American Girl, keep giving us Dolls of Color for Girls of the Year.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Creating Original Historicals for Fun and Frivolity: Time Periods

Charlotte Tinsley, my 1840s Republic of Texas Doll
If there is one thing AG started out good with, it was Historical Characters. However, I really can't say that's true now, what with the retirement of Samantha (eh), Kirsten (boo) and Felicity (WHYYYYYY~) and some half assing of newer dolls (looking dead at you, illustrations for Cécile and Marie Grace).

However, there is more to making an unique Realistic Historical Character than slapping Felicity's dresses on a modern doll and calling her a pilgrim or putting a star of David on your white doll and sticking her in the 1940s. (Yes I actually saw some of that shit on my tenure as an AG message board member). If you want your character to stand out from the crowd, you are going to need to do a lot more work than that.

Let's start with the easiest and hardest part of any Historical: The Time Period.

Picking a time period seems easy as pie, right? Maybe. The time period really is everything when creating a unique, realistic historical. AG's covered a lot of them--from pre-settlement of the Pacific Northwest by white people to girls can do almost anything in the seventies. But they haven't covered every time period, and they're not likely to ever do so--or every angle of the ones they have. This is where creativity can take hold. But you still need to do some research, and do some thinking, and lay down some groundwork.

A few tips to start with:

Pick a Time You're Passionate About. If there's a time you love, go for it. Even if AG's covered it, they may not have covered your angle. I, for one, am Texan raised. After many years of learning about Texas history (7th grade history in Texas is nothing but a year of TEXAS WHOO), I decided I needed a Historical from that time in my gang. While not all the aspects of the time please me, the time and the fact that Texas at some point was its own country sticks with me, so I went for it. Maybe you're an adult who wants to cover your childhood, or you have a passion for the Baby Boom 1950s, or you like Authentic Victorianism, or you really would like Kaya not to have to represent every Native American for all of history. Go for it--but make sure it's something you love.

All Times Are Valid. No, really. History, contrary to popular belief, is happening all the time. Yesterday could be considered history, to get extremely technical. No time period is taboo--yes, even the 1990s, despite how old it makes me feel that there are children out there who can smoke and drink and were born after 1989. A lot of adult collectors get panty-knotted when they see historical characters from their childhood;  the outcry at the announcement of Julie was everywhere among a lot of adults, because how dare AG call the 1970s Historical!
Julie Albright: Making AG Adults feeling old since 2007.
Never the mind that, you know, there were children whose parents were born in the 70s and were old enough to be the target audience of 8-12 at the time. Just try to explain record players, a lack of computers in class, not being allowed to wear pants to school (my mom got to wear pants to school the first time the spring of her senior year--in 1969) or the fact that it was a radical notion that girls could play on sports teams and disabled children didn't have to be kicked into special classes all the time. The 1970s are historical to me, and I was born right after them.  History is always in the making. One of my Historicals is from the 1980s, with all the radicalness and latchkeying and beep de boop of video games. If you want to cover a time? Fucking go for it.

Do your Research. Now that you know when to start, start looking stuff up. They've invented this thing called Wikipedia and while it's not a solo source, it's a decent starting place.Get some books. READ THOSE BOOKS. Look up websites, get history sources, read and read and READ. Ask adults, if they were around during that time. Ask questions, make mistakes, get messy. [/Ms. Frizzle] Don't think you can get away without some research. Learn, and learn, and LEARN SOME MORE. You might even come across an angle you never really thought about, or an aspect you want to integrate. Get your learn on.

All Angles Are Valid. Poor whites, rich blacks, average Asians, all angles are valid. Including the ones that are always ignored by dominant historical narratives. One of the first criticisms I ever saw of Marie-Grace and Cécile was that because one was black and one was white, they could have never been best friends because black people were all slaves before the Civil War. I shit you not.

Black people and white people standing next to each other before the 1980s? Surely this cannot be.
Because apparently black people only showed up for slavery and once freed, stayed poor and desolate until Civil Rights showed up and people boycotted buses and a dream was had and then everything was peachy for some reason. Come the fuck on. There have always been free people of color in EVERY ASPECT. There have been people of color, queer people, disabled people--all kinds of narratives through history. That's what AG initially showed, in focusing history through young girls. There is no reason to stick to the white dominate narrative if you can give another one a respectful focus.

Be Realistic. At the same time? Be realistic. Your 9 year old AG character is not going to stand up to sexism and racism all by herself in 1877 with an impassioned talk on a table about how Girls are People Too and everyone listened to her and then the whole general store clapped and she got free cake for life and her grandmother let her wear boy's clothes everywhere and the black people all called her their best friend and she grew up to be super awesome SuperGirl. AG does show a lot of pushing at the dominant culture (hello, adopting three Irish girls in the 1900s, looking at you Gardner Edwards). But at the same time, try not to be way out there. It's called American History, not American Dream Sequences. You want alternate historical narratives, that's another topic.

Avoid Racism, Sexism, Ableism, and other Bigotries. Realistic is one thing. Offensiveness is another. Creativity does not give you license to be a bigot. Let me say this again for the people in the back. Creativity does not give you a license to be a bigot. Be creative, but don't be a total fuck up of a human being when you pick your topic. You cannot slap Kaya's clothes on another doll and call her Cherokee. Don't grab a black doll and make her a slave. Don't put garish red lipstick paint on Jess, bad eyeliner, and make an American Geisha (and yes, I have seen that bullshit too). Don't have the super disabled person, or the poor little rich girl, or the What These Minorities Need is a Honky. Just don't do stereotypes and stupid shit. Can we not have the fainting Southern Belle and her mammy, please?

No Scarlett O'Haras on Tara bullshit, plz.
Be Sensitive. If you pick a sensitive time focus, be very sensitive about how you cover that time. September 11th, for example, is a raw topic for many people. You might not want to create a doll whose parents died in those attacks. You probably don't want to do anything too out there. Furthermore, If you're going to cover a culture not your own (white people, forever looking at you) you need to do as much research as you can. Respectful research. And even if you do every bit of research you can and read every book you can grab and keep spirals on the details, you might get it wrong and get yelled at by people of that culture. You might get it right and get yelled at that it's not your topic to touch. That's the hazard of being of the dominant culture, white people. It doesn't hurt as nearly as much as being oppressed.

 That's just the tip of the iceberg. If you have other tips/aspects/details, please, put them in the comments.



  1. You're awesome for this. I never thought of doing this for an AG girl, only BJDs.

    1. It's really pretty awesome, especially with semi-standard clothing patterns. I have seven created Historicals, and two are from the book series themselves. It's highly unlikely AG would ever cover Charlotte's time specifically, though they might cover the other two times I've done.

  2. I have a 1912 Just Like You created Historical, and I'm thinking of doing an African-American 1960's girl- I love the time period. Thanks for the tips!!

  3. I want to do a 1970s african american girl too.

  4. I'm creating a girl who lives in France


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