Board games reflect values throughout history in library exhibit

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“Blacks & Whites,” a socially-conscious game which reflected the signs of the times and meant to effect change, is on display in Richter Library’s Games Exhibit as part of Special Collections. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer

“Blacks & Whites,” a socially-conscious game which reflected the signs of the times and meant to effect change, is on display in Richter Library’s Games Exhibit as part of Special Collections. Evelyn Choi // Staff Photographer

Sometimes it’s difficult to grasp history from just a book or a picture. Fortunately, University of Miami students can hold history in their hands at Special Collections, located on the eighth floor of Richter Library.

Within the Special Collections resides the Games Exhibit: “Winner Takes All? Three Centuries of Games in Special Collections.” Curated by Ph.D. Candidate in romance studies Ellen Davies, the exhibit spans six display cases, each with its own theme.

“It’s a form of history that totally differs from reading a book … What do games teach us? How is a game observed? What have capitalist cultures done to societies?” Davies said, explaining that the exhibit answers all of these questions.

The exhibit comes at a convenient time, with the University of Miami celebrating a board-game themed Homecoming this year: “Make Your Move.”

“We try to connect our exhibits as often as possible with what’s going on around campus in order to engage as many people as we can with the resources we have available here,” Davies said. “The fact that Homecoming is board-game themed and this exhibit displays a wide variety of vintage board games will hopefully draw students and alumni to the exhibit.”

Games on display include 19th-century British board games featuring the first maps of the United States and word games that help players push through writer’s block.

Regardless of format, each game comes with its own slice of history.

Take the game that inspired the exhibit, “What Shall I Be? The Exciting Career Game for Girls.” The game resides in a bright, vintage box with women displayed in their respective career possibilities: nurse, stewardess, actress, model and teacher.

“The game is really an invaluable marker of a historical moment in the U.S. because it shows us a glimpse of what life was like for women in the late 1960s and the limited career options that were available to [women],” Davies said. “In the game, drawing a card saying you have ‘poor posture’ or that your ‘makeup is sloppy’ means you can’t become an airline hostess or a model, but if ‘you have patience’ and are a ‘quick thinker,’ you can become a nurse or a teacher. Like a lot of the games in this exhibit, ‘What Shall I Be?’ really makes you think about the purpose of games in society and what messages they send to the children that play them.”

Cristina Favretto, head of Special Collections, passionately explains what the goal of Special Collections is. “Anybody is welcome. Go up and say, ‘I would like to see something amazing.’”

The curators and researchers are always willing to talk to students to gauge their interests and take out one of their many artifacts. Special Collections has tens of thousands of rare books, photographs, architectural drawings and manuscripts, worth collectively tens of millions of dollars.

Special Collections has posters from Pan American World Airways, examples of handwriting across 400 years and even a copy of “Les Roses,” an art book created from the garden of Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s first wife.

At the same time, some of the simplest yet most revealing artifacts are schoolbooks with annotations in the margins. They all have insights into the culture of the time and invariably have little scribbled caricatures of a strict professor.

“Save everything,” Favretto said. “We always know 100 years from now, people will want to see this stuff.”

For now, Special Collections is located on the eighth floor of Richter Library, but they hope to move it to the first floor across from Starbucks by fall 2017. It is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Students will have the chance to play with some of the historic board games on Nov. 19, International Board Game Day. Don’t miss the chance to literally hold history in your hands.

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