In American society, the concepts of "leisure" and "play" usually have been defined in opposition to the idea of "work." Yet as Dutch historian Johan Huizinga argued in his pathbreaking study Homo Ludens, the relationship between work and play is more complicated than this simple dichotomy suggests. Understood as a state of mind rather than as an activity, play can make the most challenging task relaxing, even joyful. At the same time, the pursuit of leisure can be serious business indeed.
Hard at Play is a collection of original essays that examine the role of leisure in American culture from the antebellum period to World War II. Encompassing a variety of disciplinary approaches, the pieces cover a wide range of topics, from roller skating and riflery to photography and "free play." Some of the essays explore how the upper and middle classes established boundaries around "appropriate" forms of recreation in order to distance themselves from the working class. Others demonstrate how gender and ethnicity circumscribed leisure pursuits. Still other essays document the transition of both individuals and families from a posed and formal social life to a more relaxed, candid, and intimate domestic world.
The book includes more than 100 illustrations, as well as a glossary of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century games and pastimes.