The Global History of Childhood Reader ed. by Heidi Morrison (review)
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The Global History of Childhood Reader. Edited by Heidi Morrison. New York: Routledge, 2012. xv + 478 pp. $135 cloth, $46.95 paper.

The Global History of Childhood Reader brings together over five decades’ worth of scholarship in the field of children’s history. The volume’s broad aims—to spark greater study of non-western children, to interweave the stories of children from across the globe, to chart the historiographical developments of the field, and to provide college instructors with an engaging reader—match its ambitious scope (essay topics range from ninth-century China to contemporary globalization) and set it apart from recent volumes that focus on specific themes such as girlhood or war. Most of the children in this volume are between the ages of six and twelve, but chapters on infants and adolescents add to the collection’s range. Collectively the chapters begin to answer Heidi Morrison’s organizing question: What does a global history of childhood look like?

Morrison divides the reader into four thoughtfully balanced sections that explore historiography, the concept of childhood, children’s experiences, and children’s rights. Brief introductions and study questions establish each section’s key concepts. Within and across each section Morrison provides readings that speak to the variety of methodological approaches in children’s history and attest to the similarities and differences in children’s experiences across time and space.

The works collected in part one reveal a robust and diverse field. The selections chart four historiographical phases: discovering childhoods, exploring childhood as a social construct, globalizing childhood, and exploring childhood through interdisciplinary lenses. An excerpt from Philippe Ariès’s foundational Centuries of Childhood (1962) marks the field’s beginning and even now stirs interest about the malleability of the concept of childhood. Other chapters in this section challenge Ariès’s assumptions about the western origins of modern childhood, introduce feminist theoretical frameworks for understanding children’s history, interrogate the relationship between visual images and concepts of childhood, and call for greater interdisciplinarity. Morrison pairs chapters [End Page 187] that address topics such as out-of-wedlock births and death rituals in different regions and times to advance comparative global study.

Part two explores social constructions of childhood. These chapters examine the emergence of a modern model of childhood that emphasizes chronological age, schooling, and child protection within a welfare state while pointing to the variety of meanings of modern childhood in industrial, colonial, and globalizing contexts. Benjamin Fortna, for example, contends that the late Ottoman Empire adopted Western-style centralized schooling but used it to teach Islamic morality, biography, and law. Authors show how gender, class, disability, and race have set some children apart as uneducable and prevented them from accessing the welfare state’s benefits and responsibilities. Turning to religion, Don Browning’s and Maria Bunge’s introduction to childhood in world religions probes commonalities and difference in religious attitudes and approaches to childhood. They argue that although all major religions recognize children as a group, specific understandings of childhood overlap and diverge.

In part three, the reader explores how “children create and understand their own lives” despite the intellectual and methodological difficulties involved in uncovering children’s voices and agency (p. 245). Catriona Kelly, for example, juxtaposes the didactic aims of Soviet education officials and librarians with the actual reading practices of Soviet children and probes oral history and children’s fan letters to Soviet publishing houses to successfully demonstrate the complexity of indoctrinating children. Next, Jane Humphries examines over six hundred autobiographies that record working-class English childhood in the early and later stages of industrialization to tease out the complex familial circumstances and industrial demands that made early labor force participation likely.

Part four concentrates on children’s rights. Opening with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the section provides an excellent entry point for discussions of the aspirational goals that most nations have signed on to. Hugh Cunningham provides a broad chronology of the development of children’s rights within a state framework, tracing the growth of rights from nineteenth-century philanthropic child saving agencies to twentieth-century state welfare programs and the contemporary...


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