Dependent States: The Child's Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture
Because childhood is not only culturally but also legally and biologically understood as a period of dependency, it has been easy to dismiss children as historical actors. By putting children at the center of our thinking about American history, Karen Sánchez-Eppler recognizes the important part childhood played in nineteenth-century American culture and what this involvement entailed for children themselves.
Dependent States examines the ties between children's literacy training and the growing cultural prestige of the novel; the way children functioned rhetorically in reform literature to enforce social norms; the way the risks of death to children shored up emotional power in the home; how Sunday schools socialized children into racial, religious, and national identities; and how class identity was produced, not only in terms of work, but also in the way children played. For Sánchez-Eppler, nineteenth-century childhoods were nothing less than vehicles for national reform. Dependent on adults for their care, children did not conform to the ideals of enfranchisement and agency that we usually associate with historical actors. Yet through meticulously researched examples, Sánchez-Eppler reveals that children participated in the making of social meaning. Her focus on childhood as a dependent state thus offers a rewarding corrective to our notions of autonomous individualism and a new perspective on American culture itself.
Beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived
By lit prof - March 26, 2007
In this wonderful literary study, Sánchez-Eppler carefully examines a wide range of antebellum cultural practices in which children play a central part, from religious education, to domestic reform movements, to the circulation and consumption of death-bed images. While the book's five chapters provide a fresh look at some familiar literary figures--Hawthorne, Stowe, Alcott, Whitman--"Dependent States" is distinguished by its consideration of a treasure-trove of archival sources: drawings by children as well as daguerreotypes of children; youthful journals and notebooks alongside child-rearing manuals; stories penned by children in addition to adult fiction with child protagonists; pre-adolescent diaries along with parents' transcriptions of precocious conversations; and children's compositions as well as public school song lyrics.
The book's erudite introduction provides a conceptual and historical framework for approaching childhood. The introduction alone will be... read more
If you must, you must
By TheGman - July 13, 2011
Dependent States is, at the moment, a major work of the new field of Children's History. In fact, the author, Sanchez-Eppler, is one of the founders of a new journal devoted to that very subject. That being the case, be aware that Eppler writes for an academic audience. Normally that would entail, if nothing else, simplicity in argument, but Dependent States is anything but easy to understand.
The basic gist of the book is that kids are at once influential and being influenced, and as such, warrant historical study. As an example of this, Eppler divides her study between children's literature, children in relation to the temperance movement (alcohol prohibition), photographs of dead children, newspaper salesmen, and Christian missionaries. The book suffers from two major drawbacks. First, she seems to have kept a thesaurus close by as she writes unending sentences filled with the most grandiose of wording. Perhaps she was trying to impress somebody. Still, it is... read more
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