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.
Play Stuff Blog
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.
For 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.
As 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.
I remember my first yo-yo: a blue Duncan Imperial. I was 7 years old and had saved up enough of my allowance to buy it. The drive to the store felt like an eternity. When I finally opened the package, the bright, shiny yo-yo smelled of plastic and felt as smooth as ice—it was perfect. Back at home, I spent hours in the driveway playing with my new toy.
One of the great pleasures of working at The Strong is that every exhibit features a time portal back to childhood, most of which hold innumerable portals. No sooner does a visitor exclaim, “Oh! I had one of those when I was a kid!,” at the sight of Teddy Ruxpin before she is confronted by the Ms.
Today, fantasy role-playing video games—in which players assume the role of heroes wielding swords, casting spells, riding dragons, and battling monsters—are among the most popular and influential of games.
Think about some of the “must-have” toys you’ve seen (or even procured) over the last few years. How about the playful robotic dog Zoomer? Or the small, colorful, hooked building balls called Bunchems?
Mothers get their day in May. Fathers are feted in June. And what about sisters and brothers? Their turn comes on April 10—Siblings Day. Siblings Day hasn’t earned recognition as a federal holiday (yet), but since 1998, governors have proclaimed Siblings Day in 49 states. From experience and observation, I know that sibling relationships can take any number of different configurations. And that made me think about the famous siblings that come readily to mind from the world of toys, dolls, and games.
I first became interested in the increase of plastic in children’s toys through my own daughter’s toys, especially since my undergrad degree was in Environment and Health, with a fourth year focus on Bisphenol A (also known as BPA) in baby bottles. Throughout my Masters studies, I focused on the central question of why we keep what we do, how we make those decisions, and the ways in which we’ve come to value or devalue certain things.
We have all heard the saying that a dog is man’s (and woman’s too) best friend. We love dogs so much that they even have their own special day—National Puppy Day! Canine companionship has been around for eons and extends from pets to working dogs. Whether they are snuggle buddies, sled pullers, or law enforcement assistants, dogs play a significant role in our society and in our hearts. So it should be no surprise that their popularity also carries over into children’s literature and playthings.
I receive a lot of strange looks whenever I tell people that I look forward to the end of summer. Perhaps your face has morphed into such an expression after reading that. But there is logic behind my claim.