Board games
The exhibition is now on display in the Weston Library

200 years of board games go on display

Matt Pickles

Board games from the last 200 years have gone on display at Weston Library.

The Bodleian Libraries has recently acquired a major collection of board games and pastimes dating from 1800 to the year 2000 and is showcasing a selection of them in a new display exploring how games have been used to teach history.

Playing with History features 22 games that show how children in Victorian and Edwardian Britain learned about the world around them.

The games selected for the display represent a tiny slice of the rich and varied collection of almost 1500 board games and pastimes that collector Richard Ballam recently donated to the Bodleian.

Playing with History focuses specifically on how games were used to teach children about three topics: kings and queens, the British world view and war and conflict in the early 20th-century.

Visitors can see a fascinating range of games and teaching aids dating from 1800 to 1925 including card games, wooden blocks, dissected puzzles (a precursor to the jigsaw), glass-topped puzzles, strategy games and board games played with a spinning top called a teetotum.

'Games are fascinating because they hold a mirror to society,' said the display's curator Julie Anne Lambert, Librarian of the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Libraries. 'Games which aim to teach history are particularly interesting as it is impossible to take an unbiased view of the past or the present, so the images, text and format of the games reveal much about the attitudes and perspectives that were prevalent at the time.'

Entry to the exhibition is free and it runs until 6 March 2016. A special touch screen in front of the display allows visitors to try their hand at playing a digital version of one of the games and to learn more about all the games on display.

Richard Ballam will also be giving a lunchtime talk about his games and pastimes collection on 20 January in the Weston Library.