Doing the History of Childhood in Africa and the West

Friday, January 6, 2012: 10:10 AM
Chicago Ballroom H (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Corrie Decker, Universitiy of California, Davis
This paper identifies divergent narratives and methodologies, as wellas possible overlaps, in the history of childhood and youth in Africaand in the West (Europe and North America).  While Western historiesof childhood often engage with established narratives aboutindustrialization, labor reform, education, and popular culture in themodern period, these narratives do not necessarily apply to Africansocieties where, for example, most standardized education systemsemerge in the mid-to-late twentieth century, and legal discourse onchild rights is a very recent phenomenon.  African histories ofchildhood rely on very different historical methodologies, such asoral history and ethnography, than those generally used in Westernhistory.  They are heavily influenced by life history and genderhistory, approaches that examine individual life stages as much asbroad historical trends.  At the same time, research in Westernarchival sources on Africa and understanding of Western histories ofchildhood shed light on how African childhoods have both contributedto and been transformed by global historical trends.  Using archivaland oral sources, this paper examines the case study of Britishcolonial girls’ in East Africa in order to demonstrate how Westernschools attempting to eradicate indigenous practices such as childmarriage and initiation ultimately end up reinforcing indigenousboundaries between the married and unmarried, sexually mature and theprepubescent.  Comparing Western and African histories of childhood,and the methodologies employed in each, has the potential to revealkey historical moments in which Western and non-Western discoursesconverge.
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