History of childhood
The history of childhood has been a topic of interest in social history since the highly influential book Centuries of Childhood, published by French historian Philippe Ariès in 1960. He argued "childhood" as a concept was created by modern society. Ariès studied paintings, gravestones, furniture, and school records. He found before the 17th-century, children were represented as mini-adults.
Other scholars have emphasized how medieval and early modern child rearing was not indifferent, negligent, nor brutal. Stressing the context of pre-industrial poverty and high infant mortality (with a third or more of the babies dying), actual child-rearing practices represented appropriate behavior in the circumstances. He points to extensive parental care during sickness, and to grief at death, sacrifices by parents to maximize child welfare, and a wide cult of childhood in religious practice. In a few years, a huge part of the 'history' of contemporary childhood will be children's role as participants in networked and mediated online settings as a response to the ever-changing social world as the social media and these online settings provide an outlet to reclaim some of the agency and social power they commonly grapple with adults for.
- 1 Preindustrial and medieval
- 2 Early modern periods
- 3 Enlightenment era
- 4 Children's rights under the law
- 5 Modern childhood
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 Bibliography
Preindustrial and medieval
Historians had assumed traditional families in the preindustrial era involved the extended family, with grandparent, parents, children and perhaps some other relatives all living together and ruled by an elderly patriarch. There were examples of this in the Balkans—and in aristocratic families. However, the typical pattern in Western Europe was the much simpler nuclear family of husband, wife and their children (and perhaps a servant, who might well be a relative). Children were often temporarily sent off as servants to relatives in need of help.
In medieval Europe there was a model of distinct stages of life, which demarcated when childhood began and ended. A new baby was a notable event. Nobles immediately started thinking of a marriage arrangement that would benefit the family. Birthdays were not major events as the children celebrated their saints' day after whom they were named. Church law and common law regarded children as equal to adults for some purposes and distinct for other purposes.
Education in the sense of training was the exclusive function of families for the vast majority of children until the 19th century. In the Middle Ages the major cathedrals operated education programs for small numbers of teenage boys designed to produce priests. Universities started to appear to train physicians, lawyers, and government officials, and (mostly) priests. The first universities appeared around 1100: the University of Bologna in 1088, the University of Paris in 1150, and the Oxford in 1167. Students entered as young as 13 and stayed for 6 to 12 years.
Early modern periods
In England in the Elizabethan era, the transmission of social norms was a family matter and children were taught the basic etiquette of proper manners and respecting others. Some boys attended grammar school, usually taught by the local priest.
During the 1600s, a shift in philosophical and social attitudes toward children and the notion of 'childhood' began in Europe. Adults increasingly saw children as separate beings, innocent and in need of protection and training by the adults around them.
The English philosopher John Locke was particularly influential in defining this new attitude towards children, especially with regard to his theory of the tabula rasa, promulgated in his 1690 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In Locke's philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that the (human) mind is at birth a "blank slate" without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one's sensory experiences. A corollary of this doctrine was that the mind of the child was born blank, and that it was the duty of the parents to imbue the child with correct notions. Locke himself emphasised the importance of providing children with "easy pleasant books" to develop their minds rather than using force to compel them: "children may be cozened into a knowledge of the letters; be taught to read, without perceiving it to be anything but a sport, and play themselves into that which others are whipped for."
During the early period of capitalism, the rise of a large, commercial middle class, mainly in the Protestant countries of Holland and England, brought about a new family ideology centred around the upbringing of children. Puritanism stressed the importance of individual salvation and concern for the spiritual welfare of children. It became widely recognized that children possess rights on their own behalf. This included the rights of poor children to sustenance, membership in a community, education, and job training. The Poor Relief Acts in Elizabethan England put responsibility on each Parish to care for all the poor children in the area.
The modern notion of childhood with its own autonomy and goals began to emerge during the Enlightenment and the Romantic period that followed it. Jean Jacques Rousseau formulated the romantic attitude towards children in his famous 1762 novel Emile: or, On Education. Building on the ideas of John Locke and other 17th-century thinkers, Rousseau described childhood as a brief period of sanctuary before people encounter the perils and hardships of adulthood. "Why rob these innocents of the joys which pass so quickly," Rousseau pleaded. "Why fill with bitterness the fleeting early days of childhood, days which will no more return for them than for you?"
These new attitudes can be discerned from the dramatic increase in artistic depictions of children at the time. Instead of depicting children as small versions of adults typically engaged in 'adult' tasks, they were increasingly shown as physically and emotionally distinct and were often used as an allegory for innocence. Children are viewed and acknowledged as being powerless and inferior to the adult world surrounding them due to the myth of childhood innocence being accepted and acknowledged by society.
Sir Joshua Reynolds' extensive children portraiture clearly demonstrate the new enlightened attitudes toward young children. His 1788 painting The Age of Innocence, emphasizes the innocence and natural grace of the posing child and soon became a public favourite.
Building on Locke's theory that all minds began as a blank slate, the eighteenth century witnessed a marked rise in children's textbooks that were more easy to read, and in publications like poems, stories, novellas and games that were aimed at the impressionable minds of young learners. These books promoted reading, writing and drawing as central forms of self-formation for children.
Keeping with Locke’s historical theory of all minds beginning as a blank slate, in Contemporary children’s culture there is a significant amount of engagement with digital media which often shapes the lives, personalities, knowledge and identities of children. According to article 17 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, parties shall recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a variety of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of the child’s moral well being, physical and mental health (Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989). Thus, inquiring and attaining knowledge within digital media is highly encouraged in Contemporary children’s culture as children have the right to access such knowledge for the many possible benefits it can have on the child and his or hers well-being. Thus, similar to the 18th century ideas, digital media sites and technologies can be seen as central forms of self-formation for children too.
During this period children's education became more common and institutionalized, in order to supply the church and state with the functionaries to serve as their future administrators. Small local schools where poor children learned to read and write were established by philanthropists, while the sons and daughters of the noble and bourgeois elites were given distinct educations at the grammar school and university.
Children's rights under the law
With the onset of industrialisation in England, a growing divergence between high-minded romantic ideals of childhood and the reality of the growing magnitude of child exploitation in the workplace, became increasingly apparent. Although child labour was common in pre-industrial times, children would generally help their parents with the farming or cottage crafts. By the late 18th century, however, children were specially employed at the factories and mines and as chimney sweeps, often working long hours in dangerous jobs for low pay. In England and Scotland in 1788, two-thirds of the workers in 143 water-powered cotton mills were described as children. In 19th-century Great Britain, one-third of poor families were without a breadwinner, as a result of death or abandonment, obliging many children to work from a young age.
As the century wore on, the contradiction between the conditions on the ground for children of the poor and the middle-class notion of childhood as a time of innocence led to the first campaigns for the imposition of legal protection for children. Reformers attacked child labor from the 1830s onward, bolstered by the horrific descriptions of London street life by Charles Dickens. The campaign that led to the Factory Acts was spearheaded by rich philanthropists of the era, especially Lord Shaftesbury, who introduced Bills in Parliament to mitigate the exploitation of children at the workplace. In 1833 he introduced the Ten Hours Act 1833 into the Commons, which provided that children working in the cotton and woollen industries must be aged nine or above; no person under the age of eighteen was to work more than ten hours a day or eight hours on a Saturday; and no one under twenty-five was to work nights. Legal interventions throughout the century increased the level of childhood protection, despite the prevalence of the Victorian laissez-faire attitude toward government interference. In 1856, the law permitted child labour past age 9 for 60 hours per week. In 1901, the permissible child labour age was raised to 12.
The modern attitude to children emerged by the late 19th century; the Victorian middle and upper classes emphasized the role of the family and the sanctity of the child, - an attitude that has remained dominant in Western societies ever since. This can be seen in the emergence of the new genre of children's literature. Instead of the didactic nature of children's books of a previous age, authors began to write humorous, child-oriented books, more attuned to the child's imagination. Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes appeared in 1857, and is considered as the founding book in the school story tradition. Lewis Carroll's fantasy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865 in England, signalled the change in writing style for children to an imaginative and empathetic one. Regarded as the first "English masterpiece written for children" and as a founding book in the development of fantasy literature, its publication opened the "First Golden Age" of children's literature in Britain and Europe that continued until the early 1900s.
The latter half of the century also saw the introduction of compulsory state schooling of children across Europe, which decisively removed children from the workplace into schools. Modern methods of public schooling, with tax-supported schools, compulsory attendance, and educated teachers emerged first in Prussia in the early 19th century, and was adopted by Britain, the United States, France and other modern nations by 1900.
The market economy of the 19th century enabled the concept of childhood as a time of fun of happiness. Factory-made dolls and doll houses delighted the girls and organized sports and activities were played by the boys. The Boy Scouts was founded by Sir Robert Baden-Powell in 1908, which provided young boys with outdoor activities aiming at developing character, citizenship, and personal fitness qualities.
The nature of childhood on the American frontier is disputed. One group of scholars, following the lead of novelists Willa Cather and Laura Ingalls Wilder, argue that the rural environment was salubrious. Historians Katherine Harris and Elliott West write that rural upbringing allowed children to break loose from urban hierarchies of age and gender, promoted family interdependence, and in the end produced children who were more self-reliant, mobile, adaptable, responsible, independent and more in touch with nature than their urban or eastern counterparts. On the other hand, historians Elizabeth Hampsten and Lillian Schlissel offer a grim portrait of loneliness, privation, abuse, and demanding physical labor from an early age. Riney-Kehrberg takes a middle position. Over the 21st century, some sex-selection clinics[clarification needed] have shown a preference for female children over male children.
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In mid 20th century America, there was intense interest in using institutions to support the innate creativity of children. It helped reshape children's play, the design of suburban homes, schools, parks, and museums. Producers of children's television programming worked to spark creativity. Educational toys designed to teach skills or develop abilities proliferated. For schools there was a new emphasis on arts as well as science in the curriculum. The emphasis was reversed in the 1980s, as public policy emphasized test scores, school principles downplayed anything that was not being scored on standardized tests. After 2000 some children became mesmerized by their cell phones, often checking their text messages or Facebook page. Checking Facebook and responding to text messages is a form of participatory culture. Participatory culture is engaging with media and developing ones voice and identity. By doing so, children are able to develop their voices and identities in a space separate from adults (Henry Jenkins). According to the UNCRC, children have the right to participate online with matters concerning them. They also have the right to give their opinions about certain matters, and these opinions should be heard by adults. Engaging in the digital environments gives children the access to worldwide issues, and also gives them the ability to decide what parts of their lives they want to keep private, and what parts they want to make public.
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The modern concept of childhood was copied by non-Western societies as they modernized. In the vanguard was Japan, which actively began to engage with the West after 1860. Meiji era leaders decided that the nation-state had the primary role in mobilizing individuals - and children - in service of the state. The Western-style school was introduced as the agent to reach that goal. By the 1890s, schools were generating new sensibilities regarding childhood. By the turn of the 20th century, Japan had numerous reformers, child experts, magazine editors, and well-educated mothers who had adopted these new attitudes.
The Nuclear Family and Childhood
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Much of contemporary western perceptions of children and childhood still stems from the idea of the "Nuclear family", which gained significance in the 1950s. In western culture and society it is important for children to be socialized into acceptable adults, and this means passing on social values that cater to a national narrative. One of the main ways that children are socialized is by gender. Children are expected to behave in particular ways and hold particular values based on their gender- male or female. Gender is assigned at birth based on sex, which is determined by genitalia. And with that, children are expected to take on gender roles in society, and the associated characteristics based on this determined sex. Today the gender roles are divided into two spaces, referred to as the ‘separation of spheres’; the reproductive sphere is reserved for women and the productive sphere is reserved for men: This began in the 1950s with the rise and normalizing of the ‘nuclear family’. Kimmel and Hollar (2011) claim that “family life was wrenched apart from the world of work…men[’s] work shifted from home to farm to mill and factory, shop and office… [which] became…paid labour…gradually [becoming] industrialized and eliminated as such tasks…shifted to the external world…libererat[ing] men to exit their homes and leave the rearing of their sons and daughters to their wives” (p. 144). While family life has changed today the expectations of men and women, and thus boys and girls, remains and mimics that of the idealized nuclear family. And so girls are still socialized by society to enter the private sphere of home and family, while boys are still socialized to enter the public sphere of work.
- Annales School
- History of education
- History of education in the United States
- Social history
- History of childhood care and education
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- "The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England". Laura Del Col, West Virginia University.
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- Kimmel, M. S., & Holler, J. (2011). 'The Gendered Family': Gender at the Heart of the Home. In The Gendered Society (3rd ed., pp. 141–88). Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.
- Pollock, Linda A. Forgotten Children: Parent-child relations from 1500 to 1900 (1983).
- Sommerville, John. The Rise and Fall of Childhood (1982), from antiquity to the present
Literature & ideas
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- Pinchbeck, Ivy and Margaret Hewitt. Children in English Society. (2 vols. 1969); covers 1500 to 1948
- Sommerville, C. John. The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England. (1992).
- Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (1979).
- Welshman, John. Churchill's Children: The Evacuee Experience in Wartime Britain (2010)
- Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. (1962). Influential study on France that helped launch the field
- Immel, Andrea and Michael Witmore, eds. Childhood and Children’s Books in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800. (2006).
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- Chudacoff, Howard. Children at Play: An American History (2008).
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- Tuttle, Jr. William M. Daddy's Gone to War: The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children (1995) online edition
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- Zelizer, Viviana A. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (1994) Emphasis on use of life insurance policies. excerpt
- Bremner, Robert H. et al. eds. Children and Youth in America, Volume I: 1600-1865 (1970); Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History, Vol. 2: 1866-1932 (2 vol 1971); Children and Youth in America: A Documentary History, Vol. 3: 1933-1973 (2 vol. 1974). 5 volume set
- González, Ondina E. and Bianca Premo. Raising an Empire: Children in Early Modern Iberia & Colonial Latin America (2007) 258p; covers 1500-1800 with essays by historians on orphans and related topics
- Rodríguez Jiménez, Pablo and María Emma Manarelli (coord.). Historia de la infancia en América Latina, Universidad Externado de Colombia, Bogotá (2007).
- Rojas Flores, Jorge. Historia de la infancia en el Chile republicano, 1810-2010, Ocho Libros, Santiago (2010), 830p. online access, full
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- Raddock, David M. "Growing Up in New China: A Twist in the Circle of Filial Piety," History of Childhood Quarterly, 1974, Vol. 2 Issue 2, pp 201–220
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- Mofford, Juliet. Child Labor in America (1970)
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- Stearns, Peter N. Childhood in World History (2011)
- West, Elliott. Growing Up in Twentieth-Century America: A History and Reference Guide (1996) online edition
- Wilson, Adrian (1980). "The Infancy of the History of Childhood: An Appraisal of Philippe Aries". History and Theory. 19: 132–53. doi:10.2307/2504795.