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Child consumers, pedagogy and British history games, c. 1780–1850
Barbara Gribling

This essay chapter investigates the emerging market for British children’s historically- themed toys and games, largely published 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, later, in 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.

The first part surveys over 50 fifty games from c. 1780 to 1850, highlighting the range of genres that developed. It exposes the 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.

The second part offers the first in-depth analysis of one of the most ground-breaking history games of the period – the Historical Pastime. Produced as a collaboration by Wallis and Harris in 1803, it was reworked in numerous editions until c. 1850.

This essay chapter illuminates the value of toys and games as historical sources that can transform our understanding of children’s everyday encounters with history.

in Pasts at play
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Childhood encounters with history in British culture, 1750–1914

Pasts at play examines nineteenth-century children as active consumers of a variety of British pasts, from the biblical and classical to the medieval and early modern. This interdisciplinary collection bridges different disciplinary approaches to chart shifting markets for historical education between 1750 and 1914: a critical period in the development of children's culture, as children became target consumers for publishers. Boys and girls across the social classes often experienced different pasts simultaneously for the purpose of amusement and instruction.

Play provides a dynamic lens through which to explore children’s interaction with the past as a didactic vehicle. Encompassing the past as both subject and site for production and consumption of earlier pasts (historical, mythical or imagined), each contributor reconstructs children’s encounters with different media to uncover the cultural work of individual pasts and exposes the key role of playfulness in the British historical imagination.

These ten essays argue that only through exploring the variety of media and different pasts marketed to children can we fully understand the scope of children’s interactions with the past. Sources, from games to guidebooks and puzzles to pageants, represent the range of visual, performative, material and textual cultures analysed here to develop fresh methodologies and new perspectives on children’s culture and the uses of the past.

Bringing together scholars from across a range of disciplines, including Classics, English and History, this volume is for researchers and students interested in the afterlives of the past, the history of education, and child consumerism and interaction.

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Pasts at play
Rachel Bryant Davies
Barbara Gribling

The opening chapter of this collection, which explores the relationship between play and historical knowledge through print and material culture, begins by introducing a popular children’s board game: Wallis’s New Game of Universal History and Chronology (1814; 1840). In playing with different pasts and juxtaposing the present on one board, this game offers a practical example of how children routinely encountered multiple pasts and reveals how ephemeral, often overlooked archival material can reveal intersections between children’s culture and history.

This chapter introduces how multiple pasts were often experienced simultaneously in different ways and through different media, by boys and girls across the social classes and throughout the long nineteenth century, for the purpose of amusement and instruction. It demonstrates the congruencies between consumerism, knowledge and interaction, which each of the subsequent chapters address. Here, toy-theatre evidence demonstrates the fruitfulness of multidisciplinary collaboration in exposing the cultural work of the classical and medieval pasts. This theoretical and contextual survey, with original collaborative research, explores nineteenth-century cross-fertilisation between the past and play, play and education, history and consumerism, and its impact on children’s cultures.

in Pasts at play