Board games and paper dolls: playing with age and masculinity in the late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century English domestic interior




Zajac, Linda P.

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In the late eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century English domestic interior, games mediated and influenced the experience of age and masculinity. Games embodied, reflected, and shaped culture. Games united education, entertainment, and players’ imaginations inside the formative social environment of the home. The domestic interior was the catalyst that facilitated the agency of games. I explore the representation of age and masculinity in miniature images of boys, youth, and men in games and the agency of games as they interacted with players. I use three intersecting lenses: how people experience miniature objects; social interactions in domestic spaces; and the ability of an ordinary belonging to influence perceptions, ideas, and behaviour. In two case studies, I argue that games were serious cognitive technologies with agency that mediated and shaped players’ understanding of age and masculinity. In case one, I investigate the visuality, materiality, and experience of playing the didactic board game The New Game of Human Life (1790). The game consists of a battle between vice and virtue that males meet throughout the life stages. In case two, I analyze a series of five sets of paper dolls and their books published by Samuel and Joseph Fuller between 1810 and 1816. The male paper doll-book is an intermedial product that encourages players to imagine and act out adventures. In both cases, I argue games were active cognitive technologies that communicated with players. Games were visual and material culture that fashioned masculine identity. Games played in the domestic interior were communicative media designed to shape players’ ideas about masculine identity and their behaviour.



Board games, Paper dolls, Age, Masculinity, Domestic interior, England, Eighteenth century, Nineteenth century