The Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper has an interesting article asking, “Do these dolls perpetuate Canadian stereotypes?” It raises the question of Maplelea Girls, which are a Canadian version of American Girls, both doll lines created to interest children in their country’s geography and history. The dolls represent Canadian provinces and backgrounds, but Amanda Kwan asks “But as a whole, do they represent what it means to be Canadian? Can you define a national identity in a 46-centimetre plastic doll?” It is the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) in doll form.
Using dolls to teach cultural geography is a long standing tradition and there are many sites online which specifically focus on dolls to increase geographic awareness. These range for the ubiquitous Barbie’s interactive map of dolls of the world to Langley’s Letter Dolls inspired by Kokeshi Dolls from Japan, and the lifelike Your Cultural Gifts geography dolls. Elementary school teacher, Supattana Bolger, in The Review says that “This was a really great way to teach the students some history, geography and information about different cultures,” she commented. “You’d be surprised at just how much you can learn from a doll.” The Smithsonian in Your Classroom used Native American doll lesson plans to celebrate the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. because dolls have a universal appeal across cultures.
It is interesting to note that when Mattel created an early 1965 Student Teacher Barbie, she was a geography teacher complete with now rare geography textbook and globe. It was so popular they even made a hinged box stating that “Student Teacher Barbie looks very scholarly as she teaches her 6th grade geography class.” Barbie digression aside, it would be interesting to see a geography doll that represents modern geography and geospatial careers, not just one that portrays historic costumes or traditional concepts of globes and dusty books. Imagine a doll outfitted with gps to track all of its travels. The infamous Flat Stanley paper doll project has already gone mobile, tracking his travels around the globe. Why can’t other dolls join in?