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First LUF Snouck Hurgronje Grant awarded to Past-at-Play Lab

At the end of 2018, the LUF announced a new annual grant: the Snouck Hurgronje Grant. This annual grant is awarded to innovative interfaculty research and teaching projects. Three project teams secured a place on the shortlist with their research proposals. They were invited to present their plan to the members of the LUF’s Committee for Academic Expenditure.

All of the proposals revealed academic excellence and ambition, but the one that appealed most to the imagination bore the name of the Past-at-Play Lab. This research proposal, which receives the sum of €150,000, is a collaboration between the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Archaeology. The project will be carried out by Professor Sybille Lammes, Dr Angus Mol and Aris Politopoulos MA. They came up with the question: how did people play in the past and how do we play with the past today?

The Royal Game of Ur

Laboratory and playground in one

In his groundbreaking Homo Ludens from 1938, Johan Huizinga argued that, ‘human civilisation arises and unfolds in play, as play.’ In the Past-at-Play Lab, the researchers build on this insight by the famous Leiden historian. They will study how human civilisations from the past expressed themselves in play, but also how we in the present approach the past as a game

By exploring play and through exploratory play, we hope that our project will deliver insights into the relationship between play, culture and history.’ Professor Sybille Lammes

This two-part question comes together in a simple but effective idea: to understand play, at present or in the past, you yourself have to play. This will happen in the Past-at-Play Lab, a research lab and public ‘playground.’ Leiden students and residents will be able to play not only games from the past (with replicas of boardgames and rules from the past), but also video and boardgames from the present that are about the past. At the same time, the researchers will analyse how this play progresses and whether people’s ideas about the past change. They will collect data in interviews and group discussions as well as by observing people at play. They will do this with their own eyes but also with computer and video footage that will enable them to follow each individual step of a game, and analyse and visualise this afterwards with the aid of digital tools. 

Photographer: Maarten van Haaf

The Past-at-Play Lab is a new step in the study of the past and play, but it will also give the public and students the opportunity to find out, in an inclusive and modern way, about the research into this area at the University. The researchers will also seek to answer the question of how we can use play to get different groups interested and involved in history research and teaching

Collaboration between faculties

Leiden University Fund (LUF) would like to congratulate the project team with the first Snouck Hurgronje Grant. A creative research proposal and collaboration between faculties is what the Committee for Academic Expenditure had in mind with the new grant. Issues rarely fall within the scope of a single discipline or specialism. This makes it hugely important for researchers to look beyond the limits of their own field when seeing new insights.

Header photo: Playground at a Swedish theme park that was inspired by the Victorian Crystal Palace (© Monstrum Playgrounds). 

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