Feb. 7, 2007


There is a moment in the movie Hook when a square, serious, grown-up Peter Pan finds himself on a basketball court between two Lost Boys. “Play!” smirks one of the boys as he bounces a ball off Peter’s face. As Peter turns around to recover from this assault, he comes face-to-face with the second boy. “Play!” he exclaims as he heaves a ball into Peter’s gut!

Hey public historians!

In my experience, a warm-up game is a tried-and-true way to get a group of people – be they five-year olds, thirty-five year olds, or a mixed group somewhere in between – focused on a particular topic. Play is used across professions too; I’ve seen or heard about games being used to help groups both large and small get focused at conferences, weekly check-ins, workshops, and executive retreats.

Historians, particularly those interacting with publics on a regular basis, might want to remind themselves that they should be striving to relate History to their audience in a compelling way. Developing and playing History games on a regular basis would not only act as a reminder to make History compelling but might also make innovative programming come more easily (practice makes perfect). Meetings are a great place to try out new game ideas. People do their best work when they are motivated and focused, and intentionally-crafted games can help participants recall concepts from previous meetings, get individuals thinking about the day’s topic, and add a little good old-fashioned fun to complement the enjoyment derived from more serious academic discussion.

Some games will be a bust, but those that have promise might be adapted for a larger audience. When we were planning the Invention to Innovation exhibit and website in our Public History classes, we discussed the importance of catching our audience’s attention. We decided to use questions to get visitors thinking; however, activities that touch on the exhibit’s subject might be another way to raise an audience’s excitement about an exhibit.

You know the way you feel after playing a good game of road hockey on a chilly January afternoon? Imagine feeling that way after leaving a museum! Play!