History of Childhood in America

Susan Miller

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
History of Childhood in America

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The history of childhood and youth is a relatively new field in American history that has grown exponentially in size and sophistication over the past twenty years. Befitting a burgeoning field, historians are currently engaged in all areas of scholarship—compiling anthologies, creating reference works, and crafting both monographs and comprehensive synthetic overviews. Located within the larger interdisciplinary arena of childhood studies, as well as alongside complementary subfields of American social history, the history of youth attracts a range of scholars with training in a diversity of disciplines, including (but certainly not limited to) the history of education and the family, folklore, American studies, and children’s literature. Both the emerging nature of the field and the genre-challenging creative scholarship of its creators have guaranteed that key historiographical questions and assumptions about periodization are very much open to debate. Scholars grapple with how concerns familiar to social historians—race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, and sexuality—differently affect the lives of young people, even as they consider issues particular to youth, such as the coherence of an age cohort, the effects of generational influence, and the impact of accepted norms of child rearing and scientific “truths” on the realities of children’s lives. As historians write the experiences of youth into the narratives of American history, they have also identified some important methodological challenges. How to uncover children’s voices, while remaining critical of the presumed authenticity of such sources? What are the benefits and limitations of memoirs in reconstructing the experience of youth? How to balance the realities of a category of historical inquiry defined by certain biological and development distinctions with an understanding of the historical construction of childhood? How to locate the historical child within complex and evolving ideologies of childhood?

Article.  13088 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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