Childhood is back, baby

captivity-child-adult.JPG  The recent postings on children’s stories and dolls were not just a lame Gen-X nostalgia trip for Historiann (although they were admittedly that too), but rather part of my current research project, which has required an excursion into the new history of childhood (suggested in the New Year’s Eve entry below). It’s back, and this time the best of it is very intertwined with feminist history’s fascination with developing an archaeology of power in the 1990s and early 2000s. Barry Levy’s excellent review essay in the July 2007 William and Mary Quarterly (sorry–for subscribers only) is a great explanation of the older historiography of childhood as well as an explanation of the issues and concerns of the newer literature. He writes that “the sorrow of most early American children’s experience and their own and their parents’ efforts to overcome haunting memories and events” is an assumption that structures the newer literature on early American childhood. Because I’ve written extensively about the experience of Indian captivity for both English captives and their Indian captors, and the book I’m writing is about an English girl taken into captivity by the Abenaki in 1703 at age seven, this emphasis on trauma makes sense to me. But one doesn’t need to seek out subjects who witnessed or experienced warfare in such an intimate way–consider the daily traumas suffered and absorbed by enslaved children, the indignities of being a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century English orphan, or the dislocation and disease of colonial Indian childhood. The colonial world was all about the violent exploitation of the few by the many, and children were at least witnesses to if not also victims of this harsh reality.

Kriste Lindenmeyer recently informed me that there is a new historical journal devoted to this topic, The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, and its inaugural issue is published this month. It features articles on global childhood and a roundtable on “Age as a Category of Historical Analysis,” the title of which is a clear homage to Joan Scott’s signal 1986 article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis” (sorry–subscribers only, again!) Pioneers of the new history of childhood like Lindenmeyer, Mary Jo Maynes, and Ping-chen Hsiung have contributed to this journal, and it features several emerging scholars as well, notably Leslie Paris and Laura Lovett, whose first books are hot off the presses. I’m pleased to report that many of this journal’s first contributors (and all of the historians specifically mentioned above) are also on panels on the history of childhood and girlhood that will be presented at the Fourteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, June 12-15, 2008, for which I am a Program Committee co-chair. By my count, we’ve got at least eleven panels that deal wholly or in part with the history of childhood, not counting individual papers that might have something to say on the topic. Check out the program here.

0 thoughts on “Childhood is back, baby

  1. Thanks for appreciation of book review. More importantly, thanks for your book and new project; it sounds most promising. Work on captivity so far by historians, including John Demos who is married to a top psychologist, ignores all the literature on psychological trauma. Thus, Demos has Eunice Williams trying to decide whether or not to remain an Indian much like a person decides what to order on a Chinese resteraunt
    menu. In truth, look at Ruth Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, and see that a child with a forming self, facing the kind of experiences Eunice did and the discontinuity it meant and captivity, would have difficulty forming any workable self and would have no sense of choice — for years and years. I hope you also explore what Indian culture or cultures and New England and other cultures provided people who were traumatized.
    It is interesting that many Indian cultures in order to prepare children for sadness prohibited any sort of corporal punishment for children, while the New Englanders thought beating and scaring children a good policy — also to prepare them for life’s sad experiences.


  2. Thanks, Ann, for calling attention to this topic, the new journal, and the Berks sessions. There was a great panel on the history of girlhood at the recent AHA meeting. The audience was smaller than deserved, in part because the session was far from the two main conference hotels and required a shuttle bus trip. Details are below:

    81. Girls and Girlhood in Global History

    Hilton, Georgetown East

    A session of American Historical Association


    Jennifer Helgren, University of the Pacific


    Holy Land Girlhood: British Missionaries and Palestinian Girls, 1848–1948
    Nancy L. Stockdale, University of North Texas

    Disobedient Daughters: Intergenerational Conflict over Marriage in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
    Kathryn A. Sloan, University of Arkansas

    The Making (and Unmaking) of a Stalinist Girl in the Soviet Union during the 1930s
    E. Thomas Ewing, Virginia Tech

    Hawkers and Girlhood in Lagos, Nigeria, 1940–50
    Abosede Akibike George, Trinity College

    The Shifting Status of Middle-Class Malay Girlhood: From “Sisters” to “Seducers” in One Generation
    Patricia Sloane-White, University of Delaware


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