Even as the privileged status of Classics in education began to be questioned in the late nineteenth century, versions of Greco-Roman antiquity created for – and by – children proliferated. The Victorian press enabled some of children’s most sustained encounters with the past. As an article on ancient jokes in the Boy’s Own Paper recognised, ‘there are now countless writers who make the edification and amusement of boys their chief employment’, and antiquity was specially targeted for unconventional reinvention in periodicals. This chapter examines how classical subject matter was exploited to exemplify the balance of entertaining, informative, and religious content to which children’s periodicals aspired. Latin classes were regularly mimicked and mocked in cartoons, stories and puzzles, while articles advertised the Classical Tripos at Girton to girls reading Atalanta, or explained ‘the advantages of a classical education’ in Boy’s Own. In response to readers’ feedback, Boy’s Own during the 1880s and 1890s continually revisited the idea of ‘Classical fun’. Grammatical riddles and submitted anecdotes sat alongside anachronistic cartoons. Such interactive journalism reveals Classics as a powerful example of the fine balance between Victorian pedagogy and entertainment, as well as the inextricable entanglement of adult’s and children’s consumerism.
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.
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.