegates and a constantly running background of events. Whilst a historical committee can have a running background of events, here we shall be talking about a more basic form of Historical committee.

Why a Historical Committee?

A historical committee allows for a more enjoyable experience for those who like learning about the past, and tackling issues in a different way. Through historical committees, you can deal with some of the most pressing issues of our past, the San Francisco Committee that started the UN, the League of Nations, the Security Council debating Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Yemen etc.… The possibilities are literally endless.

With historical committees you can also learn a lot more about a certain event, and usually much more information has come out, books been written, than a subject has contemporarily ! You can use quotes and actions during the real past event to work backwards and create a more realistic position than you would be able to about a subject in 2019.

When thinking about what simulation to run, it is important to think about how much talking actually went on during the time period. Keep the scope small, and focussing on a situation where there were actual negotiations makes the whole thing a lot easier. Try not to go back in time too much, or else much of the negotiating will be circumstantial and there won’t be much real evidence for delegates or yourself to work with! Generally, I would ask yourself a few questions when deciding about what period you want.

Do you want to be mostly historical, or political?

If you are an avid fan of history (as I am) then you can really let your imagination go wild with Historical committees, and going back anytime further than around the 1900s allows you to really get interesting scenarios and ideas. Bear in mind, this requires far more intensive work on research, both for yourself and delegates, almost no country we can think of nowadays was the same before 1900, and it takes a significant amount of effort to try. Still, you can go back too far, and as a general note, I would say anything before the 1500’s becomes very difficult to simulate as a committee, leave it to the Crisis buffs to deal with that.

If you prefer politics, then sticking to contemporary history might be your best bet. Think of all the interesting committees and treaties written and discussed in the past 100 years, you could literally simulate them all. Furthermore, if you want a less challenging but potentially more exciting committee, you can always simulate a past meeting of the Security Council, the most common form of Historical Committee.

Who do you want to be involved?

The next question follows quite easily from the previous, and is all about people. If you want a historical committee to be close to a standard MUN committee, then making delegates simple representatives or diplomats is the easiest way forward. However, if you are really looking for a swashbuckling committee then you might be more inclined to let delegates be heads of factions, states or other figures in history. This does leave you open to more complicated research, and as a Chair you need to make sure all parties are equally balanced.

So there we have it, you’ve thought about the committee and you want to simulate ……. Well what do you want to simulate? Ok I’ll make one up for you, let’s use one I’ll highlight as an example later, the League of Nations!
Ok! Now I have a committee, I have to think what topic I want to choose! With this it’s always a very safe bet, and recommended, to choose a topic the actual committee discussed. For example, with the League of Nations I wouldn’t want to start talking about a topic never discussed, or else the research and background just isn’t there. So, stick to actual topics actually debated.
So we’ve thought about it and…. Japanese Invasion of Manchuria – the Lytton Report
See now we have a committee, and a topic!

Preparing a historical committee

Running a Historical committee is quite different from running a normal committee in many subtle ways. Basically throughout preparing a historical committee you have to be very much aware of the delegate, do they understand what’s happening, will they be confused, make sure at every stage that you don’t have to be a complete history or politics nerd to understand the situation, and your delegates will understand too!

The Study Guide

 

In a Historical committee, the Study guide is a LOT more important, because unlike a regular committee, or real life, the Study guide completely creates the world of the Historical Committee. This means a delegate should be able to go from your study guide, straight to researching their position paper, with as little jumps in conclusion as possible.
With the Historical Study Guide you need to make a few things Very clear. Firstly, the Dates, when EXACTLY is the historical committee taking place. This is vital as it influences the research, the scope and the aftermath of the debate.
Secondly, the events leading up to the situation. Now during a regular study guide, the situation at hand will be the most important thing, whilst this is also true with a historical committee, it’s also very important that you details all the significant events leading up to the situation about why you are convening. Now whilst it’s very true that History is written by the victors, you really have to transport yourself back to the time the committee is convening. There hasn’t been a victor, you don’t know the aftermath, and you need to make this very clear in the Study Guide.

Lastly, Bloc Positions. Now whilst you don’t want to hand hold delegates into their position papers, you do need to make it clear who are the other delegate in the committee as this can change a delegates debate and research before the conference. For example, in my League of Nations committee I need to know if Japan is present or not, and roughly who the government in my country is. This acts as a real springboard for delegates that is more necessary in a Historical Committee.

The Position Papers

Now position papers are always important but in a Historical Committee, they are Vital! They really allow you to fine tune the committee and make sure that delegates understand WHO they are and WHY they are in the historical committee you have chosen. It is necessary that all delegates are on the same level in their research and position, or else no proper debate can occur.
Be wary of delegates who use “future” information in their position paper, as this should be strictly discouraged , it’s about the “here and now” of your committee, not following the history of what happened.

Although you should always do this, make sure to give feedback to delegates on their position too, especially then you feel they are off position, and it helps them come into the committee ready and able!

The Software

Now with a Historical committee it is not as easy to just boot up WXMUN or ChairMUN, as most likely the country does not exist or has changed in the period you are looking at. Luckily, there are ways around this.
Firstly, ChairMUN does allow you to enter different names when choosing countries, so you can customise this easily (up to 50 delegates as always) and if you have ChairMUN Premium (which you should always ask your conference to give you the $5 it costs) you can also add a custom flag very easily!
Secondly, you can customise flags in WXMUN too, at no cost other than your sanity and computing ability. To be strictly honest, I am not sure how to do this but I am aware it is available, please either email [email protected] (the creator of WXMUN) or find your local Wxmun expert to ask.

Rules of Procedure

Because of how the MUN Scene works, keeping ROPs substantially the same as your regular circuit’s ROPs is usually best, albeit making the simpler always helps. Delegates are going to find the historical aspect of the debate hard anyway, there’s no need to make the ROPs even harder. It is however interesting to add certain period-specific ideas in place, for example, Unanimity in the League of Nations will always make things interesting. Don’t go crazy with this though, and keep in mind that any changes you do make should be clear in the Study Guide.

Managing Debate

Considerations

Chairing a Historical Committee is rather similar to a regular committee, with a few important caveats.

  • No left-Behinds!
  • Make sure all delegates know exactly when in time you start and a brief rundown at the start!
  • No Future Information!
    • Delegates should never base decisions on what you deem “future” information
    • It’s unfair to other properly researched delegates and the committee as a whole
  • Time travel is difficult!
    • Help Delegates when they are off policy, it is difficult to pretend to be a past position!

Otherwise, chair as normal, as really you are still a moderator in this committee, just a moderator who also have control over time and the past, so use this power wisely!

Common Pitfalls

  • Worrying about “breaking” history
    • Make it clear that delegates are representatives and should not think about the “real” history that happened!
    • You do NOT want a complete repeat of history, but keep in mind the “reasons” why it did happen like that
  • Delegate Apathy
    • Because of the difficulty and history, many delegates might just zone out quite quickly
    • You have to active in pushing the committee a little more than normal
    • Make it clear what “powers” or not the representatives have
    • Reward positive delegate direction over shaming negative delegate direction!
  • Solving the issue too quickly
    • Sometimes delegates will research too little, and the committee is “solved” by one or two strong delegates who push through their researched agenda
    • In response, be prepared to push back against their machinations
    • Use of Crisis elements is VERY useful in here!

How to end your Historical Committee

Therefore, you have had your three days of debate, and you’ve had your fun, but how does it end?

Well, you always need a resolution, no matter what the committee is. You don’t need to call it a “resolution” but it’s still important to have a document that lays down what decisions have been made by the committee. However, with a historical committee, you can also go one further.

A fun and worthwhile project for every end of a historical committee is think what the result of this resolution has been, how has history changed because of it? Take the final session or so to think about this, and I can assure you it makes all the difference!

The End

So there we have it! You’ve successfully run a conference, your Japanese delegate got a chance to be a warmongering imperialist, your Chinese delegate enjoyed thinking happy non-communist thoughts and your Russian delegate, well let’s just say he was recalled back to Moscow. Anyway, you hope that with your Historical committee, you delegates have understood a bit more about how history is made, and enjoyed their time doing it. You’ve had fun researching it, and never understood how history could be so difficult until now. You will definitely recommend friends to do it, and you’ll be happy there was this guide to show you!