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2014 Fass-Sandin Prize Winner: Nicholas L. Syrett

Robin Bernstein (committee chair), Melissa Klapper, and Pamela Riney-Kehrberg unanimously selected Nicholas L. Syrett’s article, “‘I did and I Don’t Regret It’: Child Marriage and the Contestation of Childhood in the United States,” to receive the Fass-Sandin Prize for the best article (in English) on the History of Children and Youth published in 2013. Twenty articles were submitted for the committee’s consideration.

Syrett’s essay, published in the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (vol. 6, Spring 2013), uses an exceptionally rich and multi-dimensional field of evidence, including legal cases, archival newspapers, and census data, to argue that at the turn of the twentieth century, some minors used early marriage as a way to gain agency over their own lives and in some cases to contest the state of childhood itself. This is an original, counter-intuitive argument that challenges the received dogma that child marriage is by definition exclusively oppressive to youth. The Prize Committee particularly admired the way that Syrett used legal evidence to unearth youths’ perspectives on—and manipulations of—the law. Syrett’s essay is a significant and unforgettable work of scholarship. Syrett is the Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and chair of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at the University of Kansas.

The prize committee also felt strongly that a second article should be given Honorable Mention: Helle Strandgaard Jensen’s “TV as Children’s Spokesman: Conflicting Notions of Children and Childhood in Danish Children’s Television around 1968,” also published in the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (vol. 6, Winter 2013). 

Jensen draws on archival, published, and audiovisual evidence to argue that Danish television around 1968 innovated a “radical viewpoint”: that children were a “social group who had the right to have its interests represented in the public sphere,” and that television should perform that function. Thus Jensen draws forward a subtle but profoundly useful distinction between children’s television that aims mainly to talk (or even to sell) to children, and that which aims to speak for them. Through this distinction, Jensen intervenes in models that reductively categorize children as empowered or exploited. The essay is perceptive and beautifully written, and its conclusions are simultaneously subtle and forceful. Jensen is an associate professor in the Department of History and Classical Studies, at Aarhus University, Denmark.

*Please note that the professional positions of the prize winners is current, as of September 2018.