Philippe Ariès

Colin Heywood

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Philippe Ariès

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It is common currency in the early 21st century that childhood is an invention of modern society, that parents during the medieval period did not love their offspring, and that during that period children were treated as “miniature adults.” Diverse sources, such as newspaper articles, museum catalogs, scientific papers even, routinely take these ideas as a given from history—despite long-standing reservations among historians. The ideas can be traced back directly to Philippe Ariès (b. 1914–d. 1984) and his book Centuries of Childhood. This is a work that was published back in 1962 (or 1960 for the original French version, L’Enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Régime), yet its startling originality evidently still casts its spell. There is no doubting that Centuries launched the history of childhood and the family in its present form. It inspired numerous historians to follow up its ideas with detailed research projects, as well as influencing scholars in other disciplines. It was a work that very much reflected the concerns of the late 20th century, as historians took a growing interest in cultural history. More specifically, Ariès himself was acknowledged as a leading practitioner of the “history of mentalities.” For much of his career, Ariès appeared unlikely ever to scale such heights. He twice failed his agrégation, the conventional route into teaching, which meant that he spent most of his working life as director of documentation for an agricultural institute. Until late in life he was an historien du dimanche—his neat way of describing his amateur status—depriving him of the institutional support available to professionals in the universities. Moreover, his firm commitment to the extreme right in politics, as a Catholic and a Royalist, distanced him from most other French historians and their identification with the Republic. Yet it may be that this position as a rank outsider encouraged his ambition and adventurousness as a researcher. Happily for him, the eventual success of Centuries paved the way for a rapprochement with his fellow historians. He remained a controversial figure, and indeed most of the hypotheses presented in the book have not stood up well to further research. This bibliography traces the long trajectory of his rise and decline as an influence on the history of childhood.

Article.  15939 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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