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.

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Nov  12

CHC: What to Make of Child-Saving Discourse?

CHILDHOOD: History and Critique (CHC) is a series of interviews, commentary, and happenings in historical studies of childhood presented by Dr. Patrick J. Ryan, Kings University College at Western University, Canada.

 

Audio of Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Shurlee Swain

Commentary Essay by Patrick J. Ryan

This summer British Airways interrupted my in-flight movie to ask for a charitable donation.  There we were, jet-setting at six kilometres above the earth, as a promotional video showed silken flight attendants and pilots walking a dusty road hand-in-hand with barefooted African children.  Seeing passengers fold-up their “High Life” magazines to toss a few dollars into a hat, while these images were projected upon rows of individualized screens, struck me as one of the world’s particularly absurd moments.
 
Several weeks later, I searched in vain for this video.  It may have vanished from cyber-space after a pilot took his own life amid allegations that he had molested children while participating in the Airline’s program; law suits have followed.  British Airways’ programs are hardly alone in providing a venue for the exploitation of children, anymore than child-rescue or child-saving discourse is incidental to larger structures of class, race, and globalization.[1]

The most troubling stories are simultaneously familiar and disorienting.  What to think?

Should we read ever popular child-saving campaigns for ideological concealment – as if they were like the happiness blankets offered in-flight to facilitate “deep, undisturbed sleep”?  This is part of the story. Companies hope to associate themselves and what they sell with progress and human well-being. Canada’s Free the Children calls their corporate sponsors “change makers,” “visionaries,” “champions,” “ambassadors,” and “friends” – valuable tributes for Allstate, Cineplex, Ford (and others) in a media saturated world.  But, there is more to it.  If We Day (proclaimed as a “rock concerts for social change”) feels like a “pep-rally”, it also features everything from the Dalai Lama to Justin Bieber. There must be more than one line of thought at work.
Barnardos
Consider Barnardos history of manipulation of childhood images. The photograph above created controversy in late 1999 by showing an infant injecting himself with heroine. The caption read, “Battered as a child, it was always possible that John would turn to drugs.  With Barnardo’s help, child abuse need not lead to an empty future.” The image was purportedly designed to raise consciousness and money for preventative programs for ‘at-risk’ youth.  Some publications refused to run it – arguing it was obscene. It doesn’t offend me, but it also does more than its producers say they intended. The image hails forth the possibility that a young adult addict remains in essence a person worthy of forgiveness and care – like a child. Though more caustic, its affect is similar to the substitutions used in Goebel Reeves‘ “Hobo’s Lullaby,” performed by both Woody and Arlo Guthrie. In these texts, the juxtaposition of image or melody and word begins to erase a distinction that child-saving discourse itself relies upon: the polarity between innocence and guilt, between purity and profanity. As they destabilize the line separating the saved from the damned, they propagate an unsettling feature of modern discourses of personal transformation – something akin to what Stanley Fish called “self-consuming artifacts.”[2]

If nothing else, the complexity of these texts foster thoughts and feelings that might move readers in opposing directions.  They produce conflict at least as much as they conceal it.  This is another reason to be careful with the concept of ideology.  As Mitchell Dean explains, the “objective of ideology critique is to unmask the ideological content of language to reveal real relations of subordination.”[3]  Ideology critique handles the power-knowledge relation by discounting not only multiplicity, but the possibility that culture produces who we ‘really’ are and how we “actually” relate.  If language is not a mask, but is the way we produce ourselves and our relations, then there is no pre-discursive “real” or “root” or “base” to be revealed.  Analysis should ask what texts do, not what they hide or uncover.

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Nov  05

Guest Post: Sharon Wall on Space, the Maternity Home and Other Roads Taken

Sharon Wall is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Winnipeg. Her areas of study include: Canadian social and cultural history, childhood and youth, gender and sexuality, education, urban history

I find myself drawn to research where I can explore some aspect of the history of space. In museums I’ve always been drawn to those tiny scale models of buildings, towns, cityscapes and so on that give one that omniscient, Friendly Giant kind of feeling of surveying the world from a superior vantage point. The bird’s-eye-view perspective is always so compelling. Isn’t it ultimately what we want from social history, to rise above our limited individual points of reference to see “the bigger picture,” to give meaning to the chaos of experience? Personally, I also feel closer to the past (to that “foreign country”) when I think through its physical aspects, one reason I find the literature on the history of architecture, the body, and more recently, the senses so inspiring.

My article in this volume, “Making Room(s) for Teenagers: Space and Place at Early Postwar Maternity Homes in Ontario and B.C.,” was one way to explore my interest in the expressions and meanings of space in the context of unmarried pregnancy in post-WWII Canada.

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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.

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Oct  20

CFP: Children’s Rights and Children’s Literature

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.

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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.

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