Session 7: Draughts Studies – University of Copenhagen

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Session 7: Draughts Studies

Checkers Play in Multiple Societies: An Exploration of the Past and Future

Fri 19 May, 13:30 - 14:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr Alex de Voogt
Curator of African Ethnology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, US

Jeu de dames, the game that is known in English as checkers or draughts, not only alludes to women or queens; it forms a motif in Renaissance art, in which women are portrayed as playing the game with each other, with husbands, lovers, and suitors. The imagery of jeu de dames, specifically from 1400 to 1750, as it pertains to women, reveals two rarely mentioned or observed aspects of the game. First, the images visualize its association with various social groups, ranging from the nobility to commoners. Second, at least in the way the players are portrayed, the game was considered equally appropriate for women and men. This universal aspect of the game is also found outside of Europe where this game, as opposed to chess, is associated with all layers of society. Its distribution may eclipse that of chess and mancala as it is found to be popular in most parts of Africa, Central Asia and South America while it is also making its way through South-East Asia into the Pacific, providing researchers the opportunity to study cross-cultural contact by way of board games.

Alex de Voogt is a curator of African Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History. He has published widely on the history and distribution of mancala games and has a growing interest in graffiti games in the Middle East as well as checkers as it is played outside the Western world. He is one of the co-founders of the Journal of Board Game Studies and organized BGS conferences in 1995 and 1997. Alex de Voogt's latest book Ancient Egyptians at Play was co-authored with Walter Crist and Anne-Elizabeth Dunn-Vaturi, and published in 2016.

The Role of Frisian Draughts in the International Development of Draughts

Fri 19 May, 14:00 - 14:30 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr Liuwe Westra
Senior Research Fellow, Tilburg University, Netherlands

The origin of draughts on a 100-square board is still shrouded in mystery. According to the late-eighteenth-century author Manoury, it developed around 1720. However, some earlier images (and alleged written sources) of 100-square boards seem to contradict this. Moreover, the story as Manoury tells it is rather fantastic.

However, it seems possible to make sense of all the sources when one takes the variant of draughts that is nowadays known as Frisian draughts into account. Using a number of new (also Scandinavian) sources, it can be shown that Frisian draughts, international draughts and 64-square draughts co-existed in North-Western Europe from the eighteenth century onwards, with international draughts moving only slowly to the north.

This throws an interesting light on the question of why people played draughts anyway. Draughts developed from a "friendly fight" for the upper classes to a source of income for common people, a leisurely pastime, a children's game, and a dwindling mind sport, respectively. Right now, draughts seems to be rediscovered as a highly abstract (online) game, helping people to develop concentration and abstraction skills. All this is uniquely connected with the interaction between Frisian and international draughts in the past three centuries.

My name is Liuwe Westra. I was born in 1966. I studied classics and theology in Groningen and have been working as a minister from 1997 until 2016, and as a senior research fellow at the Tilburg School of Catholic Theology from 2011 until 2016. I defended my PhD thesis in 2002 (cum laude) and am presently finishing a monograph on the origin of creeds in the early church. Right now, I am between jobs, trying to raise funds for a second term as a senior research fellow at Tilburg University.

Apart from my professional research, since 2010 I have taken a keen interest in the history of draughts in general and Frisian draughts in particular. This research has been carried out together with Mr Marten Walinga (1967), one of the best players of Frisan draughts. Until now, our findings have mainly been published in the annual programme booklets of the Grandmaster Tournament/Fryslân Open Tournament in the town of Franeker/Frjentsjer. The most recent of these may be consulted online on the website

Dablot Prejjesne and Tavelspel: A Sámi and North Swedish Game

Fri 19 May, 14:30 - 15:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Peter Michaelsen
Theologian & Minister of the Church, Hvidebæk Parish, Denmark

The Sámit, nomadic reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia and the Kola peninsula, used to play several types of board games, including war games with jump capture.

A game of this type, played in Frostviken, North Sweden, was described in great detail by a Swedish ethnologist, Nils Keyland (1867-1924), in 1921. Since then very little has been published. According to a recent survey, the Sámi tradition of playing board games died out decades ago.

In 1998 an attempt was made in Vilhelmina, North Sweden, to reconstruct and revive a war game with jump capture named tavelspel, described in 1935 by Olof Petter Pettersson (1859-1944), a folklorist, born in Vilhelmina. In this manuscript, published in 1999, the author described daily life c. 1850 in a small place named Dåres near Vilhelmina, inhabited by Swedish settlers settling in an area which is still populated by a Sámi minority.

O. P. Pettersson did not mention any connection between this game and the traditional board games played by the Sámi population. His incomplete description, however, makes it possible to identify this tavelspel as a variant of the Sámi dablo or dablot prejjesne game described by N. Keyland.

I was born in Copenhagen 1957, and studied theology and religious studies at the University of Aarhus. I graduated as cand. phil. et cand. theol. in 1986, worked as a minister/reverend in Randers 1987-2013, and from 2013 in Hvidebæk parish near Kalundborg.

Select Publications
"Somme trak også tavl - om et gammelt tidsfordriv og dets navne" in Ord & Sag 18, 1998, pp. 11-44, Institut for Jysk Sprog- og Kulturforskning, Aarhus University.

"Daldøs og Sakku - to gamle nordiske spil", in Ord & Sag 19, 1999, pp. 15-28, Institut for Jysk Sprog- og Kulturforskning, Aarhus University.

"Daldøs - et gådefuldt gammelt brætspil" in Historisk Årbog for Thy og Vester Hanherred 2001, pp. 91-106, ed. by Historisk Samfund for Thy og Vesterhanherred, Thisted.

"Daldøs, an almost forgotten old dice board game" in Board Games Studies 4, 2001, pp. 19-31, CNWS, Leiden University.

"Ponni, niks, alle-halve - betegnelser for spil med terningepind og -top" in Ord & Sag 22, 2002, pp. 47-61, Institut for Jysk Sprog- og Kulturforskning, Aarhus University.

"On some unusual types of stick dice" in Board Games Studies 6, 2003, pp. 9-24, CNWS, Leiden University.

"Haretavl - hund efter hare som brætspil" in Historisk Årbog for Thy og Vester Hanherred 2009, pp. 149-163, ed. by Historisk Samfund for Thy og Vesterhanherred, Thisted.

"Haretavl - Hare and Hounds as a board game." Paper from BGS Colloquium XIII, Paris 2010, and the conference Spiele und Sport im mittelalterlichen Nordeuropa at Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany, Oct. 1-2, 2010. Available in CD-ROM (ed. by Thierry Depaulis) and in Matthias Teichert (ed.) Sport und Spiel bei den Germanen. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin & Boston 2014, pp. 197-216.

"Dablo – a Sámi game" in Variant Chess 64, British Chess Variant Society, August 2010, pp. 218-221.

"Un jeu médieval arabe en Scandinavie?" in Histoire et Images Médiévales 28, February-April 2012, pp. 25-29, ed. by Frédéric Wittner, Astrolabe 2012.