Research

Recent Publications

“‘Our Girls Have Grown Up in the Family’: Educating European and Chinese Girls in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Modern Chinese History 10, no. 1 (2016): 1–18  [with Qin Fang]

“Reading German Girlhood: Louise Tilly and the Agency of Girls in European History,” Social Science History 38, no. 1 (2014).

“‘Each word shows how you love me’: The social literacy practice of children’s letter writing (1780-1860),” Paedagogica Historica 50, no. 3 (2013).


My research is motivated by the conviction that childhood is neither a static nor uniform category, but rather has a history itself bound up in all aspects of social life. I am intrigued by what we can learn about European social and cultural history through uncovering the everyday experiences and perspectives of children.

My current book project, A Revolution in Childhood: Reading, Writing, and Agency in German Families, 1770–1850, demonstrates how active reading and writing became a defining feature of childhood during the age of revolutions. Beginning in educated middle-class families at the end of the Enlightenment and disseminating across European society by the end of the nineteenth century, a series of radical transformations occurred in the ideologies and practices of childhood: as a life stage, it was increasingly positioned as critical to self-formation; adults began to worry about entertaining children in active ways; sentimental attitudes influenced children’s learning; and at the same time, pedagogues and parents emphasized the cultivation of self-discipline. Pedagogical innovations, the development of new book genres and markets, and an increased emphasis on bourgeois domesticity joined to make German-speaking Central Europe a vital site for reimagining childhood.

schoolbook marginalia

Marginalia in Johann Schröckh’s Lehrbuch der Allgemeine Weltgeschichte (1774)

The development of modern childhood has traditionally been understood as a process enacted on youth by adults, but in practice children’s socialization was mediated by young people’s own choices. To better understand the roles children played in transformations of modern life, there is now a need for studies which combine the history of changing sentiments with the history of children’s lived experience. In addition to the ideas and practices of pedagogues and family educators, we also must consider the part children played. Rather than dismissing the disciplinary aspects of pedagogy or overlooking the power of children to influence adults, my approach emphasizes the mutual constitution of agency and discipline in determining how children influenced European modernity.

Sentiment and Self-Control furthermore shows how children participated in inventing the modern self. I argue that the emergence of the active child reader and writer was not simply a consequence of expanding literacy, but, in fact, a key constituent of modern life. The dissertation is organized as a series of case studies in literacy practices—youth periodicals, fairy tales, geographic schoolbooks, children’s letters, and youth diaries—which each demonstrate the complex and socially embedded ways in which children form opinions, exercise power, and make history.

My research has been generously supported by:

Tagxedo


A number of excellent resources related to the history of childhood, personal narratives, and the history of the book may be found on the web. Here are some links to sites which may be of interest:

My book is based partly on documents from state and city archives across Germany. It also draws on the holdings of libraries with extensive collections of books published for children and youth. Here are links to some of those institutions:

Historical Collections of Children’s Books 

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