Tag Archives: history of childhood

Regarding a child’s summer holiday postcard – A letter

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Dear Reader,

The postcard pictured above was sent on 12 April 1988 from Wadebridge in Cornwall to Oxford. It is one of those cards you yourself might recall having written to your own grandparents during a family summer holiday.

Postcard2

Above is the reverse side. The note underneath the drawing and the address were in all likelihood added by an adult. They identify the card’s author as ‘Jessie’ and the addressee as ‘Granny’. Jessie, apparently, was too young to produce a complex drawing, let alone  write.

You may ask yourself – just as I do – : did child or parents initiate the ‘writing’ of the postcard? who chose it? did the child tell the parent to add the note?

This postcard is a wonderful example of what I would call a ‘composite object’: a letter, postcard, or text/drawing in a different format, that is the result of a collective effort of several authors – in this case: a child and an adult. Their relationship is marked by a complex mix of agency and dependency: the child’s agency seems both curtailed and extended: they depend, for instance, on the parent for a range of activities – such as buying the postcard and adding the correct address; but they are also enabled to participate in ‘grown-up’ correspondence and to express themselves freely – and, in this case, ‘colourfully’.

The parent’s position of power notwithstanding, the traces of their emotional investment, imagination, and enjoyment in taking part in this shared project are also obvious – not least from the little, incomplete smiley appended to the child’s name. By adding the note and addressing the card to ‘Granny’, the parent even assumes the child’s perspective – and with that their ‘voice’; they write not only on their child’s behalf but in their name.

Similar forms of collaborative writing and mutual investment can also be found in late eighteenth-century children’s letters. I am currently working on a case study of the letters written by the children of the German philosopher, theologian and cultural historian Johann Gottfried August Herder in the 1780s and 90s; the period I am particularly concerned with are the years 1788 / 89 during which Herder travelled to Italy.

The first results of my research on this material will be published in a collection of essays entitled Was ist ein Brief? – Aufsätze zu epistolarer Theorie und Kultur / What is a letter? Essays on epistolary theory and culture which Caroline Socha (Basel/Switzerland) and I are currently preparing for publication with Königshausen & Neumann. If you, dear Reader, would like to read more about children’s correspondence and maybe, also, about epistolary theory and cultures more generally, this book might be of interest to you.

Quite independently of that, I very much hope you enjoyed this short missive and that you will come back in time for more.

Sincerely yours,

Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig

PS: I chanced upon the postcard pictured above in one of Oxford’s many Oxfam shops. I also found a few others there which I might share with you at a later stage. If you happen to be ‘Jessie’ or know (of) them, I would appreciate it very much if you could get in touch.

 

Upcoming conference on the history of childhood (including papers on children and letters)

Horrible Histories? Children’s Lives in Historical Contexts

16-18 June 2016, King’s College London

Theme and Focus

It is now over forty years since the bold declaration of psychohistorian Lloyd deMause that ‘The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken’. Stirred by such claims, scholars have subsequently tested the ‘nightmare thesis’ for both the pre-modern and modern eras, locating children’s agency in unexpected places and stressing the contingencies of context, gender, ethnicity, age, class, caste and sexuality. Narratives of historic and contemporary institutional abuse, however, together with insights concerning the legacies of forced child migration, children’s labours and other challenging aspects of childhood experience, suggest that sorrow rather than joy characterises much scholarship on children and childhood. Should this be so?

In another context, since 1993 the phenomenally successful Horrible Historiesbooks, stage plays and television series have helped introduce countless thousands of children around the world to the past. As their titles indicate, Horrible Histories also examine difficult and sometimes grisly historical episodes. Progressive narratives are at work here too, reinforced by children’s museum exhibits emphasising an emergence from the ‘dark ages’ of childhood in the twentieth century.

‘Horrible Histories? Children’s Lives in Historical Contexts’ is the launch conference marking the inauguration of the new UK-based Children’s History Society. Offering a forum for historical reflections from established and upcoming historians of children, childhood and youth, we also anticipate that this will be a platform for school-age scholars to reflect on the ways they respond to the history. This three-day conference will host papers on the following themes:

  • Dealing with difficult history and heritage
  • Children’s histories and the longue durée
  • The ‘West and the rest’ in children’s history
  • Definitions of subjecthood and status
  • Pain and resilience
  • Archival approaches for retrieving children’s agency
  • The things of childhood
  • Play as protest, recreation and the ‘work’ of childhood
  • Children’s histories in museums, online and in the media
  • The histories of children’s places and places for children
  • Future trajectories for researching children’s histories

Note that our definition of children is flexible, reflecting the multiple constructions through time of childhood as a social category.

A complete programme can be found here.

Source: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/ahri/eventrecords/2015-2016/MCAS/horriblehistories.aspx (additional information available there)