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  • Playing on the Map:An Educational Game from the Age of Revolutions
  • Emily Bruce (bio) and Elise Klarenbeek (bio)

The use of games as an instructional tool might seem characteristic of pedagogy today. Yet the years around 1800 actually offer important clues to understanding the emergence of play as part of an idealized education in the modern world. As a proto-example of today's "edutainment," our object lesson is at once remarkable and ordinary. The German geography board game The Journey from Prague to Vienna (Die Reise von Prag nach Wien) was produced sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Its spatial orientation, colorful narration, and, it turns out, gameplay itself reveal much about how middle-class German-speaking children were situated socially and politically in the world.

Children playing The Journey from Prague to Vienna likely drew on their experience of other games.1 Board games have existed in some fashion for thousands of years around the world, but during the late eighteenth century in Europe they began to be marketed for children's use in particular.2 At the same time, geography emerged as the quintessential topic for board games. In 1752, John Jefferys released A Journey through Europe, or the Play of Geography, which, like The Journey from Prague to Vienna, took players on a tour of distinctive features such as might be noted in the long-standing genre of travel narratives.3 But the form of a game may have more directly elicited players' desires, as Koca Mehmet Kentel argues: "Through playing those games, travelling to distant parts of the world, learning to look at 'things' of the world as legitimate objects to acquire . . . children were made to orient themselves within an imperial horizon, to take it as a mundane experience."4 This fantasy of consumption fed the ideology of domesticity as much as it did imperial knowledge production.

Since board game scholarship has often focused on England, our early German-language example is especially intriguing.5 The very different political contexts of Britain and the shifting borders of Central Europe before German [End Page 9] unification at this time are also salient. But the most important difference between The Journey from Prague to Vienna and the English games by Jefferys, John Wallis, and others is that the latter group provided key geographic facts as an integral part of the game.6 By contrast, German children playing The Journey from Prague to Vienna were expected to supply their own geography answers based on their education.

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Figure 1.

The German geography board game The Journey from Prague to Vienna (Die Reise von Prag nach Wien).

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It is not a coincidence that this game dealt with geography.7 The standard European approach to geographical education in the eighteenth century was purely descriptive and students learned through rigid, memorization-driven instruction. However, the early nineteenth century saw developments in pedagogic philosophy and shifts in geographic epistemology that, by the middle of the century, began to produce a modern form of geographical education. Factors that contributed to changes in geographical thought include the map-scrambling Napoleonic wars, the beginnings of colonial knowledge production, and intensifying travel activities in a world of improved roads, ships, and postal networks. These led to new, distinctive features of children's geographical education: growing concern for child readers' amusement, an association of learning about the world with the family and the home, the orientation of children as explorers and armchair travelers, an increased emphasis on map reading and the use of atlases in schools, and the influence of nationalism and colonial ambitions. The new geographical pedagogy developing in the years around 1800 was marked by a move toward method and away from topical classification, the specialization of learning based on students' age and, most importantly, an emphasis on individual experience and observation.8 The format of a board game thus afforded Enlightenment pedagogues an ideal, amusing instrument for encouraging children to problem-solve, read maps, and engage with the world.

The first copy of The Journey from Prague to Vienna that we encountered (the only extant, according to WorldCat) is held in...


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