A 1940s Board Game for French Kids Taught Tactics for Successful Colonialism

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 28 2014 1:45 PM

A 1940s Board Game for French Kids Taught Tactics for Successful Colonialism

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Published in 1941, this “Trading Game: France—Colonies” aimed to teach French children the basics of colonial management.  

Players drew cards corresponding to colony names, then had to deploy cards representing assets like boats, engineers, colonists, schools, and equipment, in order to win cards representing the exports of the various colonies.  “Images on the game,” Getty Research Institute curator Isotta Poggi writes in her blog post on the document, “provide a vivid picture of the vast variety of resources, including animals, plants, and minerals, that the colonies provided to France.” Cartoons on the cards depict coal (mined by a figure clearly intended to be a “native”), rubber, wood, and even wild animals.

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Along the way, players needed to avoid pitfalls like sickness, “laziness,” and intemperance (illustrated by a cartoon of a red-cheeked white man in khakis and a white hat, served by a “native” in “traditional” dress). Once the cards representing a colony’s major exports had been won, the colony was considered “exploitée,” and was out of the game.  

As the map at the center of the board shows, at the time France’s empire held colonies in Africa, South America, and Asia. The postwar movements for decolonization and independence changed this picture completely. By 1962, when the eight-year-long Algerian War finally led to Algerian independence, many of the colonies marked in red on this map were no longer under French control. 

The game is currently on view at the Getty Research Institute, as part of the exhibition “Connecting Seas: A Visual History of Discoveries and Encounters.” Click on the images below to reach zoomable versions.

FinalColonizationGame
"Trading Game: France—Colonies" (arrayed horizontally, with tokens at right), 1941, O.P.I.M. (Office de publicite et d’impression), Breveté S.G.D.G. Lithograph on linen, 22 7/8 x 32 1/4 in. The Getty Research Institute, 970031.6.

Getty Research Institute.

FinalTokens1
"Trading Game: France—Colonies" (view of tokens only), 1941, O.P.I.M. (Office de publicite et d’impression), Breveté S.G.D.G. Lithograph on linen, 22 7/8 x 32 1/4 in. The Getty Research Institute, 970031.6.

Getty Research Institute.

Correction, March 1, 2014: An original version of this post misspelled Isotta Poggi's name. The post also reported that every French colony was independent by 1962. Djibouti became independent in 1977, and other former colonies, including French Guyana, Guadeloupe, and Martinique, remain overseas departments of France. 

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