Play Stuff Blog

From Italy to Rochester, Looking for the Meaning of Play

In November 2015, I came from my home in Turin, Italy, to spend a month at The Strong museum working on my research project, “The Meaning of Toys: Creating and Conveying Knowledge through Playful Artifacts.” I was honored to be granted a  Strong Research Fellowship that financed the first half of my stay.

Donald Duck hand puppet, GUND, about 1990. Gift of Alan H. and Connie Gray, The Strong, Rochester, New York.My time at The Strong was indeed useful for my research and allowed:

  • Extensive bibliographic work at the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, where I was able to study numerous valuable works, both from the eponymous scholar and from other American and international researchers on play. Many of these books and essays are not available or hardly available in Europe, therefore the opportunity to consult them was particularly precious.
  • Research on The Strong’s vast collection of toy catalogs ranging from different eras, starting from 1869 and continuing to the present. The catalogs display many different kinds of toys and many different ways to imagine, interpret, and represent childhood. My work on these catalogs—unavailable elsewhere—was extremely important for my research on toys, as it allowed me to study a number of items that it would have been impossible to approach directly. In addition, catalogs also possess narratives and rhetorics in which the displayed toys are coherently inserted, providing valuable insights on the ways toys are perceived and considered in different eras.
  • Access to the museum’s unique Collection Storage—a real Paese dei Balocchi (Pinocchio's Toy Land)—where I was able to see and take pictures of interesting items. In particular, I focused on the Donald Duck collection (in order to study the different interpretations of the same character), the Fisher-Price collection (which contains some very old and extremely interesting pieces), and the incredibly rich Barbie collection.
  • Access to the museum’s exhibits that, although full of activities designed for younger visitors, are still rich with fascinating collections for scholars like me. The Toy Halls of Fame exhibit was probably the most important for my research, but I can't deny I also greatly enjoyed the role-playing games in Game Time!, the many (functioning!) arcade games, and the Sesame Street exhibit (a television program that was totally unknown to me before my stay at The Strong—since a dubbed version called Sesamo Apriti only aired in Italy from 1971 to 1978).
  • Opportunities to meet American and international scholars, both visiting the museum and working at the University of Rochester. Notably, I established friendly academic relations with Professor Aki Nakamura of Ritsumeikan University, who was visiting at The Strong from Kyoto, Japan, and Professor Brett Sherman, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester.

Pinocchio figure, Florence, Italy, about 1960. Gift of the Balch Museum Collection from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The Strong, Rochester, New York.Finally, I must say that I continue to be grateful for having been granted the Strong Research Fellowship. The experience offered many unique, exciting experiences, both academic and human, and allowed me to visit the United States for the first time.