SHCY 2013: Plenary Session

Annmarie Valdes, 3rd year PhD Student at Loyola University recaps the Plenary Session on Day 1 of the conference. This session dealt with the ideas of spaces of childhood.

Plenary June 25, 2013: The Spaces of Childhood: A conversation on rooms as evidence

First I would say that a small blog post cannot fully address the many conversations this plenary will no doubt inspire—including conversations that will occur after the conference.

The presenters of this Plenary each gave a small talk on four key spaces of Childhood: the Library, Museum, School and Orphanage. Each of these spaces included a contextualized account of the arrangement of the space, both as physical space and how this space was a reflection of the cultural, social and economic reality of the world that each of these spaces were conceptualized and used. Although the presenters are careful to distinguish that how spaces are used may not follow the original intention of the space, as it was intended by architects/builders. They also underscore the interplay of power by local and/or regional actors in different regions that these spaces were found. How a particular community or particular individuals appropriate space is an interesting question and can be addressed in part by these micro-histories about space.

In brief:

The Library: the purposeful allotment of “equal” space and private space (story-time room) for children (shown in the example of the Conely library)

The Museum: the empowerment of a child creating a space of cultural memory which then became a shrine to the child himself (Stanford, Jr.)

The School: a purposeful space for a region experiencing economic and political transition and the somewhat isolating experience of the one teacher and the small school and the will of a small community.

The Orphanage: re-appropriating space that shines a light on elite notions about socialization and female utility.

Together these micro-stories enrich an understanding of how childhood is being shaped and supported by adults; and power and support between adults for children. It also contests an overreliance in historical narrative on the written word. The idea of the historian getting out into the field to examine spaces as a starting point is a wonderful reorientation of the research process—especially for the historian that usually begins with the biography or the archive.

At the end a gentleman asked the panel to comment on how they theorize “space” and “place” as well as where they see new avenues of research opening up on “space” and “place”. But there was a time constraint that did not allow for this conversation to take place. For me this would be a great point to continue the conversation (using the examples discussed in the plenary and ones that you all are thinking about!)

I am very curious to know what everyone else thought!