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Playing with the Past: child consumers, pedagogy and British history games, c. 1780-1850

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Barbara Gribling


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This essay investigates the emerging market for children’s historically-themed toys and games in London from the late Georgian era. New ideas about play as a pedagogical tool meant that toys and games performed an increasingly significant role in elite and middle-class children’s education. A knowledge of British history was seen as essential for children – thought to build character, create informed citizens, and inspire patriotism – and toys and games became the vehicles for this interactive historical learning. Part one surveys over 50 games from c. 1780 to 1850, highlighting the range of genres that developed (including card games and race games). It exposes the innovative role of publishers in fostering a competitive market for these games, drawing out trends from elite adult society and re-imagining it for juvenile audiences. This new market fed a burgeoning interest in learning history through royalty, biography, and key events. Part two offers the first in-depth analysis of one of the most popular and ground-breaking history games of the period – Historical Pastime. First produced as a collaboration by publishers Wallis and Harris in 1803, it was reworked in numerous editions until c. 1850 and inspired new history-themed games. Historical Pastime responded to contemporary ideas about play and interactivity in learning, and met a demand for respectable educational toys. It was pioneering in its intermingling of biography, royalty and key events and its use of a variety of modes of learning from the aide memoire to the interactive question and answer format. This essay illuminates the value of toys and games as historical sources that can transform our understanding of children’s everyday encounters with history. As such, these games deserve a prominent place in the history of education and the social and cultural history of childhood.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Gribling B

Editor(s): Gribling, B; Bryant Davies, R

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Pasts at Play: Childhood Encounters with History in British Culture, 1750-1914

Year: 2020

Pages: 193-220

Print publication date: 22/09/2020

Acceptance date: 06/12/2019

Series Title: Interventions: Rethinking the Nineteenth Century

Publisher: Manchester University Press

Place Published: Manchester

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781526128898


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