Steampunk Hands Around the World Stops at SteamU: Pick Up Sticks and Cultural Connections by Ray Dean
Friday, February 7, 2014
Today we welcome author Ray Dean to SteamU; The Steampunk University Lecture series. SteamU Professor Ray Dean will be drawing some fascinating cultural connections concerning pick up sticks. Please be sure to take notes as we get set to learn more about the connection between this childhood game and steampunk.
Today’s Lecture by
SteamU Professor: Ray Dean
"Fire in the Sky" from Shanghai Steam, "A Will of
Iron" from Steamfunk!, and soon "Folie a Deux" in All
Today’s Lecture: Pick Up Sticks and Cultural Connections
(The game includes 25 pieces and is housed in a wooden box. Among the pieces are 13 plain one, two spears, a mallet, an arrow, a saw, a hatchet, a hoe, a spade, three anvils and a peg with a bent nail at the bottom. This game was made by 13-year-old Charles Hanson for his sister Etta in 1872 (used with permission from Maine Historical Society)
I may be ‘showing my
age’ when I say that I played Pick Up Sticks as a child. In my childhood the
Speak and Spell was high tech! So if you don’t remember the highly frustrating
dexterity game, let me fill you in…
Take at least a score
of sticks and hold them in your hand. Drop the sticks onto a flat surface. You
must then removed one stick at a time from the pile without disturbing the
other sticks. Jostle one that wasn’t your target… and you lose your turn.
There are subtle
differences in the game depending on the era you played it in, or the country
that your particular version came from. The image above is one of the versions
of Pick Up Sticks called Jack Straws. The added challenge of this particular
version is that along with the plain, smooth sticks are jumbled up with wooden
pieces carved into replicas of period items. Making it that much harder to
extract something from the pile.
*Holds up hands to
placate the gathering mob*
Just give me a moment
and I’ll explain what this all has to do with Steampunk.
Much of the Victorian
Era is wrapped up in Colonialism - the practice of controlling or having
governmental influence over a another county or people.
The East India Company
was a large factor in the international relationships with the Indian
Subcontinent and China. Trade in tea, cotton, silk, indigo dye, and saltpetre
were their main avenues of business, expanding into the import and export of
Their private armies
assured them control of so many aspects of trade and yet, there seems to be the
overall idea that England, saw itself in the role of benefactor/benefactress to
many of its Colonies and ruled what it could as if they were a part of the
whole, yet separate. England grew rich in trade and influence and yet seemed to
believe they were better than these colonial subjects that they ruled.
They were a civilizing
factor. A benevolent ruler carrying for the less fortunate countries
of the world. *ahem*
But, part of the
conceit of that mindset is that they believe themselves ‘untouched’ by the
exchange. They give the benefit of their rule, economy, and military and they
also control the exposure of their own populace to these colonized communities
Still, when a person is
exposed to a culture, they are changed by it. Even if they reject that culture
with every fibre of their being, they are still affected by it.
British forces in India
brought sometimes brought their families along. The children from these unions
were sometimes raised by an Ayah (nanny) chosen from the women in their towns.
Language and mannerisms were bound to ‘rub off’ on their young charges and
change the course of their lives. Children of the ‘Raj’ were forever different
than their counterparts that lived in England.
Fabrics changed the
colors and cut of garments.
Art assimilated motifs
and styles into other cultures.
Spices changed the
taste and style of food.
Even vices were
affected by this widening net of influence.
Trade with China
brought other luxurious items into English homes and brought Opium into China.
Initial trade exchanged silver for Chinese goods, but with the flood of Opium
into China and the inability of ports to keep out the intoxicating cargo and
England’s lack of support for laws in another country. Yet, the opium dens
where many languished in the smoky haze of the poppy flower’s drug, caucasians
joined asians in the depravity and addiction.
another ‘catch’ in societal relations. Merely another urge to satisfy, the
unintended result were children or mixed-race.
changes. Words, phrases, inflections can change by exposure to other countries.
And of course, the tide
of change didn’t just go in one direction. People from the colonies emigrate.
In America, Chinese
emigrants tended to congregate in their own communities, but even though most
‘Americans’ considered the Chinese to be cheap labor and lesser people than the
other citizens in their communities. Still, that didn’t stop people from
crossing over into ‘Hop Town’ for the intriguing people, food, and temptations
Now in Steampunk,
whether you are a writer, reader, artist, collector, cosplayer or what have
you… what cultural pieces do you ‘pick up’ from the pile? What things ‘catch’
onto you as meet new people or learn new things? How much of a blend are you,
or can you keep inside your original boundary lines?