CHC Episode 16: Childhood and Politics

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.

The eighth biennial conference of the Society for the History of Children and Youth, held at the University of British Columbia, included approximately 240 delegates and over 60 panels. SHCY’s conferences have always been well-organized, sporting a diverse range of research papers, but I was especially impressed by the quality and volume of graduate student work (around 45 papers).

UBC Colleagues and SHCY conference conveners Mona Gleason, Tamara Myers, and Leslie Paris
UBC Colleagues and SHCY conference conveners Mona Gleason, Tamara Myers, and Leslie Paris

SHCY 2015 marked the conclusion of James Marten’s Presidency (2013-2015), and the inauguration of Mona Gleason’s term (2015-2017). At the business meeting, members raised two perennial questions for the organization: (a) How can we continue to advance graduate student participation in the field of childhood history? (b) How might we encourage paper and article submissions on periods before the 19th-century, and outside North America?

The Society has relied upon at least three mechanisms to address these persistent issues:

(1) Representation in decision-making: The Society’s executive board and the Journal’s editorial board are occupied by a diverse, international set of scholars. Our conference, prize, outreach, website, and other committees are purposefully diverse. At SHCY 2015 we voted to add a second graduate student representative to the Society’s executive.

(2) Raising and redistributing funds: Our ability to offer conference stipends to students (given their numbers) probably falls short of the existing needs. In addition to our primary dependence on membership dues, some members have made significant donations. It seems to me doing more would require an effort to raise funds outside of our own ranks.

(3) Supporting events internationally and recognizing non-English works: SHCY has held conferences in the U.S. (on both coasts and the Midwest), Canada, England, and Sweden. We have also sponsored conferences and other events in North America and Europe. The Society’s Fass-Sandin prizes celebrate excellence in non-English research within childhood history.

It seems to me there are limits to what any organization can do to attract temporally and regionally diverse research to its venues. As with previous years, volumes 7-8 of the Journal (2013-15), emphasized the post-WWII period – 19 of 37 articles. A fifth of the articles dealt with periods prior to the 20th-century, but none were from medieval or ancient times. Half of the articles focused on North America and about 16% on Western Europe. This said, the residential range of contributors has grown; the proportion of authors residing outside Canada and the U.S. tripled from 14% to 46% from 2011 to 2015. Of course, the contents of peer-reviewed journal’s cannot (should not) be manipulated simply to fit organizational goals. As Jim Marten pointed-out, the above figures reflect the distribution of quality submissions received – and this is dependent on the decisions and abilities of researchers. A forthcoming special issue on Ireland was made possible by particular scholars studying and organizing in that country. SHCY and JHCY can only communicate that a wide spectrum of historical work on childhood and youth is welcome.

Conference location is another practical way that the Society has made itself accessible to an international mixture of scholars. Next time, the meeting will move 5,000 kilometres from the west coast of North America to the east. The executive board accepted a proposal from Susan Miller of the Department of Childhood Studies to host SHCY 2017 at Rutgers University – Camden. The business meeting included an extended discussion of the advantages and challenges of holding the 2019 meeting in Australia or Europe. As with the contents of the Journal, this is not a simple issue. A given location will always be more favourable for some than others. Where we are able to go depends upon who is willing and able to propose hosting a conference like SHCY. Clearly, our effort to establish an international organization would be greatly advanced if we could continue to find venues outside of North America one out of three times.

As with previous SHCY business meetings members discussed additional initiatives that might help the Society continue to engage the vast temporal, theoretical, linguistic, and cultural diversity that one finds in the historical study of childhood. All of these ideas require volunteer labour and/or fund-raising success to materialize. We might increase our collaborations with other organizations and further utilize multi-media the way CHC has during the 2014-15.

We might establish work-groups within the Society (girlhood studies, literature, early-modern Europe etc.). In other academic organizations, work-groups are supposed to encourage the assembly of conference panels or proposals for special issues within journals in targeted areas. Often the larger organization sets aside space and time at the conferences for them. Some working-groups hold events outside their parent conferences at locations well suited to their members. As with several of the ideas mentioned above, work-groups are a means for welcoming scholars to shape the Society as they see fit. It is upon us to make the proposals and complete the necessary work.

Karen Dubinsky and Mona Gleason just prior to SHCY Keynote Lecture
Karen Dubinsky and Mona Gleason just prior to SHCY Keynote Lecture

The Keynote – The Politics of Childhood

Karen Dubinsky delivered the keynote address – “The Politics of Childhood Meets the Children of Politics: Cuban Literacy Teachers Revisit their Youth” – for SHCY 2017. Her presentation was a visual feast. You can view and listen to it by clicking here or pasting the following URL into your browser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jki7jr9tfQU

Dubinsky outlined six categories of representation after years of examining political images of childhood around the world. In her talk she summarizes (an shows) them as:

1) Children in War and Peace
2) Revolution and National Liberation (or Mother, Child, and the Gun)
3) Elections and Political Parties
4) Social Welfare & Development
5) Children’s Issues
6) Children as Political Actors

See her related commentary on these themes in her 2012 article, “Children, Ideology and Iconography,” (JHCY vol. 5, no. 1). As her title suggests, the balance of Dubinsky’s talk focused on the sixth category – children as political actors. She closely documented the engagement of children and youth as teachers in the revolutionary Cuban literacy program during the early 1960s, and gave attention to the memories and reports of participants during a celebration of it fifty years later.
Dubinsky offered three questions for us to consider about the politics of childhood.

1) What are the historical circumstances that produce children with self-consciousness of their political selves (political duties, responsibilities, or desires)?

2) What would happen to the adult-child binary if we widened our imagination about children and political citizenship or political capabilities?

3) What would our image archive look like if the full spectrum of political actors were represented? (images of children as political actors are relatively rare)

*Concluding Note – this is the final episode of season 1 of “Childhood: History & Critique.” We are working to organize a second season with new hosts for the 2015-16 year. All the Best, Pat.

 

Books By Karen Dubinsky

Karen Dubinsky, Adele Perry and Henry Yu (eds.) Within and Without the Nation: Transnational Canadian History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, forthcoming 2015.)

Karen Dubinsky, Sean Mills, Scott Rutherford (eds.) Canada and The Third World: An Historical Introduction (in process)

Caridad Cumana, Karen Dubinsky and Xenia Reloba (eds.) My Havana: The Musical City of Carlos Varela (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014)

Karen Dubinsky, Caridad Cumana and Xenia Reloba (eds) Habáname: La Ciudad Musical de Carlos Varela (La Habana, Centro Pablo de la Torriente Brau, 2013)

Babies Without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas(University of Toronto Press and New York University Press, 2010)

Karen Dubinsky, Catherine Krull, Susan Lord, Sean Mills and Scott Rutherford (eds.) New World Coming: The Sixties and the Shaping of Global Consciousness (Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2009)

The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooning and Tourism at Niagara Falls (Toronto: Between the Lines and New Brunswick New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, May, 1999)

Improper Advances: Rape and Heterosexual Conflict in Ontario, 1880-1929 (University of Chicago Press, 1993) Book in progress: Children, Ideology, Iconography: How Babies Rule the World

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CHC Episode 11: Relation and Belonging

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.

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audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Mona Gleason, part 1 (.mp3)
Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with Mona Gleason, part 2 (.mp3)
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[gn_spoiler title=”Commentary by Patrick J. Ryan” open=”1″ style=”2″]
Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 11
 
This June 24-26, between 230 and 250 delegates will meet at the University of British Columbia for the 8th biennial conference of the Society for the History of Children and Youth. I discussed the conference with Mona Gleason, incoming President of the Society, who chaired the Organizing Committee (which included her UBC colleagues Tamara Meyers and Leslie Paris).
UBC campus at duskWhen Mona reflected the call for sessions organized around the theme of belonging and relationships, she explained that the University rests on Point Greyunceded, ancestral lands of the Musqueam people. British Columbia (despite what its name announces to the neighbouring U.S. state – Washington) is a place where the negotiation of sovereignty – between diverse peoples and with the land itself – is ongoing. Settlement is not settled in Canada. This produces a way of being in “relationship” that troubles fixed, imperial, uniform notions of nationalism. The conference organizers hoped to call forth historical work that explores the ways children and youth have confronted and helped fashion such a world: global, multi-cultural, liminal, unstable, transnational.

The three-day conference will offer about 60 sessions vetted by a committee of Marcia Chatelain (Georgetown University), Shurlee Swain (Australian Catholic University), Judith Lind (Linköping University), David Pomfret, (University of Hong Kong), and Ishita Pande (Queen’s University). As I looked over Preliminary-Program-SHCY-2015-March-24-201512.pdf, and considered Mona’s explanation of the conference theme, I saw its initial impact. While we will have plenty of topical variety, words like migration, colonialism, empire, transnational, global, citizenship, becoming, mobilization, representation, relation, memory, negotiation, identity, reciprocity, and performance fill the titles. The keynote lecturer – Karen Dubinsky – is well-situated to address these terms and concepts. She is author and editor of numerous books, including the 2010 Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas (Univ. of Toronto) and the collection with Adele Perry and Henry Yu Within and Without the Nation: Transnational Canadian History (Univ. of Toronto, 2015).

In addition to the academic content of the sessions, Mona, Tamara, and Leslie thought about other ways the conference might help build relationships between scholars. Of course, we will have 1/2-hour coffee breaks between sessions, an evening reception on Wednesday, the Society business meeting during lunch on Thursday, and a conference Banquet on Thursday night. But, a couple of new events will appear too. Following the Banquet, we’ll have a dance — that — ought to be entertaining. There will also be a “join SHCY” luncheon on Friday where Jim Marten will provide an update on the Journal for the History of Childhood and Youth.

Friday’s luncheon responds to one of the Society’s ongoing challenges – maintaining membership. It confronts all scholarly organizations. Our ability to run the journal, hold conferences, provide prizes for excellent work, collaborate with other organizations, and assist graduate students rests upon attracting dues-paying members. I asked Mona about other things she would like to put on the Society’s agenda as she begins her tenure as President. She named three: inviting/developing new leaders, establishing policies around endorsements, and creating a guide for conference planning. You can listen to our conversation above.

Aerial photo of UBC campusAs I write this report in a still-frozen Ontario March, with the coldest February on record chattering in my bones, I admit that some of my plans for SHCY-2015 are decidedly unprofessional. How pleasant will the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest be? From afar the UBC campus seems to be surrounded by lush parks, misty trails, sandy beaches, and (moving) water. Perhaps I’ll take a walk through the Nitobe Memorial Gardens on campus. The UBC Bike Kitchen rents bicycles, but runners might want to scout-out courses along nearby Jericho Beach or take a jog through Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Mona recommended visiting the University’s renowned Museum of Anthropology.

Beyond the campus, metropolitan Vancouver offers numerous opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and other adventures. You might even come across urban bald eagles if you take a stroll through beautiful Stanley Park, which boasts 400-hectares of rainforest, beaches, waterfront vistas, and more.

Photo of Vancouver skylineDowntown is a short 20-minute drive or 40-minute bus-ride from campus. It offers a variety of excellent restaurants, including the Bluewater Cafe + Raw Bar (Seafood), Chef Tony Seafood (Chinese), My Shanti (Indian), Mr. Red Cafe (Vietnamese), Absinthe Bistro (French), and Ask for Luigi (Italian). On your way downtown, you might visit Granville Island – an industrial site revamped for tourism – offering a farmer’s market, craft vendors, shops, galleries, and other entertainments.

Make your plans, extend your stay if you can, and consider becoming part of the Society.

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CHC Episode 8: Nailing Jelly to a Wall

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.

[gn_spoiler title=”Audio of Patrick Ryan’s Conversation with James Marten” open=”1″ style=”2″]
audio-file-16Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with James Marten, part 1 (.mp3)
Patrick J. Ryan’s Conversation with James Marten, part 2 (.mp3)
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[gn_spoiler title=”Conversation Transcript” open=”0″ style=”2″]
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[gn_spoiler title=”Commentary by Patrick J. Ryan” open=”1″ style=”2″]
Click to download a PDF of CHC Episode 8
 
In 1998, I told Kris Lindenmeyer that I thought childhood was a secondary designation for historians. It had been ancillary to other fields for about a half-century. At that juncture, I was unconvinced that a network on H-Net dedicated only to the historical study of childhood would be viable. We should consider linking it with related areas of interest. Kris disagreed. She was recruiting me to help her start H-Childhood, and she was sure it would be a mistake to explicitly pair a network in childhood history with closely associated areas like families, social policy, or education. I do not recall her arguments in detail, but she may have seen that adding another category would shrink the pool of potential subscribers by excluding those with interests outside of whatever area we chose.

I still think the study of childhood is a secondary designation for most of us, and the ways that the new technologies altered the implications of this fact are unsettled. Oh, some developments are obvious. The internet facilitated collaboration beyond traditional geographic limits in ways that encouraged specialization. You might be one of a few scholars interested in studying childhood historically in your locale, but that would mean there were thousands like you globally. Sixteen years later, H-Childhood continues to provide a means for about 1,700 scholars across the globe to communicate at the click of a button.

It is also clear today that “networking” scholars might facilitate interest in a topic, but it is not the same thing as creating a coherent field of study. Early in the life of H-Net, there was a hope that the new technology might provide an alternative to academic conferences, journals, and societies. Might it be possible to hold virtual meetings and generate scholarly discourse that was more open, free, frequent, and dynamic? This vision has yet to be fulfilled. Scholarship continues to depend upon enclosed, costly, slow-paced, quiet, solitary labour. Email lists, websites, twitter feeds (and what have you) lack key features of personal presence and thoughtful debate. Travel, face-to-face relationships are especially important for a long-distance scholarly community.

This said, H-Childhood seems to have facilitated a wider set of activities. It helped a small group of historians (who met in Baltimore in 2000) to reach hundreds of colleagues across disciplines and outside of the United States to hold a childhood history conference at Marquette University in 2001. This became the founding meeting of the Society for the History of Children and Youth.

The Society’s biennial conferences never struggled to field panels. Today they include 220-250 papers and have been held on both coasts of the U.S., Sweden, and England; in 2015 SHCY will visit Vancouver, British Columbia. The current 320 dues-paying members live in twenty-three countries (although 183 are concentrated in the U.S. with another 60 residing in Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand).

Like H-Childhood, SHCY has pursued an interdisciplinary, international, and topically diverse membership in an academic context that remains disciplinary, national, methodologically specialized. The tension between these poles is obvious in a simple recounting of the Society’s early leadership. SHCY‘s first three Presidents and its first three program committee chairs were all Americanists with primary training in the 19th and early 20th-century social history (Kris Lindenmeyer, Ray Hiner, Joe Hawes, Jim Marten, Paula Fass, and Julia Grant). Nevertheless, the first conferences succeeded in reaching outside this area of concentration. They were strongly attended by Canadians and Scandinavians – and to a lesser extent – by scholars outside of social history. If my memory serves, Bengt Sandin was one among a number of leaders (notably supported by Paula Fass) who encouraged SHCY to amend its mission statement, formally re-structure its executive board, and plan its conferences to promote the study of childhood historically across temporal, geographic, national, and disciplinary boundaries after 2005.

In my view, explicit internationalism has made SHCY‘s conferences more interesting and compelling. Casting the net wide also must have helped the meetings reach a critical mass of attendees.

issue cover artIn just a few years, SHCY demonstrated that childhood history would attract numbers adequate to support an academic periodical. A group of scholars mostly based near Amherst, Massachusetts (Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Martha Saxton, Laura Lovett, Brian Bunk, and Jon Pahl) formed the first editorial team for the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth in 2008. The editors’ were themselves a diverse group with multi-disciplinary designations: a scholar of 19th-century literature, two historians of women, an expert on modern Spanish popular culture and sport, and professor of Christian theology and religious history. So too, the executive board of JHCY included members located across North America, Europe, and Australia with expertise in American, Canadian, European, Asian, and Australian history.

The founders of the Journal were willing to experiment. They formed an editorial “collective” with a rotating chief. In retrospect, this non-hierarchical editorial structure seems consistent with the diffusion of historical research on childhood. Each issue came with its own introductory statement authored by the standing Editor. None of the first editors claimed childhood as their primary scholarly designation (and they still don’t); childhood was and is “an interest” for most studying it historically. The articles offered a wide temporal, geographic, cultural, and topical range, and explored childhood from multiple disciplines with theoretically diverse assumptions. Each issue began with an “object lesson” – short presentations of cultural productions that were suited to classroom use. Every number included a piece on contemporary childhood policy. If there was a thematic volume, say on children’s rights or schooling, more than one geographic area and/or vastly different periods of time would be represented. Even the cover art on every issue sported three images, rather than one. All and everything childhood was welcome.

The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth has been the most important organizational accomplishment within childhood historical study. I remain impressed by the ongoing growth of academic programs, conferences, and networks dedicated to the area. Yet, I wonder about intellectual coherence in an era that combines globalization and specialization. Peter Novick once wrote that making history is like nailing jelly to a wall (a structure framed by disciplinary standards or a given school of thought); maybe the emergent field of childhood history was possible precisely because we were willing to forgo walls. Has the result been something like a hammer striking jelly in freefall?

I admit this is more of a provocation, than a question. But these thoughts encouraged me to ask Jim Marten, the current President of SHCY and new Editor of JHCY, about how he understands the challenges of the temporal, geographic, and methodological diversity of childhood history.

Jim described his own path toward the study of childhood as something that was ancillary to his primary training as an history of the American Civil War. We discussed how this part of his background is aligned with general features of the emergence of childhood history. Our conversation moved into an extended discussion of how he approaches his duties as editor. He emphasized that he wants the journal to advance historically significant work upon childhood and youth. Pursuing this priority is complicated in an interdisciplinary area that attempts to cast wide methodological, geographic, and chronological nets. Yet, this vast scope is part of why the journal and the conferences are bolstered by strong participation from a diverse range of scholars.

Toward the conclusion of the conversation Jim extolled the intensity of the intellectual exchange at the conferences. However, he expressed two concerns: (1) will we maintain an adequate number of dues paying members and (2) can we develop a group of new leaders for the society over the next decade? He suggested that SHCY may be having difficulty maintaining membership consistent with the numbers we field at conferences and on H-Childhood, because research in the field exists in-between and as an extension of so many diverse and distinct interests and topics. Childhood study remains a secondary identification. This makes it more difficult for SHCY to compete for paying members.

Interesting, isn’t it? The development of a specialization in childhood history became possible because we made a concerted effort to collaborate across important boundaries; but, these boundaries have remained paramount and may inhibit the growth of the organizations that serve childhood history. I am not particularly troubled by this state of affairs. But, it may be useful for those studying childhood historically to try to understand it. Listen to our recorded conversation above.

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