Joe Hawes opened the conference on Thursday evening, with his Presidential Address:
FROM ARIÉS TO HUCK'S RAFT: A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF STUDYING
Joseph M. Hawes
We know from the work of Erik Erikson and others that child's play is actually very serious developmental work. And we know from our own experience that to study the serious work of being a child is in itself a most satisfying enterprise for us. There is a certain symmetry in this which I find satisfying but I will leave to other thinkers the question of whether this is the result of some intelligent design or the result of a series of genetic mutations.
I came to this field quite by accident. It all started when I was unable to take a class from a well-known professor at the University of Texas. The graduate advisor suggested I take a class from a newly-hired professor who did western history(my interest) and something else called American Studies. I did and never thought seriously about the history of the American West again. I took two seminars with the man who became my major professor and published both papers. I found my topic on juvenile delinquency in nineteenth-century America (from a list of topics the professor provided) I left what was then considered mainstream U.S. history permanently. While we are here at the biennial conference of SHCY I hope to meet as many of you as possible and learn how you came to this field. By now I am sure some of you joined the field by choice and with a clear understanding of what you were getting into-as for the rest I'll buy the first round when tonight's festivities are concluded.
I had thought when I published my dissertation (Children in Urban Society) that I might specialize in the field of legal history. And I did give my only paper at the OAH on the chaplains in 19th century American prisons. But try as I might I could not get away from children and youth. Shortly after that OAH paper I met Ray Hiner. The rumor is true--we were both at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka at the same time. We were both interested in children and I was at that time working on child psychology in the early twentieth century (A project never finished, but happily Kathleen Jones and Ham Cravens, among others have done important work in that area). Instead of becoming rivals and competitors, Ray and I became collaborators and life-long friends. And as a result of that meeting, we began to try to negotiate and help illuminate the difficult terrain we now call the history of children and youth.
Both of us wanted to teach courses in the field, but found that there weren't any comprehensive texts. To try to find out what was available, we co-edited American Childhood, a survey of the literature on children and youth in the early 1980s. We found some very impressive work, but it was scattered across a variety of disciplines and specialties, and I suspect most people who had published were not aware of related work in disciplines other than their own. For example I still use John Demos's A little Commonwealth, and Philip Greven's The Protestant Temperament. I was aware of his Concepts of Childrearing and wanted desperately to use it but enough copies could not be found for class use.
American Childhoods was followed in 1991 by Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective a broad overview of children and youth around the world and an update on the literature on children in the United States. In the meantime I had moved to a new university and found some resistance to the courses on the history of children and youth and American families I had previously taught. The curriculum committee could not see the need for both courses--wondering if there was sufficient material. I took Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective along with a similar guide on American families which I had done with Elizabeth Nybakken. And I have taught both courses--with solid enrollments--ever since.
As we thought about how to bring some order and structure to the literature we found, we had the advantage of Ray Hiner's famous questions which distinguished between the experience of being a child and adult talk about children or about the social construction of childhood. Further we wondered about the influence of children on adults, on the larger society, or, in short how children functioned as historical actors. Beyond all this was a link between the study of children and the study of childhood--what were the social and personal meanings of children? As a consequence of these questions we were able to sort the material we found and come to see what could form the basis of a new field and what was either antiquarian or so broadly theoretical as to be of little use to us.
I should pause here to say a bit about theoretical perspectives. One of the greatest uses of theory is that it prompts people to refute it and thereby stimulates a great deal of thought and research. In this light the correctness of Philippe Aris's speculations in Childhood and Society is less important than the determination of later historians to prove him wrong. Similarly, though many of us may disagree vigorously with the ideas of Lloyd deMause, we are in his debt because of the ways his views have led to more active work on the history of children and youth by a host of historians. Some of us have proposed alternative explanations, while others have dug more deeply into the historical records in search of elusive and inscrutable children.
Ray and I found a great deal as I have said, and yet in some ways we did not find enough. We found allusions to children; we found Ross Beales debunking the timeless myth that in colonial America children were miniature adults. I should add here as an aside that in spite of Beales's impeccable scholarship students remain unswerving in their determination that colonial children were miniature adults. We found Peter Slater's Children in the New England Mind, Joseph Kett's Rites of Passage, Bernard Wishy's Child and the Republic, and Steven Schlossman's Love and the American Delinquent.
Alas we had to wait a long time before our hope reached fruition. We thought, somewhat naively, that by calling attention to a fairly substantial but disorganized body of literature on a topic consonant with the emerging fields of gender and social history, a torrent of new scholarly works would come forth. I am not sure why this didn't happen. Perhaps it was because the explosion of social and cultural history was so broad and dramatic that what many considered to be a subfield within this broad new trend lacked visibility. Or it could have been that the backlash against social history swept aside the history of children and youth because the practitioners of it were few in number and widely scattered. A brief anecdote from my own experience is illustrative:
A now distinguished former colleague was in the early stages of his career. He had done a splendid scholarly book on the uses of photography, which contributed both to our understanding of the history of photography, and the way material culture informed our historical understanding. The book also added a great deal to our understanding of the politics of a particular historical period. In spite of all this and in spite of a fistful of favorable reviews, he was told by his chair that it wasn't "real history."
Given that sort of culture in history departments just a short generation ago, perhaps it is not so surprising that studying the history of children was a bit slow to take off. Graduate students would have risked their careers if they had specialized in the field. And of course there was no organization to lend support and emphasis.
There was (and is) another difficulty with this field is, even though many people regard it as trivial or easily done, that doing this sort of history well is very difficult and requires an unusual combination of abilities. To understand children and their worlds requires a quality of mind best described as "empathy." This quality is probably best illustrated in the provocative and important series of books by Robert Coles, "Children of Crisis." Anyone who has read those books knows that Coles has a special ability to pay attention to what children think and feel and he conveys their reality in ways that help his readers understand how children could deal with the realities of the Civil Rights Movement among many other issues. It would be almost impossible I think to write about children as historical actors if you lacked an understanding and appreciation of children themselves. So the capacity to empathize with children is essential but equally important are the professional qualities every historian must bring to the task of writing about the past. Our task is to write and review works of history and to subject those works to the highest of professional standards. To be accepted as a field in its own right the history of children and youth has to be both historically sound and to see children as they actually were. As for the pitfalls and difficulties involved in the writing of professional history, I will leave that discourse for others to tackle. I am sure we are all aware that a great deal has been said in defense of professionalism. Still we are engaged in a difficult struggle and have come together to advance an important--even vital cause.
But as Ray and I continued our labors we discovered others at work in the same difficult terrain. And we found many conflicting paths as we looked for the ways historians had sought to understand children in the past. We are deeply indebted to Harvey Graff, for example, for pointing out that all known societies had some concept of childhood and thus reminding us that childhood was not, in any significant sense, "invented."
At our last gathering we had a lively debate about "childhood" versus "children" in our society's name. The debate, of course , reflects the great divergence of approaches and understandings that are part of our field. As Ray and I surveyed the literature more than 20 years ago, we found more on childhood than on children themselves. Perhaps this was because children of the past are elusive, difficult to detect, and largely inarticulate on the historical stage, while talk and writing about children and especially about expectations for children is abundant. This is not to suggest that those studies were unimportant--indeed they helped to frame the field and gave us insights into the worlds children inhabited. And as more studies appeared, it became clear that scholars appreciated the warning that Jay Mechling had issued in 1975 about the distinction between talk about mothering and the behavior of actual mothers. The same advice holds true for us as we seek the lives of actual children.
Six years after the publication of American Childhood Ray and I brought out Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective. Need I point out that the change in title format was not coincidental? But the title was in a way more hopeful than descriptive. Our coverage, as any who has used the volume knows, is not uniform either in chronological or geographical terms. This meant that the field of the history of children and youth had not, as of the early 1990s, emerged in an equal way across the globe. It also meant that works about the social construction of childhood still outnumbered the works on children themselves.
Philippe Aries was still the focus of debate and Linda Pollock in Forgotten Children sought to show that historical sources contradicted his interpretation. But she concluded her work observing that "instead of trying to explain the supposed changes in the parent child relationship, historians could do well to ponder just why parental care is a variable so curiously resistant to change."(quoted in Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective, 5)
Other important works also emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s--Steven Ozment's When Fathers Ruled, Ralph Houlbrooke's The English Family, David Hunt's Parents and Children in History, or Colin Heywood's Childhood in Nineteenth-Century France-- books which enhanced our understanding of children in families and the social conditions under which children lived. But these books, like their predecessors, did not focus expressly on children. Meanwhile scholars had done a great deal more with children's literature, a field well-developed by the early 1990s. We knew more about what children read than any other aspect of their lives--except, perhaps, what advice their mothers could have read.
Among the notable work that was emerging in the late 1980s and early 1990s were books by Joan Jacobs Brumberg (Fasting Girls)
Equally impressive but important for different reasons is Vivianna Zelizer's Pricing the Priceless Child, which, coincidentally came out the same year as Nasaw's book, 1985. Zelizer demonstrates beautifully and convincingly that childhood in the United States had undergone a remarkable change by the 20th century. No longer were children to be valued for their economic contributions; now their sentimental value was of much greater importance. These books were the harbingers of what proved to be a flood of new and important work. It wasn't long after Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective came out that I bought the tee shirt I now wear regularly--it reads "SO MANY BOOKS--SO LITTLE TIME".
In the 90s our field literally burst on the scene. Here follows a partial list of titles (I don't claim comprehensiveness here, but the range, variety and total is staggering):
Taming the Troublesome Child
Governing the Young
Spare the Child
The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction
The Children's Civil War
Growing Up with the Country
Growing Up in Twentieth Century America
Immigrant Children in America
The Age of the Child
Children's Health in America
Save the Babies
A Social History of Wet Nursing
As Various as Their Land
Children Between the Wars
From Virtue to Character
American Children's Literature and the Construction of Childhood
Adolescence in the 1990s
Children for the Union
The Whiteness of Child Labor Reform in the New South
A Tribe Apart
The Children's Rights Movement
After the Boom
A Mother's Job
The Century of the Child
From Father's Property to Children's Rights
Vampires, Dragons and Egyptian Kings
A Right to Childhood
A Doctor of their Own
A Judgment for Solomon
Daddy's Gone to War
The Empty Cradle
Children as Equals
Generations of Youth
Reconstructing the Household
Some Wore Bobby Sox
Childhood in America
The Children's Culture Reader
A Vision for Girls
Adoption in America
The Commodification of Childhood
Before Head Start
Dolls and Duty
Made to Play House
Kindergartens and Cultures
On My Honor
Children and Youth in Sickness and in Health
Building Character in the American Boy
Saving the Waifs
Beyond the Century of the Child
Children at Risk in America
Children in the House
Muscles and Morals
A Home of Another Kind
Children, Culture and Controversy
"G" is for Growing
Children of the Movement
From Front Porch to Back Seat
Where the Girls Are
Coming of Age in Buffalo
Children's Interests/Mother's Rights
Child Care Policy at the Crossroads
Born in Bondage
The Cute and the Cool
Out of the Garden
Teenagers: An American History
Raising Baby by the Book
Delinquents and Debutantes
The Body Project
Hope in a Jar
The Girls Own
The Vulnerable Child
The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England
Breasts, Bottles and Babies
Juvenile Justice and Youth Violence
The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager
Disciplines of Virtue
Young, White and Miserable
We Were There Too!
Pioneer Children on the Journey West
African American Childhoods in Historical Perspective
Girls: A History of Growing Up Female in America
Growing up in Australia
Comic Book Nation
Through the Eyes of Innocents
A Century of Juvenile Justice
The Politics of Child Abuse in America
The Failed Century of the Child
Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace
The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America
The Juvenile Court and the Progressives
When the Old Left was Young
The New Deal and American Youth
Children in Time and Place
When the Bow Breaks
Before It's Too Late
And, of course -- Huck's Raft
I think this list, a preliminary one at that, makes the case that our field is robust. No serous historian can now write about past societies without including this work. We have already begun the process of affiliating with the American Historical Association; we are global in our scope and membership. From the first we have been an international organization. We have members from several countries and we intend to emphasize that as our organization looks to the future. We understand that many of the trends and forces which affect children and youth are not limited by national boundaries. Neither then should the historical study of them be limited Another of the challenges for our organization is the need to maintain our commitment to a global understanding of the history of children and youth. We must become aware of the work being done by scholars all over the world and we must engage in meaningful dialogue with them. We cannot and should not remain regional, local, isolated or provincial. So as we go forward, we must do so globally. To that end I think we will have some exciting news about where will meet for our next full gathering.
As a scholarly endeavor and as a society we have arrived. No longer are sessions on children, youth or childhood unusual on the programs of historical meetings. We are part of the academy; we belong. We might then be tempted to enjoy this success, to catch our breath and pass around some kudos, but we have to resist that.
If we have made major strides, we now have the equally difficult task of maintaining the momentum we now have, and we have to show that what we have accomplished is not a momentary trend but a significant and growing part of the historical enterprise. We have to write more books, publish more articles, expand our meetings, spread the word, encourage graduate students, and support each other in this work.
The field has truly expanded in a dramatic way since Ray and I began our collaboration. There are now more books on children and childhood extant than anyone could read in a reasonable amount of time. This situation points to another task before us as a professional organization. We have to assess this mass of work; we have to discover how these works advance the cause of a continuing and vital history of children and youth. As I think about this issue I am reminded of what the chairman of the Physics Department said to me a good many years ago when we were talking about how to evaluate faculty publications. We ask, he said, if the publication adds something important or if it is just part of the background noise.
We have arrived at this stage in the evolution of our field. We can continue to celebrate the appearance of work in the history of children and youth, but we now have the burden of organizing and assessing this great mountain of scholarship. We are deeply in debt to Steven Mintz who has synthesized much of the work in Huck's Raft and he has offered us some ways to think seriously about what the new scholarly efforts mean. Likewise Harvey Graff and Joe Illick have offered us Conflicting Paths
Already we have begun that effort with our prize for the best article published between our biennial (or is it biannual?)--between our meetings held every two years. Now it is time to do the same for books. Accordingly, I want to ask Jim Marten to come forward now.
You will have noticed Jim, that the name of Alger Hiss did not appear on my list--I'll let you explain that, but I have something here for the society. This is a modest check--about what you would expect from an academic--but it is a beginning. This represents the initial contribution to what I hope will be a substantial fund. I suggest that The fund be used to award a prize for the best book on the history of children and youth published between our meetings, and I suggest that the fund be named for two of the pioneers in the field: Grace Abbot and Robert Bremner.
In conclusion let me add: while there is yet much to be done, I am at a personal high point. Nothing pleases me more than the opportunity to hand over the duties of my office to a wonderful successor and then to say truly that my soul is rested.
© Society for the History of Children and Youth, 2005
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