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May  11

CHC: Season 2, Ep 4: Roundtable Discussion with Marah Gubar and Shauna Vey

Childhood: history & critique (CHC) is a multi-media series of interviews, essays, and reports on happenings in the historical study of childhood hosted by a team of scholars and edited by Dr. Patrick J. Ryan. The series is published and circulated online by the Society for the History of Children and Youth.

Audio of Martin Woodside’s Roundtable with Marah Gubar and Shauna Vey

Commentary by Martin Woodside
In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to child actors on the 19th century stage. I entered this conversation through my work on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, in which child performers and notions of childhood played a prominent and under-appreciated role. In my research, I came across the work of Shauna Vey and Marah Gubar, two scholars who have done much to shed light on the dynamic relationship between changing ideas of childhood and early forms of 19th century popular culture. Marah and Shauna come from different disciplinary backgrounds— the former a children’s literature scholar and the latter a theatre historian—but their work addresses similar themes, adding layers of nuance to our understanding of children’s culture and child labor and complicating conventional narratives about the influence of childhood innocence in 19th century America. In this discussion, I invited both Marah and Shauna to comment on these issues, describe our current understanding of 19th century performers, and imagine how we can productively build on existing work in this field.

In reading Marah’s work on 19th century children’s theatre, including the Viennoise Children, a juvenile ballet company, and Shauna’s in-depth case study of child actors in the Marsh Troupe, I became interested in how the lives of these children enrich and complicate our understanding of childhood innocence during the second half of the 19th century. Early in our talk, Shauna noted that her work was more about competence than innocence, a comment that helped to frame the conversation that followed. Both Marah and Shauna suggested their work demonstrates the agency of child actors in ways previous scholarship has failed to properly account for, and they both make a forceful argument that 19th century child actors were often valued for their craft and respected as professionals rather than categorically appraised as victims or exploited workers.

Still, as we talked, it became clear that the murky relationship between innocence and competency gestures to unresolved questions about these performers and 19th century ideas of childhood. During the interview, Shauna argues that actors “are always playing two faces at the same time,” so that the children in the Marsh Troupe were considered workers, much like their adult peers, even as their appeal was bound up in a growing cultural fascination with helpless, innocent childhood. In a follow-up email, a few days after our talk, Marah suggested this was an important paradox, one that 19th century audiences were fully aware of; they celebrated the child actor’s innocence while deriving pleasure and profit from that same child’s labor. It seems clear to me that these child actors were paradoxical figures, and I wonder how much we can learn from that. How aware were children of this paradox? How did these contradictions inform their own sense of agency and influence their understanding of themselves as children, as performers, and as workers? These questions remain difficult to answer.

Our broader consideration of audience opened up the discussion to the changing place of the theatre in 19th century culture and what those changes suggest about contemporaneous ideas of age, class, and gender. Shauna brought up Highbrow/Lowbrow, Lawrence Levine’s classic study of how American theater was gradually reorganized and reimagined in the 19th century, with theatre audience becoming more isolated and stratified. Reflecting on our work, we discussed what a messy process this was and how children’s relationships with the theater during the 19th century—both as performers and audience members—remains under-explored. Marah talked about the Grand Duke’s Opera House, a functioning professional theater put together run by newsboys in New York’s Five Points neighbourhood during the 1870s, and Shauna brought up the popularity of home theatricals among middle class girls in the Victorian Era. Examples like these ask us to reconsider children’s relationship to the theatre, blurring the line between work and play and troubling the notion of childhood innocence as a monolithic force in the late 19th century. Both Marah and Shauna have made significant efforts to address these complex issues, and it’s clear to me from our conversation that 19th century child performers have a lot more to teach us.

Selected Bibliography
Frey, Heather Fitzsimmons, “Defying Victorian Girlhoods through ‘Oriental Fantasies.’ Tensions and Possibilities for Girls in Nineteenth Century Drawing Room Theatre.” For the Performance Research For/By/With Young People conference at Brock University. Uploaded April 6th 2014.

Gubar, Marah “Entertaining Children of All Ages: Nineteenth-Century Popular Theater as Children’s Theater,” American Quarterly, vol. 66, no. 1 (2014): 1-34.

Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: the Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).

Varty, Anne, “Children and Theatre in Victorian Britain: All Work, No Play.” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Vey, Shauna, Childhood and Nineteenth-Century American Theatre: The Work of the Marsh Troupe of Juvenile Actors (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2015).

Martin Woodside

About Martin Woodside

Martin Woodside earned his Ph.D. in Childhood Studies from the University of Rutgers-Camden. He has a background in Children’s Literature and Creating Writing and has published five books for young readers and a full-length collection of poetry. He spent 2009-10 as a Fulbright Fellow in Romania and has published two books of Romanian poetry in translation. He studies gender, popular culture, and Young Adult Literature, and his critical work has been published in Extravio and Otherness: Essays and Studies.

Marah Gubar

About Marah Gubar

Marah Gubar, Associate Professor of Literature at MIT, is the author of Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children’s Literature (Oxford University Press, 2009). Her second book is tentatively entitled How to “Think About Children: Childhood Studies in the Academy and Beyond.” It attempts to generate a philosophical account of what it means to be a child that could function as a shared language, enabling researchers who work on children and childhood across the arts, sciences, and humanities to communicate their key insights not only with each other, but also with people outside of academia.

Shauna Vey

About Shauna Vey

Shauna Vey is a theatre historian and Associate Professor at NYC College of Technology of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on the material, cultural, and economic circumstances of American stage performers. She is the author of Childhood and Nineteenth-Century American Theatre: The Work of the Marsh Troupe of Juvenile Actors (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015).

Mar  21

CFP: (Re) Examining Historical Childhoods: Literary, Cultural, Social

(Re) Examining Historical Childhoods: Literary, Cultural, Social
An Australasian Society for the History of Children and Youth Symposium
December 12-13, 2016
Melbourne, Australia
Deakin University

In this inaugural Australasian Society for the History of Children and Youth symposium, we are keenly interested in bringing together scholars of the history of children and childhood to consider new perspectives, new methodologies, and new cross- disciplinary frameworks that will enrich the field. We invite proposals for panels, papers, or roundtables that explore histories of children and youth from any place and in any era.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to:
• Representations of the histories children and childhood in the media, film, literature, music and popular culture
• The ‘difficult’ histories of children and youth
• Histories that consider children’s agency and voice
• Children and their relation to space, place, and the built environment
• Education and the histories of children and youth
• Material culture and the commemoration of children’s heritage
• Histories of ‘girlhood’ and ‘boyhood’
• Cross-cultural and Indigenous experiences of childhood across time
• Histories of childhood and public policy

Paper and panel proposals are due no later than 15 May 2016. They should include the following information in a single document and should be sent to the conference convener Kristine Moruzi ( Notifications of acceptance will be made by 15 June.

1. Name of presenter, institutional affiliation, address and email.
2. Title of individual paper
3. 250-word abstract of paper
4. Brief bio (max 50 words) for presenter
5. Audio-visual requirements

Other members of the programme committee are:
Kate Darian-Smith, University of Melbourne
Margot Hillel, Australian Catholic University
Nell Musgrove, Australian Catholic University
Carla Pascoe, University of Melbourne

Mar  17

Guest Post: Leslie Ginsparg Klein on Dress Codes and Uniforms as a Socialization Tool

Leslie Ginsparg Klein is the academic dean of Women’s Institute of Torah Seminary – Maalot Baltimore.

My daughter, an elementary school student, started wearing a uniform this year. As a parent, I’m thrilled. Uniforms mean less laundry, less time spent picking out clothes, and less fighting over why tutus are not an appropriate clothing choice in the dead of winter. My daughter is happy to wear a uniform as well. For her it marks the transition from being a little girl to a big girl. She loves her uniform, for now. I can’t help but wonder if she’ll grow to resent it. I remember myself, as a high school student, hating my uniform. I found the scratchy sweaters and polyester pleated skirts chafing, both literally and figuratively. Those sentiments seemed to have only increased over time. The news is full of reports of students protesting and even suing their schools over dress codes.

In my just-published JHCY article, “No Candy Store, No Pizza Shops, No Maxi-Skirts, No Makeup’: Socializing Orthodox Jewish Girls Through Schooling,” I discuss the way that uniforms and dress codes have been used to socialize Orthodox Jewish girls into appropriate gender roles. The dress codes conform to a combination of the traditional Jewish laws of modesty and social conception of what constitutes appropriate dress. Orthodox girls’ schools require girls to wear skirts and dresses (no pants) that cover the knees, sleeves that cover the elbows, and necklines that don’t dip below the collarbone. Students are expected to adhere to these standards both inside and outside of school. School leaders use uniforms and dress codes to enforce the dress and behaviors that are expected in their community.

However, school leaders have acknowledged that uniforms and dress codes can have an educational downside. An administrator at an Orthodox girls’ high school admitted to me that while rules succeeded in creating an environment where all students adhered to the religious community’s standards of modesty, school leaders forfeited an opportunity to engage with students on the issue and educate them on the reasons for and ideology behind dressing modestly.

Orthodox girls’ schools are not unique in using dress codes and uniforms to socialize students. These rules are a way for any public or private school leader to inform students of appropriate dress and behavior, and to exhibit social and cultural control. For example, when school leaders forbid students from wearing gang colors, they are declaring violent behavior socially inappropriate. In this case, dress codes are designed to preclude students from importing street rivalries into the school building, thereby allowing teachers and administrators to retain control of the school environment. Similarly, other clothing is restricted because school leaders perceive it as too informal for the school environment, or too sexually provocative.

Whether in Jewish or secular schools, dress code rules tend to have a strong gendered component. Within the Orthodox Jewish world, dress code policies are tightly intertwined with the laws of modesty, which are generally directed toward women. Similarly, dress codes issued by public and private schools, although seemingly directed towards both boys and girls, generally only focus on girls’ dress. For example, a California junior high school in 1982 restricted students from wearing tube tops, bikini tops and short skirts. Dress codes in the 1990s, although again presented as gender neutral, began targeting boys’ dress as well. School designed these regulations to prevent the gang-related clothing typically worn by males. This gendered element is oftentimes the source of student protest. More recently, students have protested that these gender specific rules are discriminatory against transgendered students and are inconsiderate of more fluid conceptions of gender.

These protests don’t typically take place in Orthodox girls’ schools. The parent body is a self-selecting population which generally supports the schools in socializing students into community norms. Though students have complained about increasingly strict dress codes, they generally choose to remain within the boundaries of the community. But as the Orthodox community becomes increasingly influenced by general American society, protests against dress codes and the accompanying gender socialization may become more common.

Mar  08

Johns Hopkins University Press Features Latest Issue of JHCY

Johns Hopkins University Press has featured the latest issue of JHCY on their blog.

From the piece:

Late last year, the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth published a special issue which took a look at the thorny subject of child death. Kathleen Jones organized a discussion of young people and death at the 2013 conference for the Society for the History of Children and Youth, the sponsoring organization for the journal. This event drove the creation of the special issue. Jones, Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at Virginia Tech, served as guest editor for the issue with Vassar College Associate Professor of History and Director of Victorian Studies Lydia Murdoch and Tamara Myers, Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia. The trio provided collective answers for a Q&A session.

Read the full interview.

Mar  08

Guest Post: Children, Poverty and Film in Mid-Century Mexico

Eileen Ford is associate professor of history at California State University-Los Angeles and author of “Childhood and Modernity in Mexico City: Print Media and State Power during the ‘Mexican Miracle’” in the next issue of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth.

Luis Buñuel’s classic film Los olivdados (1950) has mesmerized me for quite some time; countless viewings of the film and its use in my history courses over the years have continued this fascination.  Buñuel’s gritty portrayal of poverty in mid-twentieth century Mexico City and the corrupting influence of urban environment won him a prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1951 and unleashed countless commentaries in Mexico and abroad.  The fascination with his work continues; at least two book-length examinations of the film in the last decade or so contain reproductions of his original script with Buñuel’s notes and his photographs used to research the city in preparation for the production.[1]

The fact that Buñuel, a Spaniard by birth but resident and eventual citizen of Mexico, produced such a scathing portrayal of Mexico’s youth led some to call for his expulsion from the country.  After conducting extensive research in Mexican periodicals from the era, the discovery of photographs and discourses of childhood in peril that paralleled Buñuel’s film merited further scrutiny.  Newspaper articles depicted images of mangy dogs superimposed over street children; the exact same image appears in the film near the tragic end.  In fact, Buñuel reportedly developed his idea for the film after reading an article about the brutal discovery of a child’s body found in a garbage dump.  He later toured various parts of the city taking photos and notes about the conditions he encountered and consulted files of the Juvenile Court and the psychiatric department affiliated with it.[2]

While Buñuel’s depiction of juvenile delinquency and poverty certainly rang true for the most disadvantaged portion of the capital’s child population, it represented only part of the story told in print media in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  In this article, I demonstrate how both the depiction of children in peril and an idealized childhood experienced by more privileged children opened a public dialogue about how all children deserved to experience a protected childhood.  “Childhood and Modernity in Mexico City: Print Media and State Power during the ‘Mexican Miracle’” examines how photographers and journalists used languages of childhood to critique the ruling party in Mexico and the failure of the 1910 Revolution to bring about socioeconomic equality.

While Los olvidados is but one artifact from the era, it nevertheless provides the viewer with a haunting depiction of childhood in peril.  The film challenges practitioners and students of history to examine more closely the historical forces that caused social inequality in the past and its persistence in today’s world.

[1] Carmen Peña Ardid and Víctor Lahuerta Guillén, Buñuel 1950: Los olviadados guión y documentos (Spain: Instituto de Estudios Turolenses, 2007); Agustín Sanchez Vidal, Gabriel Figueroa Flores, Rafael Aviña, and Carlos Monsiváis, Los olvidados: una película de Luis Buñuel (Mexico: Fundación Televisa, 2004).
[2] Sanchez Vidal et al., Los olvidados, 35.

Feb  22

CHC: Season 2, Ep 3: Colonialism, Education, and Emotions

Childhood: history & critique (CHC) is a multi-media series of interviews, essays, and reports on happenings in the historical study of childhood hosted by a team of scholars and edited by Dr. Patrick J. Ryan. The series is published and circulated online by the Society for the History of Children and Youth.

Audio of Ning de Coninck-Smith’s Conversation with Karen Vallgårda

Commentary by Ning de Coninck-Smith

Within the history of childhood, emotions have always been present, but not necessarily explored. A key figure in the relative new field of emotional history is professor Peter Stearns, familiar to many historians of childhood and to readers of his journal: Social History – and books like Anxious Parents. A History of Modern Childrearing in America (2004). His articles and books on the history of jealousy, fear and sibling rivalry etc. were eye-opening for me. They pointed my attention to the richness of “educative manuals”, magazines and letters from the readers, but also to aspects of the lives of children, family and parents, which are more embodied than discursive – difficult to make visible, but not less important.

Karen Vallgårda’s recently published book Imperial Childhoods and Christian Missions took me one step further in demonstrating how emotions could be explored, visualized, and understood. Missionary texts are emotionally rich. They were acts of emotional labour – a means for making and a record of the powerful connections between missionaries, indigenous children, and their parents. They reveal how missionaries managed and used feelings when educating the local children, their own children – and those more distant: children and adults back home in Denmark.

cover art
At first my interest in Vallgårda’s study was captivated by the concept of emotional labour and how it was unfolded and used. Secondly I was attracted – and challenged by Vallgårda’s conclusion that the sentimental and scientific elements of the concept of the innocent child was not only a product of the rise of the middle classes in the West, but born out of transnational encounters. These encounters altered European childhoods when missionaries wrote and globally circulated magazines, pamphlets, exhibitions, Sunday school classes, missionary slide shows, etc. The innocent child replaced an older understanding of children as dangerous and born in sin despite the fact that Christian missionary work itself had long rested on this older link between childhood and the Fall. From the 1890s onwards the tone/discourse, as well as the educative practices, changed completely as the children were increasingly perceived as sweet, innocent and emotionally gratifying.

This new concept of the child was circulated partially through talks held during visits to the many “missionary houses” across the Danish cities and countryside. At the turn of the 20th Century these small and large mission branches could be counted by the hundreds, and by the end of WWI there were about 1400. Young and old came together to pray – but also to listen to talk about various subjects, inclusive reports from “foreign countries and cultures”. Here missionaries held a privileged position as informants. Vallgårda does not hide the fact that the impact of these meetings is open for debate, but her emphasis upon them is persuasive given the role that “third world children” play in advertising and fund raising campaigns today. This revives an eternal question of what makes the concept of childhood change and even more fundamentally what naturalizes it, so that a certain view of children and their life seems self-evident to many people.

The scale of the Danish missionary work was smaller than it was in England, Germany or Holland. But even so, the Danish mission and the sources left behind are very useful to illustrate and document the missionaries’ relationship to the Indian children – and their relationship to their own children and to the children back in Denmark. These stories connect in unexpected ways, as when Vallgårda shows how new Western medical ideas about good motherhood and childbirth became part of the missionaries’ educative strategies towards the parents. Or how the new view of the child as innocent turned into an incentive to save it from the parents’ racial and cultural inferiority.

The missionaries were often parted from their own children. Sometimes their children were left in Denmark to be educated by family and friends. Other children of missionaries struggled to adapt to the new climate or suffered from various diseases; some died during the mission and some returned home before their missionary parents. In these situations, the emotional work of the missionary turned towards themselves and their own children. How might these reflections have been similar to or different from what Indian parents thought and felt when they were separated from their own children by missionary work?

During our talk, I asked Karen to draw an outline of her book and its main arguments. I furthermore asked her about her research questions and her methodologies – and her sources. In my reading, I was especially struck by the high level of reflectivity and the constant dialogue with other scholars of mission history. This dialogue widens the significance of the book beyond the Danish Missionary Society and its Indian outpost dating back to 1864 to include European missionary work, transnational cultural exchange, and the history of emotions. I was curious to know, how she had managed this dialogue and what its contributions could be.
Karen Vallgårda belongs to a new generation of emotional historians, related to the two international centers for emotional history: the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin and at Melbourne University. From these circles also comes the volume Emotions and Christian Missions. Historical Perspectives, edited by Claire McLisky, Daniel Midena and Karen Vallgårda in 2015 as part of Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions. This collection covers emotional practices, micro-historical perspectives, and rhetorical strategies of a variety of religious movements and nationalities (English, Danish, German, Spanish and Swedish).

In their introduction McLisky and Vallgårda point to the importance of the socio-cultural context for the understanding of particular emotions and emotional cultures – and they also draw attention to the fact that even though missionary sources are rich in emotions, some voices and emotions are silent. Most of the sources have been written by missionary men, even though their wives from early on took part in the work of conversion. We find few words from prospective converts among children and parents. To be sure most of them were illiterate, but the missionaries seem to have no interest in their perspectives on missionary work. This will not come as a surprise to a historian of childhood, but it is a reminder of the work which needs to be done to completely understand the concept of emotional labor from more than the side of the missionaries themselves. The editors also stress the conflictual nature of these emotional communities and the distance between formal ideas and everyday practices. We have compelling evidence that frustration and anger were as common as the feeling of joy and happiness when conversion happened. Some missionary stations were burnt down, some children ran away from the boarding schools, some parents fiercely resisted the removal of their children, and some Indian mothers protested against the child-birth practices advanced by missionary women.

Transnational and emotional history are two major themes within the current field of scientific history, judging from the program at the World History Conference in Jinan in August 2015. In Karen Vallgårda’s analysis of the Danish missionaries and their relations to Indian children and their parents the two are combined and connected in a fruitful and thought-provoking way. Her work is appealing and easily read. It raises methodological as well as existential questions which invite careful consideration. At a moment when the history of childhood has been institutionalized with conferences, centers, dictionaries, online bibliographies and journals, it is time to start thinking anew about our concepts, understandings and complexities. In my mind, Karen Vallgårda’s work will help us do this.

Ning de Conninck-Smith

About Ning de Coninck-Smith

Ning de Coninck-Smith is professor of the history of childhood and education at the University of Aarhus, Denmark. She has most recently co-edited and contributed to a five volume history of the Danish school system [Dansk skolehistorie. Hverdag, vilkår og visioner gennem 500 år]. Together with Marta Gutman she has edited Designing Modern Childhoods. History, Space and the Material Culture of Children (Rutgers University Press, 2008). She is currently working on a project on the shaping of Danish children’s culture within museums, libraries and theatres during the 1960s and 1970s.
photograph by Lars Kruse/AU Kommunikation

Karen Vallgårda

About Karen Vallgårda

Karen Vallgårda is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She has published articles on childhood, the history of emotions, Christian mission colonialism, gender, race, and divorce. Her book Imperial Childhood and Christian Mission. Education and Emotions in South India and Denmark, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. Her current project explores the emotional practices of divorce in Denmark from 1885 to the present.

Feb  11

2016 Outreach Grant Winners Announced

The successful applicants for the 2016 Outreach Grants are:

$500.00 Grant
Conference, submitted by Dr. Gulay Yilmaz, Akdeniz University
Title: “History of Childhood in the Ottoman Empire,”
6-7 May 2016 at Akdeniz University, Antalya, Turkey

$1,500 Grant
Symposium, submitted by Dr. Kristine Moruzi, Deakin University
Title: “Literary, Cultural, Social: (Re) Examining Historical Childhoods – An Australasian Society for the History of Children and Youth Symposium,”
7-8 November 2016 at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Congratulations to the applicants and best of luck with your events!
SHCY Outreach Committee:
Luke Springman (chair), Adriana Benzaquen, David Pomfret, Shurlee Swain

Feb  08

Call for Nominations: Fass-Sandin Prize for Best Article (English)

The Society for the History of Children and Youth (SHCY) is pleased to call for nominations for the best article in English on the history of children, childhood, or youth (broadly construed) published in 2015 in a print or online journal. The prize consists of a plaque and a check for $250. The winner will be announced no later than mid-August.
Nominations are invited from publishers, editors, scholars, and authors. Current members of the SHCY award committee are ineligible.

CORRECTION (2/8/16): Please note that current officers of the Society, including Executive Committee, ARE ELIGIBLE for nominations.

Send a PDF or photocopy of the article to Sarah Emily Duff at Please use the following format for the subject line of your email: ‘Fass-Sandin Prize Surname First Name’ (eg. Fass-Sandin Prize Aries Philippe). The deadline for nominations is April 17, 2016.

The committee is comprised of:

Sarah Emily Duff (chair), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Daniel Grey, Plymouth University

Leroy Rowe, University of Southern Maine

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