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Games for Research: Home

The John Johnson Collection contains many games and has recently been considerably enriched by the donation by Richard Ballam of his collection of games and pastimes. This guide explores the relevance of games to academic research.

Purpose of this guide

This guide is intended for students/researchers studying history, geography, education and (especially) the history of childhood, at the University of Oxford and elsewhere, although students/researchers from any field may find it useful.

Use this guide to find out about what educational, strategy and card games in the Ballam Collection of Games and Pastimes and the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera tell us about social history and the history of learning.

Display of Ballam Games

Game of Historical Tetotums, Barfoot, c. 1850.  Ballam Collection, Bodleian Library

Historical Tetotums, [Barfoot, c. 1850]  Ballam Collection: 1850s (8)

Playing with History, a small selection of Richard Ballam's games, ran from 8 January to 6 March 2016. It showcased (mainly) didactic games with the following themes: Kings and Queens, The World View and Conflict.

To see an interview with Richard Ballam and Chris Fletcher with a video of (other) games click here.

Richard's talk, 200 years of fun & games is available as a Podcast:

Games and Pastimes: Bodleian exhibition 2006

The Bodleian exhibition Games and Pastimes (2006) showcased the John Johnson and Opie Collections and explored several themes:

Comic Metamorphoses; Paper Dolls and Protean Figures; Scientific Pursuits and Mathematical Puzzles; Elegant and Instructive Games; Toy Theatre; Jigsaws and Dissected Puzzles; Alphabets; Early Construction Toys; Parlour Games; Writing and Drawing Aids; and Outdoor Games. The exhibition guide and list of exhibits are online.

Poster for Children's Games & Pastimes exhibition, Bodleian Library, 2006

Games: too trivial for research?

As with other ephemera, games hold a mirror to society - through the concept of play.  Games are particularly appropriate to the Bodleian Library collections as they enhance both the Opie Collection of Children's Literature and the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. Chance survivals, these rare examples of material culture illuminate child and adult play in earlier times, as well as giving insights into social history in both images and words.

The history of games has become a subject of research in its own right, with many specialist publications and an annual International Board Games Conference. The Games Research Database (GARD) contains a wealth of games from both public and private collections (including Richard Ballam's games and pastimes).

The Collections

We are fortunate to have two complementary collections of games.

John Johnson included games in his collection of printed ephemera, both in the form of artefacts and single sheets. Many are online through Digital Bodleian (under Educational Ephemera). More detailed catalogue records, with small images, can be found on the Johnson online catalogue.

From 2012 to 2019, Richard Ballam has donated his major collection of games and pastimes dating from 1771 to 2000.

The games in the Ballam Collection of Games and Pastimes fall into various categories:

Alphabet games; Board games; Bricks and Blocks; Card games; Dissected puzzles (jigsaws); Party games, Strategy games, Teaching Aids and Toys.  The Collection is particularly strong in the output of Ogilvy and Barfoot and, for the later period, Gibson, Johnson Bros., Roberts, Spear and Waddington.

The games are listed online Alphabetically and Chronologically. An alphabetical list of all Ballam games in the John Johnson Collection with images can also be seen on the Games Research Database GARD.

Detailed records for nearly all the Ballam games are now available through our online catalogue. Shelfmarks begin Ballam. The display form of the record includes links to the images (where available) on (GARD). To see the full (tagged) records, click on 'Change display'.

For information on access to this material, please contact the Librarian of the John Johnson Collection:


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Jo Maddocks
Department of Special Collections,
Weston Library,
Broad Street,
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