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SHCY 2013 Conference Recap

Day 1: Plenary Session

Plenary June 25, 2013: The Spaces of Childhood: A conversation on rooms as evidence

First I would say that a small blog post cannot fully address the many conversations this plenary will no doubt inspire—including conversations that will occur after the conference.

The presenters of this Plenary each gave a small talk on four key spaces of Childhood: the Library, Museum, School and Orphanage. Each of these spaces included a contextualized account of the arrangement of the space, both as physical space and how this space was a reflection of the cultural, social and economic reality of the world that each of these spaces were conceptualized and used. Although the presenters are careful to distinguish that how spaces are used may not follow the original intention of the space, as it was intended by architects/builders. They also underscore the interplay of power by local and/or regional actors in different regions that these spaces were found. How a particular community or particular individuals appropriate space is an interesting question and can be addressed in part by these micro-histories about space.

In brief: 

The Library: the purposeful allotment of “equal” space and private space (story-time room) for children (shown in the example of the Conely library) 

The Museum: the empowerment of a child creating a space of cultural memory which then became a shrine to the child himself (Stanford, Jr.)

The School: a purposeful space for a region experiencing economic and political transition and the somewhat isolating experience of the one teacher and the small school and the will of a small community.

The Orphanage: re-appropriating space that shines a light on elite notions about socialization and female utility.

Together these micro-stories enrich an understanding of how childhood is being shaped and supported by adults; and power and support between adults for children. It also contests an overreliance in historical narrative on the written word. The idea of the historian getting out into the field to examine spaces as a starting point is a wonderful reorientation of the research process—especially for the historian that usually begins with the biography or the archive.

At the end a gentleman asked the panel to comment on how they theorize “space” and “place” as well as where they see new avenues of research opening up on “space” and “place”. But there was a time constraint that did not allow for this conversation to take place. For me this would be a great point to continue the conversation (using the examples discussed in the plenary and ones that you all are thinking about!)


I am very curious to know what everyone else thought!


Session 3: Spaces of Integration and Education

First Presenter: Francoise Hamlin on Anne Moody and Coming of Age in Mississippi

Anne Moody and her book Coming of Age in Mississippi. Ms. Hamlin presents an overview of Moody’s life and the personal conflicts about her own activism in her life. Specifically Ms. Hamlin situates Moody and her inner conflicts within the Civil Rights movement. The presenter gave a good account of her fame and her downward spiral—from activism and authorship—then the mental price she paid for her Civil Rights activism, but her trauma from Jim Crow was never repaired. By using the lens of trauma, one gains a nuanced understanding of the personal cost of the Civil Rights movement.

Second Presenter: Laura Lovett, Educate Homeless Children

The presenter begins in Chicago and provides a contemporary account of homeless children—schooling and access to services, and for some families domestic violence and/or substance abuse. How services for the homeless often result in inner city displacement and thus a loss of connection of their community—how then does a homeless family emerge from this type of personal, family, yet city-wide problem 

Ms. Lovett then turns to advocacy—and how advocates as viewed as radicals—example of Dorn—and speaking out on behalf of children-and the shelter schools—what did Dorn find? The shelter school was a SES version of separate but NOT equal education—this is because the students were viewed as transient—the major barriers are attendance and the school environment—including the quality of the teaching and supplies—putting to task the notion of schools as sites of stability!

Ms. Lovett then connects Dorn’s work with the eventual passage of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act—a federal act to improve and educate homeless families about their rights regarding educational access—leaving open the question: does better law lead to better education and social services?

Overall thoughts:

Both presenters interconnect childhood, trauma (mental, social, economic) civil rights and schooling.
These two presenters open up the question of what role does trauma play in the history of childhood—life histories—how can historians research and tell these stories in a way that does not further subjugate these individuals and not further use them—if the individuals in these stories write about their own trauma—does a historian, by presenting their stories, use them in a way that leaves them trapped in the historiography as traumatized? Especially considering the diminished voice of the historian in national polity making? Or are these ultimately stories of empowerment, despite the trauma? If so, how can these histories effect—influence the current lack of equal access around the globe?


What do you all think?


Session 20: Interior and Exterior Spaces for Play and Recreation, 1600-1950

I would like to begin this post on a short personal note: My initial attraction to this panel occurred in part because I spent the first decade of motherhood in, near or cleaning up after countless trips to the sandbox (along with the toys that they wanted to bring to the sandbox). On lazier days I allowed a space in the backyard for a “mud hole”. Even now I consider time spent in that particular “space,” the sandbox, invaluable—both for me and my children. The construction and destruction of worlds built with sand and mud—for me form part of the definition of play. During this time my thought about the sandbox and the mud hole was simple: children need a proper place (or space) to play. Simple? Maybe? And alongside this a couple of reminders 1) that historians need to be careful about interpreting play, as it is such a subjective activity and that what play is or means to and for children and adults if often different—adult research from an adult point of view and 2) when one has a personal interest and experience in a topic, how does one go about maintaining objectivity and 3) how can historians resolve the need for accounts from a child’s point of view?

So here goes my two cents:

The panel began with Dutch Art—paintings, many drawn from an exhibit catalogue entitled “Pride and Joy” which is a collection of Dutch paintings (in this presentation, from the 17th century) that portray children and their toys or objects of childhood (e.g. the highchair—for playing, eating and sleeping). As Suzanne Conway notes, these paintings are meant to be both allegorical and realistic (idealistic). In some of these paintings, the children or rather child is static with their accessories painted next to or in the background, and the interpretation offered notes that many of the portraits were commissioned by middle or more elite classes and the children are, in part, meant to represent the social status of the family. Another notable example were the paintings by Jacob Cats (sp?) and his portrayal of play in urban spaces—open spaces. These 2 paintings show movement and activity and offer a nice contrast to the portraits. Yet both are wonderful visual representations of the increasing social, cultural practice to cherish children—and/or how children were publically cherished. 

Next Mary Clare Martin spoke about the intercultural exchanges between children of European missionaries and indigenous children in Africa, Asia and New Zealand. Ms. Martin offered 5 themes that guided her analysis of the exchanges about play and toys that took place between the children and adults from the archival sources she analyzed from missionary groups. Beginning with the context of the missionary zeal that attempted to spread the Christian model of “family” during the late 18th and throughout the 19th century. From this grows intercultural exchanges between these Christian families and the indigenous families—and from here Ms. Marin, though the lens of play and toys and the spaces of play examines how cross-cultural interactions were negotiated. For example missionary parents consider the difference between “healthy and dangerous” intercultural play. To play near or in the sea water (as the indigenous children did) was deemed dangerous, to play ball in the village is safe. Ms. Martin also pointed out the many variations of toys: homemade, natural, local and sent from abroad. These toys were contextualized as objects that connected children to “home” (Europe) and objects that introduced foreign culture on both sides.

Finally I end where I began, the sandbox. Tamar Zinguer traces the history of the sandbox, beginning with a letter written (in 1847) to Froebel from one his students who outlined an idea about a “plane of sand” that could be built and used by children (at the kindergarten, for example) to play. From here Ms. Zinguer traces how the idea of the “sand berg” becomes the sandbox—and how sandboxes became spaces within parks for children. The sandbox then becomes a space of potential for children to construct and deconstruct (a freedom of their imaginations). It is also a space where the child can “get dirty,” negotiate with their peers, and interact with children outside their class and race. Ms. Zinguer then ended with the retraction of the sandbox from playgrounds. 

Together these presentations represent American and European practices of public spaces, building for children and their accessories. Simply put, children need a proper place (or space) to play!


What do you all think?

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