Home arrow Murder at Harvard? arrow Step 4: Serious Toys

Step 4: Serious Toys
Friday, 19 December 2008

Our M@Harvard Team (Laura Piraino, Eric Stange, Michael Epstein, and Steven Schirra) met two weeks ago and covered some of the potential spots on the tour (MGH Etherdome with its mini-museum and stairway pic of ‘ole Medical College on pilings, Walnut and Beacon St. Parkman houses, cute antique stores, etc.) We then let this genus loci simmer within us over Upper Crust pizza on Charles St. A couple of ideas emerged about scripting a fictional character or interviewing the great-great grandson of Parkman, now a Cambridge teenager. The first seemed hokie and the second a role of the dice. We left the meeting a bit upper crestfallen.
Last week we had a mini-breakthrough: toys. For a while I’ve felt our tour content could be more fun, even funny, but I tend to loathe street-based games (Big Games, Alternate Reality Games, augmented reality, gag!) Murder at Harvard might not have been a comedy waiting to happen, but if you watch the film there is a powerful sense of delight in the interviewees, especially Schama. He is literally toying around with numerous facts and fancying conversations to give him the murder’s history in full relief.
Thanks to Steven’s work with feux captivity narratives and Ed Barrett’s prescient comments about surprise being essential to narrative constructs, we began to tease out a storyline based on the history of toys and games around gruesome historical events. The idea has 3 core parts:
*Build replicas of historic toys, games, and cartoons around the Parkman case and plant them in sites around Beacon Hill and MGH. These “toys” could include broadside ballads, zoetropes, board games, and cartoons.

*Develop mobile content: that guides audiences to these sites and narrates toys.

*Find local shops and organizations willing to house these artifacts.
Both the toys and the mobile content will go beyond our “on the nose” explanations of history and place we have used in previous tours. We hope the toys actually reveal key events and aspects that made the Parkman murder such a draw for “folk” and Brahmin alike. We also hope to reveal how play is both a folk and an academic practice in explaining scandals and disasters.
"Mansion of Happiness", America's First Board Game: http://boardgames.about.com/library/news/bln-090202-nyc-exhibit.htm
A concern is that the NEH is looking for a replicable platform from the project. Something that can be used by filmmakers going forward to engage students, travelers, and locals with the humanities. Building toys might be to “one-off” and not the type of activity they wish to support. A couple of responses come to mind. First, filmmakers often have props on hand that would be great to plant in geographies to re-experience the film first-hand. Secondly, I can see how this “serious toys” project might really engage high school kids who just aren’t that interested in local history.
Our next steps are to set up a focus group with the Beacon Hill Business Association to see if this idea has appeal to some shop owners. I have contacted the Beacon Hill Times about writing an article about the project. We should also meet with MGH and Liberty Hotel to see if they can get involved in the project.
Laura is hunting down history on toys and Steven is trying to interview particular academics about crime stories and toys. We are curious to hear your reactions to this…
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