Cover image for The Play World: Toys, Texts, and the Transatlantic German Childhood By Patricia Anne Simpson

The Play World

Toys, Texts, and the Transatlantic German Childhood

Patricia Anne Simpson

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$94.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08699-6

312 pages
6" × 9"
41 b&w illustrations
2020

Max Kade Research Institute: Germans Beyond Europe

The Play World

Toys, Texts, and the Transatlantic German Childhood

Patricia Anne Simpson

“Simpson’s book is a welcome addition to discussions of the importance of the domestic sphere, and its artifacts and practices, for questions of cultural nationalism and transnational interplays. It shows the impact of toys and play on narratives of migration, the articulation of middle-class subjectivity, and the role of model childhoods in the self-identity of modern European family structures—and how they influenced European American family structures in their acquisition of racial, ethnic, and national regimes.”

 

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  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
The Play World chronicles the history and evolution of the concept of play as a universal part of childhood. Examining texts and toys coming out of Europe between 1631 and 1914, Patricia Anne Simpson argues that German material, literary, and pedagogical cultures were central to the construction of the modern ideas and realities of play and childhood in the transatlantic world.

With attention to the details of toy manufacturing and marketing, Simpson considers prescriptive texts about how children should play, treat their possessions, and experience adventure in the scientific exploration of distant geographies. She illuminates the role of toys—among them a mechanical guillotine, yo-yos, hybridized dolls, and circus figures—as agents of history. Using an interdisciplinary approach that draws from postcolonial, childhood, and migration studies, she makes the case that these texts and toys transfer the world of play into a space in which model childhoods are imagined and enacted as German. With chapters on the Protestant play ethic, enlightened parenting, Goethe as an advocate of play, colonial fantasies, children’s almanacs, ethnographic play, and an empire of toys, Simpson’s argument follows a compelling path toward understanding the reproduction of religious, gendered, ethnic, racial, national, and imperial identities, emanating from German-speaking Europe, that collectively construct a global imaginary.

This foundational and deeply original study connects German-speaking communities across the Atlantic as they collectively engender the epistemology of the play world. It will be of particular interest to German studies scholars whose research crosses the Atlantic.

“Simpson’s book is a welcome addition to discussions of the importance of the domestic sphere, and its artifacts and practices, for questions of cultural nationalism and transnational interplays. It shows the impact of toys and play on narratives of migration, the articulation of middle-class subjectivity, and the role of model childhoods in the self-identity of modern European family structures—and how they influenced European American family structures in their acquisition of racial, ethnic, and national regimes.”
“Within the burgeoning scholarship on play and the material culture of childhood, Simpson’s The Play World stands out through its attention to a breathtaking range of texts and artifacts that lie at the margins of the canon; its brilliantly eclectic methodology (combining literary, material, and intellectual history with postcolonial studies, critical race theory, gender studies, disability studies, and much more); and its ability to illuminate complex cultural and commercial currents that connect German-speaking Europe with Africa, Great Britain, and the Americas from the seventeenth century to WWI. It’s a remarkable book that will resonate within and beyond the field of childhood studies.”

Patricia Anne Simpson is Professor of German Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and coeditor of the Goethe Yearbook. She is the author of several books, including most recently Reimagining the European Family: Cultures of Immigration.

List of Illustrations

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Play World: Toys, Texts, and the Transatlantic German Childhood

1. The Protestant Play Ethic

2. Professional Parenting: Enlightened Play

3. Revolutions in Play

4. Colonizing Childhoods: The African Imaginary

5. Ethnographic Play and the American Imaginary

6. The Home and the Nation

7. Empire of Toys

Conclusion: “A Very Brilliant House”

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Download a PDF sample chapter here: Introduction