Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

Dolls in Focus

In October 2017, I had the chance to be at The Strong National Museum of Play as a research fellow collecting data for my Dolls in Focus project aimed at revisiting and expanding the findings of my previous linguistic investigation on dolls’ language. Surprisingly, what I thought would primarily be an exploratory incursion into dolls’ universe from an academic perspective turned out to be a rather touching and personal experience that allowed me to revisit my own childhood memories.

Bébé Triste doll, Jumeau, 1889-1895For a whole week, I had a wide variety of dolls coming in my direction, from old Jumeau Bébé dolls, walking and talking baby dolls, to Barbie dolls, of course. The Strong curators carefully selected more than 70 dolls for my examination, as well as seminal books I had requested. The museum’s staff proved to be extremely efficient in providing me with all information regarding the artifacts I was analyzing, such as their production date by the toy manufacturer. They also supplied me with instructions regarding the use of museum images in my future academic publications.

Barbie Game Developer, Mattel, Inc., 2016As an academic from the area of linguistics, I’ve been conducting toy research for almost 15 years, but I had never enjoyed the chance to engage with such a large collection of artifacts. My previous work had concentrated on language and images, notably the verbal and visual features of web advertisements for dolls. For this reason, being at The Strong gave me the opportunity to carry out a thorough analysis of dolls mainly as three-dimensional objects, which ended up enlightening my view of dolls’ material configurations.

From a linguistic perspective, my research and data collection experience at The Strong confirms that examining toys such as dolls as actual three-dimensional objects opens up possibilities for a broader analysis. The analysis can deal with the toys’ meanings as supported by design features such as their iconography, composition, material qualities, and the degree of realism of their representations. Such multimodal properties can lead to a deeper interpretation of their given motifs—or visual pointers—as clues to the meanings that their symbolic, somehow “unnatural” features convey. Observation on toys’ kinetic design perceived at the tactile level can also lead to relevant findings on their attached gendered meanings. In other words, a linguistic analysis that privileges not only a two-dimensional perspective but also a three-dimensional investigation of the visual, tactile and kinetic properties of toys like dolls might help to capture the essence of the social view on men’s and women’s roles in contemporary society.

These are only some of the reasons that made my research period at The Strong such a happy and productive one. This will certainly reverberate throughout my future academic productions on the language of toys, both in national and international contexts.

Scooby Doo as Colonel Mustard in the Graveyard: Licensed Clue Games

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Happy Easy-Bake Oven Day!

Although I sometimes roll my eyes at the new commemorative “holidays” that get added to the calendar, I’m actually delighted to see that November 4, 2017 has been declared the first annual National Easy-Bake Oven Day. I can’t promise that I’ll be sending greeting cards to my friends and family to honor the occasion, but it’s good to know that one of the classic toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame is drawing renewed attention—naturally by way of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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What Makes a Game Classic? My Buddy Plays Mahjong

What makes a game classic? Part of the answer is longevity. Most people consider chess classic; we’ve played it for centuries. What about playing cards? Woodblock-printed cards appeared during China’s Tang dynasty (618–907), while written rules for card games were first seen in15th-century Europe. Another characteristic of classic games is continued popularity. Games such as Monopoly in the 1930s and Scrabble during the 1950s broke sales records at first. But they continued to sell in the years that followed and do so today.

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Playthings and Intellectual Property

I was a visiting Research Fellow at The Strong museum in July 2017. While at the museum, I researched the history of the toy industry, focusing on the ways in which the main trade journal, Playthings, represented the struggles of different companies to capitalize on the different opportunities the market offered to them. In doing so, I traced the links between intellectual property law and the making of the U.S. toy industry in the early 20th century.

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What Goes Around, Comes Around

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Preserving the First Video Game Merchandising Display Unit

Reading reports about some retail store closings, it’s hard to ignore that many of us often prefer shopping online with millions of products at our fingertips to navigating a shopping cart through the aisles of our local retailers.

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The Picnic Tradition: Playing Together and Staying Together

Labor Day weekend will be filled with the lighting of grills, the balancing of over-filled paper plates on knees, and the splashing of feet in lakes and pools. It’s prime picnic time in America! People have been picnicking for more than 500 years. The French term “pique-nique” first appeared in print in 1694, referring to an indoor, potluck-type affair. Outdoor dining most likely has its roots medieval hunting feasts as documented in paintings and tapestries from the period, and the French term was adopted and adapted by the British to refer these outdoor affairs.

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Teetotums

“Are you a child or a teetotum?” a creature asks Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871). The bewildered Alice can’t think what to say in reply. Spun from one mad adventure to another, she might well resemble the iconic “teetotum,” or spinning top, that was used in 19th-century board games.

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The Myth of the Magical Summer: The Tropes, Transformations, and Transitions of American Childhood

“Summer just opens the door and lets you out." Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart The front of a school building shimmers in the sun. A loud bell rings. The doors burst open and a flood of children spills out, cheering and tossing papers into the air. This image, used to the point of cliché, signals the start of summer and the freedom (albeit temporary) from the restrictions of school, the expectations of parents, and the anxieties of peer relations. In those precious ten weeks, an awkward misfit can shed his skin and emerge a swan, a hero, or a man.

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Rack ‘Em Up

I grew up in a small town with a population of roughly 5,000. It may not look it now, but it was once booming with activity and businesses. A basket factory and a canning factory ranked among the major employers. Then the train quit making stops in town. Without convenient access to supplies, factories slowly closed and the population dwindled. But what became of the train station and the hotel attached to it? That is a key part of my childhood.

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