Noah’s Ark-aeology and nineteenth-century children
in Pasts at play
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Noah’s Ark appeared throughout the nineteenth century in various guises and for diverse purposes: as engineering problem, moral exemplar and divine covenant – even the original name for Hamley’s London toy-shop. Indeed, Noah’s Arks occupied a central role in nineteenth-century childhoods: their re-creation as painted wooden houseboats, lids lifting to reveal carved pairs of miniature animals, was for many children their first encounter with animals, history and biblical lore.

Surviving museum objects and literary recollections attest to the potency of juvenile interactions with Noah’s Ark. For Household Words in 1850, it was an essential part of Christmas. For others, Noah’s Ark must be recast in progressive guise: in 1843, Albert Smith assumed they would soon receive a scientific makeover, in ‘the form of chemical-experiment boxes ... test-tubes and spirit lamps’. Stories, too, were inspired by these artefacts: Tom Hood’s humorous picaresque adventure around the world, From Nowhere to the North-Pole (1875), began with a child playing with a Noah’s Ark.

This chapter explores Noah’s ‘Ark-aeology’ in the nineteenth century, as the tale was introduced, analysed and retold, constructed, marketed and played with, sought, sanctified and invoked, as a key part of the past packaged for children.

Pasts at play

Childhood encounters with history in British culture, 1750–1914

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