Article

Western Europe and Scandinavia

Laurence Brockliss

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0018
Western Europe and Scandinavia

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Childhood in western Europe is obviously a vast topic, and this entry will approach it historically and largely chronologically. The study of childhood is still relatively new, and historians have sometimes struggled to construct a history of childhood, with very few firsthand accounts and limited archives. So many children left very few traces of their lives, and historians have had to piece together their history, not from diaries or archives but from court reports, visual representations, and childcare manuals. They have had to struggle to recapture the world of childhood in eras prior to 1800, when sources are especially limited. They, like others interested in childhood studies, have had to address the issue of how to define a child and what childhood is. They have had to contemplate the different historical meanings of the word child prior to 1600 and to resist the temptation to believe that childhood has inevitably improved through the centuries. They have also had to become aware of the dangers of historicizing a phenomenon that has few stable parameters and, in some cultures, may not even exist at all. In several languages there is no word for child; even in English, the word has drastically shifted its meaning over the centuries. These shifts need to be historicized in order to see both the continuities and the discontinuities between the past and the present that suggest that childhood has always been a time of suffering; children have always been the victims of perilous disease, parental neglect, government policy, war, etc. Concurrently, children have also always been the hope of the future, the focus of special love and attention. A historical perspective on European childhoods brings this insight into sharp focus.

Article.  19084 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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