Many Lives, Many Places, Many Stories: Spaces of Childhood in Early Modern Spain

AHA Session 94
Society for the History of Children and Youth 2
Friday, January 4, 2013: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Balcony J (New Orleans Marriott)
Grace E. Coolidge, Grand Valley State University
Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt, Cleveland State University

Session Abstract

This panel explores the multiple lived experiences of childhood in civic, domestic, and royal spaces in early modern Spain. Whether orphans participating in a range of public activities in a civic context, abused infants and children in court cases of domestic violence, or a child king in the Spanish Habsburg court, these stories reveal how childhood was understood, conceptualized, and lived in social and political contexts, and from individual perspectives. Excavated from legal, institutional, and royal records, in state, local, and private archives, these stories explore the space of childhood in order to illuminate larger topics such as gender, politics, legal systems, local cultures, and the writing of history in and about early modern Spain. 

            Each contributor offers a particular perspective as to how what might be called the “environments” of childhood were created, how they evolved, how they connect to the history of Spain, and how they link to the present. Valentina Tikoff investigates children who grew up in the institutional setting of the orphanage of San Ildefonso in Seville. Charity children traditionally participated in public lotteries and funeral processions that made them visible within their community. Tikoff analyzes these traditional public roles within the broader context of Seville’s civic life to uncover changing ideas about children, gender, and the role of charities in the eighteenth century. Edward Behrend-Martínez looks at children in domestic spaces by focusing on child abuse. Using legal records and autobiographical literature, he explores how notions of abuse were constructed, identified, and adjudicated. He asserts that child abuse existed, but cannot be understood in the same way we perceive it today. Thus, he asks what abuse meant for early modern Spaniards, how the boundaries between abuse and punishment were defined, and whether Church or State institutions settled these cases. Answering these questions reveals normative aspects of childhood, family dynamics, and gender relations. Silvia Z. Mitchell examines childhood in the political and cultural space of the court of the Spanish Habsburgs, focusing on the figure of Carlos II of Spain, who grew up a king and who has been represented, she argues, as the very embodiment of Spanish decline. Her research challenges the analytic framework that links Carlos II with the decline of Spain and also calls into question the accuracy of his life story as generations of historians have told it.  This investigation sheds light on political debates that stretch far beyond the history of the family. 

            These environments of childhood thus bring into sharper focus issues of gender, politics, and society. Comparisons between orphan boys and girls, abused and abusers, mothers and fathers, children and parents, families and social structures, and masculinity and kingship, shift older perceptions of childhood in early modern Spain by presenting a far more complex and nuanced picture. The spaces of childhood, constructed by men and women alike, offer new ways of understanding urban, civic, and courtly cultures as well as local, state, and international politics.

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