Big ideas in little boxes : nation building in three nineteenth-century American parlor games by Milton Bradley and Company
Milton Bradley and Company manufactured its first game, The Checkered Game of Life, in 1860, only months before the American Civil War broke out. Soon after, it produced the Myriopticon A Historical Panorama of the Rebellion, and the Historiscope A Panorama and History of America. Producing "moral, instructive and entertaining home amusements" proved to be good business for the company. This dissertation investigates the behaviors, beliefs, assumptions and worldview of midnineteenth-century American society just before and after the American Civil War through the examination of three parlor amusements. Grounding my analysis in the religious, social, visual and material culture of the time, I ask the question: Why would buying and playing these games appeal to families right after the conclusion of the Civil War, at a time when the nation and families struggled to reconstruct themselves? My findings suggest playing these three parlor amusements accomplished at least three ends: reaffirmed the woman's role in the moral education of children and families, confirmed the desire for a united nation, and side stepped any engagement with change in the social and political ideology of that newly united nation. My analysis reveals that the three parlor games I studied acted as guardians of the ideals already established and enshrined in the American origin story told since the late 1700s and retold in the Historiscope.
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