Children and Adolescents in America, 1850-1950
Elliott West and Paula Petrik
Historians have been guilty of child neglect. Yes, they've studied children, but only to learn about adults. Typically they've chosen adult-centered research topics like child-rearing practices, social attitudes toward children, and the evolution of public institutions like education and juvenile courts.
The thirteen essays in Small Worlds take a different tack. They treat children as active, influential participants in society. Here children and adolescents from the pre-Civil War generation to 1950 are seen as actors in their own right, shapers of their own history who not only mirror adult values, but also modify them.
“Represents a welcome refocusing of historians’ attention on children and adolescents, here interpreted as important forces in the shaping of their own lives.”
—Journal of American History
“The book’s chief contribution is that it reveals important new sources and ways of looking at an element of social and cultural history that is normally ignored.”
—History of Education QuarterlySee all reviews...
“The importance of the collection’s emphasis on diversity cannot be exaggerated, nor can its subsidiary themes of the many conflicts that constitute childhood and adolescent experiences.”
—Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Useful and interesting to all historians of the American family and society.”
—Pacific Historical Review
“Small Worlds invites us to take children and childhood seriously.”
“Small Worlds is a beautifully produced volume, easy to read and pleasant to handle.”
—Pacific Northwest Quarterly
“A stimulating introduction to how the past looked when viewed through a child's eyes.”
—Georgia Historical Quarterly
“This book represents a new and imaginative reconception of the American experience. . . . Especially noteworthy is the emphasis on material culture.”
—David M. Katzman, author of Seven Days a Week: Women and Domestic Service in Industrializing America
“It is good to see writing and research about the history of children burst forth with the social diversity, imaginative research, and relevance to the present that are displayed in this collection. For too long, the lives of children have been merely an adjunct of family history; in this volume those lives become, as they should, the story of children themselves examining and evaluating their parents and their teachers as well as their peers in various regions and social situations within the United States.”
—Carl N. Degler, author of At Odds: Women and the Family in America, from the Revolution to the Present
“The highly commendable purpose of Small Worlds is to portray the children of America’s past as historical actors in their own right. In spite of the many difficulties presented by the scant historical evidence pertaining to children, the authors in this collection have constructed significant and original narratives relating vivid stories of forgotten younger citizens. Balanced and sensitive to issues of race, class, and gender, Small Worlds is an important and timely addition to the swelling volume of literature pertaining to the history of American children.”
—Joseph M. Hawes, author of The Children’s Rights Movement in the United StatesSee fewer reviews...
Editors Elliott West and Paula Petrik have organized the essays in Small Worlds around four topics: cultural and regional variations, toys and play, family life, and the ways evolving memories of childhood shape how adults think of themselves. And, since photography provides the best record of childhood, they've added a photographic essay by Ray Hiner entitled "Seen but Not Heard."
"A youthful perspective on the past can provide a much better understanding of changes in American material and economic life," write West and Petrik. Young people, they argue, performed many of the essential jobs in newly industrialized America, and they continued to play vital roles on their families' farms well into the twentieth century. As a result, children have been increasingly influential in American economic life—as consumers.
According to West and Petrik, the study of children also reveals how values evolve out of the mutual give-and-take between society and child in the socialization process. This enormously complex evolution continues as the child matures and, in turn, tries mightily to pass on values to a new generation of children who work just as strenuously to make up their own minds.