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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.

288 pages | 30 halftones, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Culture Studies

Education: Pre-School, Elementary and Secondary Education

History: American History

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature


"Sanchez-Eppler’s work is not an overview but focuses more specifically on the issues of child writing, temperance, child death, child labor, and colonialism, which give more depth to the nineteenth-century climate for children. Eppler balances child and adult voices, visual and printed culture in a way that reveals their overlapping interests and influence."

Emily Honey | Kritikon Litterarum

"A graceful and nuanced reading of several nineteenth-century writers to reveal how the middle class used particular understandings of childhood to romanticize and, in fact, create a distinctive culture. . . . Teachers on the lookout for illustrations and examples to bring nineteenth-century culture to life for their students could do no bette5r than to mine these pages."

Gail Murra | The Historian

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Child’s Part in the Making of American Culture
Part One: Childhood Fictions: Imagining Literacy and Literature
1. The Writing of Childhood
Childhood Reading from Primers to Novels
The Lessons of Children’s Diaries
Childhood and Authority in Our Nig
Hawthorne and the Mind of a Child
Part Two: The Child and the Making of Home: Questions of Love, Power, and the Market
2. Temperance in the Bed of a Child
Love and the Law
Readers and Drinkers
Restraint and Indulgence
Submissive Daughters, Absent Women, and Effeminate Men
3. The Death of a Child and the Replication of an Image
Keeping Loss in Drawers Full of Graves
Emerson’s Vain Clutching
The Sentimental Surplus of Smitten Households
Part Three: Rearing a Nation: Childhood and the Construction of Social Identity
4. Playing at Class
Newsboy Narratives
"We Must Have a Little Fun"
5. Raising Empires Like Children
Domestic Empires: Questioning the Boundaries of the Home
Domestic Empires: Questioning the Boundaries of the Nation
Coloring American Faith
Little Angels and Little Heathens
Domestic Savagery
The Missionary at Home
Coda: Of Children and Flags

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