#NLDocumentCam : Geographical Playing Cards


My project at the Newberry has been on cartographic games The world was divided up into the four different suits that the playing card format provides. Each of the cards identified a different nation to be associated with that value. It was this really interesting intersection between mapping the world and this cartographic imagination intersecting with gameplay and how the playing cards could be used to map out differences between different regions. The Newberry has this really fascinating deck of geographical playing cards from 1839. What we have here is the entirety of the world divided up into the four suits. And so we’ve got Europe as the suit of hearts. Asia divided up into the suit of diamonds. Africa is being represented as the suit of clubs. And then finally we’ve got America depicted as the suit of spades. What’s really fascinating about this deck is that the instruction book that comes with it is much more explict about these cards being used to to kind of divide up these different nations by order of importance. And so what we have is the British Isles (of course this is printed in London) gets pride of place as the 10 of hearts. And then Russia seems to be second-most important in Europe And then we have France, and so on and so forth. They were used not only for gameplay, but for pedagogical purposes. What they call an “amusing” or “entertaining” way of learning your geography by means of these playing cards. It’s a really fascinating and problematic way of thinking about how someone at this time would have learned geography. It’s by virtue of understanding the importance of one’s country in relation to the rest of the continent or the rest of the world. In that sense, your country could be seen to be more valuable or more important than another country.

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