In her poignant discussion of Lv Ju's photograph album, Laura Wexler reveals some of the complex ways in which children learn and carry a history that they were never told. Such seepages and discontinuities emerge in all the essays collected in this issue of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. These essays ask: How do ideas about history impact the young? How do ideas about young people influence national, political, and cultural history?
Wexler's Object Lesson explores how a photograph might serve, as Lv Ju puts it, to "bridge" the divide that Chinese history and especially the Cultural Revolution has created between generations. The question of generational divides and the notion that such divisions and expectations are in themselves articulations of national history prove central to both Michael Zuckerman and Jaime Pensado's essays. Zuckerman notes that while the preponderance of sociological evidence shows the experiences of contemporary American adolescence as largely continuous with adult patterns, Americans nevertheless persist in asserting a fraught and tumultuous generation gap. Why, he asks, do Americans seem to want to believe their teenagers are more difficult and different than they are? The answers he offers to these questions point to America's history of distrust in the authority of tradition and experience. Pensado's account of Mexican youth during the late nineteenth century nearly inverts this pattern, revealing a national celebration of the preparatorianos as emblematic of liberal goals for the modern Mexican state. Yet this essay richly details how the rowdy behavior and increasingly distinctive youth culture of the students of the National Preparatory School were seen as undermining those ideals at least as much as embodying them.
Barbara Hochman's analysis of early twentieth century revisions of the abolitionist novel Uncle Tom's Cabin for young readers, finds in this process of juvenilization clear markers of change both in racial attitudes and in attitudes towards children. One striking difference she discerns between the 1852 novel and the 1901 Young Folks Uncle Tom's Cabin are the texts' understanding of children's capacity for historical action. In Stowe's novel children are portrayed [End Page 1] as moral and political agents, actively converting adults and readers, while Hochman argues that the Jim Crow era revisions of Uncle Tom's Cabin for children not only produce a far more racist text, but also produce one that discourages children from seeing themselves as engaged with social or political issues. As with Lv Ju, such efforts to cordon off childhood from history is, in itself, a historical process and a highly charged political act. It is fitting that Hochman's essay on the role of children's literature in articulating the relationship between children and history appears in the issue of JHCY inaugurating a new feature of our Book Reviews: the pairing of a review of a book on the history of childhood and youth with a review of a book for children on a related topic.
The essays collected here suggest, moreover, that historians are themselves implicated in these ideational constraints. Jack Lord begins his essay on child labor and education in the late colonial Gold Coast (modern day Ghana) with a provocative and incisive critique of how Western metropolitan conceptions of childhood permeate African historiography, often moralizing and misconstruing the experiences of children and their families. His precise accounting of the impact of child labor and education on the family economy pulls from juvenile court probation records clear indices of the roles school and work played in Gold Coast children's accumulation of financial, intellectual, and social capital. Jessica Nelson's work also rests on the innovative use of archival records—in her case the entry registers of institutions for abandoned and orphaned children in eighteenth century Dijon, France—in order to gauge the aspirations of children and their families. In her work the project of state control over the poor inherent in these institutions is matched by family goals and agency.
These essays show children—through their labor and aspirations in the Gold Coast or Dijon and in direct actions like the Mexican student strike—as significant participants in economic and political life...