All SHCY members receive the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. Published three times a year, it features scholarly research and critical book reviews.

Recent Updates

Oct  28

Guest Post: Rachel Elder on Detroit’s School for Epileptic Children

Rachel Elder is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the spring of 1946, the nation’s first and only public school for children with epilepsy dismantled all of its rubber fixtures. During that first spring-cleaning following World War Two, several hundred yards of protective coating, once relied upon to blanket the hard corners and surfaces of so many radiators and stairwells, came instead to line the inside of some Detroit dumpsters.

In my forthcoming article, “Safe Seizures, Schoolyard Stoics, and the Making of Safe Citizens at Detroit’s School for Epileptic Children, 1935-1956,” I investigate this and other seemingly modest revisions in school policy at Kathleen B. White Special School immediately following the Second World War. Disposing of these safety technologies, I argue, was no small matter; rather, it was at the forefront of a changing way in which epilepsy, and more specifically, the public image of the “epileptic,” was reconfigured after the war. The removal of rubber coating and other changes at this single elementary school represented a new way of imagining and promoting the seizure prone body – as resilient, self-contained, and impervious to injury – qualities I suggest were vital to citizenship in the postwar era, and written most explicitly upon the bodies of these school-aged children.

(Life Magazine, June 3, 1946, p. 134)

(Life Magazine, June 3, 1946, p. 134)

I first learned of the White Special School by way of photograph in a feature article on epilepsy in a 1946 edition of Life Magazine. Toward the end of the article, headed with the caption “Detroit has School for Epileptics,” were three black and white images of the unnamed school: one of an attendant monitoring children in the yard, another of students queuing for the relatively new anticonvulsant drug, Dilantin, and a final one in which two girls, arms enclosed around each others’ waists, ascended an interior staircase.

At first these images seemed to me a familiar portrayal of epilepsy in the mid-twentieth century – a tale of medical progress, scientific breakthrough, and orderly containment of disease and disability. Indeed, the usual story of epilepsy in the academic and popular literature is one of a transition to pharmaceutical control; Dilantin emerged as a wonder drug on the eve of World War Two to eliminate or radically reduce the number of seizures that most persons with epilepsy suffered, thus rendering the condition “managed” or “manageable.”

Yet, seizures remained even with these interventions – as did the period between and in anticipation of seizures, and other personal experiences of the disability. I suggest, rather, that the essence of a postwar transformation with regard to epilepsy – that its more crucial “containment” – lay in a parallel refashioning of the young “epileptic citizen.” Intervening technologies and other means of assistance – whether more time to complete schoolwork or having a chaperone accompany one to the bathroom – suddenly became incongruous with the image of medical and personal control. For a new generation of children who experienced seizures, personal responsibility over one’s containment became the primary strategy for not only managing seizures, but for claiming the types of social markers indicative of “normal” adulthood. Of course, such modifications and potential memberships also engendered a significant burden for the child with epilepsy. In addition to adherence to new medical regimen, seizures and the potential for seizures were to be “safe.” In effect, no child should fall on the stairs during a seizure – or at least, hurt him or herself doing so.

Oct  20

CFP: Children’s Rights and Children’s Literature

Special Issue of The Lion and the Unicorn

Guest Editors:
Lara Saguisag, College of Staten Island-City University of New York and Matthew B. Prickett, Rutgers University-Camden

We are seeking papers that investigate the intersections between the histories, theories, and practices of children’s rights and children’s literature. In response to the ratification of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC) in 1989, advocates and scholars have debated the necessity and revealed the complexity of defining and implementing children’s rights across the globe. Critical discourse on children’s rights, however, has not yet fully examined the role that children’s literature plays in shaping, promoting, implementing and interrogating children’s rights. This special issue invites scholars to explore the connections between the institutions of children’s rights and children’s literature.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Depictions of young people’s political and/or economic participation in children’s and young adult literature
  • Literary representations of child soldiers, child laborers, child sex workers and other young people whose rights are deemed violated
  • The role of children’s literature in fulfilling young people’s rights (such as the right to education and the right to leisure)
  • The relationships between charters on human and children’s rights (such as the 1930 White House Convention Children’s Charter, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1989 United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child) and twentieth-century children’s literature
  • How historical fiction and non-fiction about other rights movements (women’s rights, gay rights, Civil Rights, labor rights, immigrant rights, etc. ) attempt to shape young readers’ understanding of rights
  • U.N.-funded children’s books that explicitly promote children’s rights
  • Poverty and children’s and young adult literature
  • Colonialism/Postcolonialism and children’s and young adult literature
  • Citizenship and children’s and young adult literature
  • Censorship and children’s rights
  • Conflicts between child characters and adult characters over the child’s rights and obligations

Essays should be sent to guest editors Lara Saguisag and Matthew B. Prickett at by May 31, 2015. Submissions should be 15-20 pages (4000-6000 words). Accepted articles will appear in issue 40.2 (2016) of The Lion and the Unicorn.

Oct  15

Guest Post: Sarah Emily Duff on Dangerous Girls

Sarah Emily Duff is a Researcher at WiSER, and holds a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London. Her research is on histories of childhood, sexuality, and medicine in nineteenth- and twentieth-century South Africa. Funded by a prestigious, five-year Research Career Advancement Fellowship from the National Research Foundation (NRF), her current project investigates histories of sex education in twentieth-century South Africa. Before joining WiSER, Sarah held an NRF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Stellenbosch University, and lectured at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has published in the Journal of Southern African Studies, the South African Historical Journal, and the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, as well as in several edited collections. She has articles forthcoming in the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth and Kronos. Her monograph, Changing Childhoods in the Cape Colony: Dutch Reformed Church Evangelicalism and Colonial Childhood, 1860-1895, will be published in 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan, in a new series on global histories of childhood.

In September 1901, a little more than six months before the conclusion of the South African War (1899-1902), John Fourie, a resident of Aberdeen in the rural eastern districts of the Cape Colony, noted in his diary:

Mrs. Niel P. Fouche and family (women and children only) had to appear before the Commandant this morning, because they did not open the door on Saturday night, when the Tommies were hammering at it. When Mrs F. asked who it was, they would not answer, and when they broke the door a little daughter of Mrs F. about 12 years of age through [sic] at them with an axe.

A few months previously, Anna Cummings, the headmistress of a girls’ school in Wellington, a small, prosperous town about forty-five miles outside of Cape Town, wrote to her brother in the United States, describing an incident related to her by a friend. A British officer had been tasked with removing a mother and daughter from a farm to a refugee camp. Moved by their ‘tears and entreaties’ he agreed to return later, so that they could pack a few possessions for the journey, and properly shut up their house for what would be an indefinite stay in the camps:

so he rode around to their door a few days after and was cordially invited to enter. He was about to accept their invitation, when his suspicions were aroused and he remounted, saying he would come again and asking the girl to show him the road to a certain place which required her to keep between him and the house. When she no longer covered him and so was out of danger, a volley of shots was fired at him from the open door.

The soldier managed to escape.

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Oct  13

2014 Outreach Grant Report: Legal History Consortium

On June 1-2, 2014 an SHCY Outreach Grant helped the Legal History Consortium hold a conference on conference “The Law and the Child in Historical Perspective” in Minneapolis at the University of Minnesota Law School. The conference was the fourth sponsored by the Consortium, which includes: the University of Minnesota Law School and History Department, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, University of Michigan Law School, University of Chicago Law School, University of Pennsylvania Law School and History Department, and University of Illinois Law School. It was established to nurture the work of beginning and early career (advanced graduate students and pre-tenure) scholars in the field of legal history, focusing each conference on a topic of special significance in the field of legal history.

This year’s conference focused on the legal history of children and youth. It attracted emerging scholars working in a broad range of fields geographically, chronologically, and topically. We could accept only 15 of the 57 submissions for the day and half conference. They were divided into five panels with three papers each. All participants read the papers and participated in the discussions; Consortium members served as commentators and discussion leaders. The results were terrific.

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Oct  01

Deadline Extended for SHCY2015 Proposals!

2015 Conference: CFP Society for the History of Children and Youth Eighth Biennial Conference

Date: June 24-26th, 2015
Location: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Proposal Submission Deadline: OCTOBER 15, 2014 (FINAL)

Description: “In Relation: Children, Youth, and Belonging”

The Program Committee invites proposals for panels, papers, roundtables or workshops that explore histories of children and youth from any place and in any era. We will, however, give particular attention to proposals with a strong historical emphasis and that bear on the theme of this year’s conference. Relationships are foundational to human lives and to children’s experience of the world. They might involve coercion and suffering, or agency and liberation. Domestic relationships with parents, caregivers, siblings, relatives, and pets shape young people’s sense of self, their experiences and their place in the world. Wider relationship circles, including those with peers and adult professionals such as teachers, doctors, police, and social workers, likewise affect young people’s position in the world in diverse ways. The complex effects of large-scale events and phenomena including colonization, imperialism, war, industrialization, urbanization, and disease epidemics, among others, have both direct and indirect effects on young peoples’ relationships that vary across time and cultural context. Virtual relationships facilitated by letter writing and, more recently, digital technology, provide young people with a distinctive window onto international connections and cross-cultural influences. Relations of power, often uneven and always nuanced by gender, race, class, sexuality, and (dis)ability, flow through all relationships that young people forge and encounter. Historical research that explores the varied meanings attached to the range of relationships young people experience usefully expands our understanding of both the past and present.

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