Revolutions at Home

Cover for Revolutions at Home: The Origin of Modern Childhood and the German Middle Class by Emily C. Bruce shows frontispiece with adult holding book away from a group of enthusiastic children.

My first book, Revolutions at Home: The Origin of Modern Childhood and the German Middle Class, was published in July 2021 by the University of Massachusetts Press through the Childhoods: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Childhood and Youth series.

How did we come to imagine what “ideal childhood” requires? Beginning in the late eighteenth century, German child-rearing radically transformed, and as these innovations in ideology and educational practice spread from middle-class families across European society, childhood came to be seen as a life stage critical to self-formation.

This new approach was in part a process that adults imposed on youth, one that hinged on motivating children’s behavior through affection and cultivating internal discipline.

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

But this is not just a story about parents’ and pedagogues’ efforts to shape childhood. Offering rare glimpses of young students’ diaries, letters, and marginalia, I reveal how children themselves negotiated these changes.

Revolutions at Home analyzes a rich set of documents created for and by young Germans to show that children were central to reinventing their own education between 1770 and 1850.

Through their reading and writing, they helped construct the modern child subject. The active child who emerged at this time was not simply a consequence of expanding literacy but, in fact, a key participant in defining modern life.

Image shows two pages from a child's diary with several short entries of scribbled text.
Two pages from ten-year-old Marie Seybold’s diary (1830)

Her in-depth analysis can be read as a tutorial on how to conduct nuanced readings of various primary sources ranging from periodicals to diaries. This type of instruction in close reading, especially on a micro level, is valuable for seasoned scholars and novice students alike. For anyone looking to educate themselves on the history of childhood and class in nineteenth-century Europe, Bruce’s monograph will not disappoint.

– Review by Alexandria Ruble for H-German

Bruce compellingly demonstrates how German pedagogues, authors of children’s tales, and children themselves constructed a new ‘childhood subjectivity.’ This study will appeal to readers interested in the histories of childhood, education, and German middle-class identity, as well as anyone curious about the origins of classics like Grimm’s fairy tales.

– Anna Kuxhausen, author of From the Womb to the Body Politic: Raising the Nation in Enlightenment Russia 

A new and valuable contribution to the growing literature on children’s literacy and writing.

– Andrea Immel, author of Childhood and Children’s Books in Early Modern Europe, 1550–1800
Revolutions at Home: The Origin of Modern Childhood and the German Middle Class

The research for Revolutions at Home was generously supported by:


Revolutions at Home is based 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