Is age the next new category of analysis in history? I think it might be, and not just because I’m one of the contributing authors. From an email from co-editor Nicholas L. Syrett I received this weekend:
Age in America has been published (New York University Press, 2015)! I’m at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting this weekend in St. Louis and the very first two advance copies made it here just in time (and both were sold by conference’s end). The assistant editor at NYU Press will send you your copy as soon as the books stock at NYU’s warehouse (Cori and I don’t even have ours yet). I have attached a photo of the book sitting in the NYU Press booth. Within a couple weeks it should be available to order through bookstores, etc.
The co-editors of the volume, Nick Syrett and Corinne T. Field, worked hard with contributors to get a good mix of established and emerging scholars and to cover a pretty broad swath of American history (table of contents here.) My essay, “‘Keep me With You, So That I Might Not Be Damned:’ Age and Captivity in Colonial Borderlands Warfare,” is the first essay in the collection after Field’s and Syrett’s introduction. There are thirteen other essays in the volume, which covers not just the expected modern markers of age and how they came to be (age of suffrage, the drinking age, the age of retirement and Social Security benefits), but also essays by Yuki Oda on age and immigration politics (“‘A Day Too Late:’ Age, Immigration Quotas, and Racial Exclusion,”) Stuart Schoenfield on age 13 for American Jews, and Norma E. Cantú on the quinceañera for Latin@ girls.
I’m also eager to read the essay by my Tweep Shane Landrum (@cliotropic), “From Family Bibles to Birth Certificates: Young People, Proof of Age, and American Political Cultures, 1820-1915,” and the essay by Brigham Young University historian Rebecca de Schweinitz, “‘The Proper Age for Suffrage:’ Vote 18 and the Politics of Age from World War II to the Age of Aquarius.” The co-editors each have contributed an essay from their current research projects. Field’s essay, “‘If You Have the Right to Vote at 21 Years, Then I Have:’ Age and Equal Citizenship in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” and Syrett’s essay, “Statutory Marriage Ages and the Gendered Construction of Adulthood in the Nineteenth Century,” suggest the roots of their interests in age as a category for analysis. (Field is the author of The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America, and Syrett, the author of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities, is completing a book manuscript now on child marriage in American history.)
Ever since I wrote my essay for the collection, it seems like age and age-consciousness is everywhere I turn. For example, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Amanda Vickery (on Twitter @Amanda_Vickery) here at the Huntington this week, and she alerted me to a fantastic essay she published a few years ago in the Journal of British Studies, “Mutton Dressed as Lamb? Fashioning Age in Georgian England,” on fashion and the life cycle for middle-aged and older women. (Don’t you just love the title? British history enthusiasts will perhaps know of Vickery because of her work for BBC-4 radio and on BBC-2 television, “At Home with the Georgians.”)
I think that Vickery, Field, and Syrett are on to something. Because of my essay on child captives in the Age in America book, I became much more interested in the experience of old age for the subject of my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, and I think that makes the book richer and more interesting for readers. After all, Esther Wheelwright became the first and still the only foreign-born Mother Superior of the Ursulines of Québec in 1760 at the age of 64, and so assumed a role in the insular political world of New France at the moment of the British Conquest.
Unlike in protestant cultures in the early modern world, in which marriage (and not religious life) was the only option for adult women and they were highly valued for their ability to produce children, menopause and older age for nuns wasn’t as traumatically life-changing as for their married counterparts. In fact, in many religious traditions, protestant and Catholic alike, older age was viewed as a sign of spiritual grace and holiness, and people who lived to advanced ages were regarded with respect as Elders in their communities.
(Hey–did you realize that I just used italics for my book title just now? That means I’ve got a publisher! This book is going to enter the world as much more than a figment of my imagination! I hope to share more news on that very soon. I’m very excited! And now, I really must get back to those book revisions.)