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  • Introduction
  • Laura L. Lovett and Karen Sánchez-Eppler

When I was One, I had just begun.When I was Two, I was nearly new.When I was Three, I was hardly me.When I was Four, I was not much more.When I was Five, I was just alive.But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

(A. A. Milne, Now We are Six)

For the past six years we have had the pleasure of launching and editing the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. It has been a real honor and a source of learning and delight to watch the process of the journal’s growth from when it had “just begun.” And while we have sought as readers and editors to acknowledge the multiplicity of perspectives, historical moments, and cultures that think very differently about childhood, as we enter the journal’s seventh year in production and distribution, we are reminded of the many ways that seven, as an age, resonates with a kind of maturity in Western traditions: the Age of Reason, the beginning of formal schooling (in Finland), or the age of moral culpability in ecclesiastical law. Seven years seems a good juncture for passing the care of this journal on to other hands.

The history of childhood in many ways seems “nearly new,” and as historians we are still trying to name and gauge the “usefulness,” as Joan Scott so aptly asked of gender, of this “category of analysis.” The uses we have discerned through our work on the journal are both theoretical and methodological. Age is a malleable category and so particularly helpful for allowing us to see beyond binaries through spectrums and transitions. Capacity-based arguments for the subjugation of many groups (the poor, the disabled, women, colonized peoples) often infantilize their subjects through an undifferentiated [End Page 407] narrative of childhood. The figure of the child naturalizes power imbalances and marks them as benign, and so serves a normalizing function for all kinds of hierarchies, even those that don’t explicitly involve children. Studying childhood requires that scholars address the balance of capacity and dependence. As a field we need to ask where does dependency trump rights and where do we need to reassess our assumptions about those seen as vulnerable?

Studying childhood authorizes interrogating something seemingly familiar and yet inherently strange; the past as all historians know is a foreign country, and this is even true of our own childhood pasts. Children’s most important experiences are unlikely to leave documents or written records, and what records there are come mediated by adults, including the child’s own adult self. Such methodological obstacles are problems for history in general but they are magnified by the History of Childhood, heightening self-awareness and prompting innovation in research methods. This issue of the journal instances such interpretive resourcefulness with essays by Elizabeth Hanson and Carol Manzione that models strategies for discovering children’s experience through the data entered in early modern registers, by José dos Santos on insights into child labor to be gained through legal records in Brazil, and by Kaisa Vehkalahti and Susanna Hoikkala that carefully compares gender differences in early twentieth century Finnish children’s reformatories.

As an international journal JHCY highlights how the definitions and experiences of childhood are remarkably different across time and geography. Yet there are children everywhere. Paying attention to childhood both facilitates robust comparisons and makes visible cultural features less salient without the vantage childhood affords. Structures such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child have worked to set universal standards for children’s rights and well-being. The History of Childhood insists that we contextualize rights and care, and seek to understand the diversity of childhood experience, even as contemporary advocates seek universal rights. Virginie Ladisch’s essay on the International Center for Transitional Justice’s work with children describes the importance and difficulty of balancing protection and participation for young people victimized by state and institutional violence.

We are grateful for the international community of scholars who care about childhood, who are...


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pp. 407-409
Launched on MUSE
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