Children in the Visual Cultures of Nationalism and Internationalism

AHA Session 66
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Morgan Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Julia Adeney Thomas, University of Notre Dame
Militarizing Childhoods, Infantilizing Wars in the Visual Culture of Twentieth-Century Japan
Sabine Frühstück, University of California, Santa Barbara
Children and Other Civilians: Photography and Humanitarian Image-Making
Heide Fehrenbach, Northern Illinois University
Paula S. Fass, University of California, Berkeley and Julia Adeney Thomas, University of Notre Dame

Session Abstract

This panel focuses on the visual and symbolic uses of children within 20th century cultures of nationalism and internationalism. We are particularly keen to examine the cultural strategies – visual and narrative – that were used by a variety of groups, including state and political actors, humanitarian aid organizations, photojournalists, and armed forces to mobilize emotion and thereby encourage patriotism, loyalty, sacrifice, or compassion for distant strangers among diverse publics around the world. Our papers, and indeed the composition of the panel, are designed to bring distinct historiographies and their historians – on modern notions of childhood; on 20th century militarism and nationalism; on internationalism and humanitarianism; and on visual culture – into conversation with each other.

We have structured the panel around two papers:  The first, by Sabine Frühstück, is on the emotional currency of children in the Japanese visual culture of empire, war and peacekeeping of the twentieth century.  Both wartime print culture and peacetime public relations material of the armed forces in Japan have employed and appealed to children in order to suggest an intrinsic connection between soldiers and children, militarism and childhood. Such materials emotionalize war and the military for a number of political ends that range from the appeasement of those inclined to resist to the incitement of support for war and militarism by others. Thus far, historians have analyzed wartime propaganda but have paid little attention to the continuities of such emotionalizing strategies across different military establishments, across times of war and peace. The second, by Heide Fehrenbach, focuses on how American and European organizations, NGOs, and photojournalists used child-centered photographs and humanitarian narratives to construct and popularize the category of “the civilian” in the period of the two World Wars. As Thomas Laqueur has noted humanitarian narratives, since the 19th century, “demanded new ways of seeing”:  “exact, slow, active, engaged seeing” in order to keep distant others “within ethical range.” Yet to date, historians have done very little on the visual histories of humanitarianism. This paper explores, with historical specificity, how photographs have been used as both evidence and moral rhetoric in humanitarian educational and fundraising campaigns. It shows how abstract concepts like “hunger” and “civilian” have been made manifest – given specificity and visceral punch – through photo-portraits and stories, and suggests that while depictions of children-in-need may appear static and predictable, they have deployed a variety of tropes for a range of political purposes.

Collectively, we address the promiscuous character of the iconography of childhood across modern political economies, modes of representation, and regimes of moral rhetoric. We will also raise methodological questions regarding historians’ use of imagery as historical evidence.  In addition to these two papers, we will have two commentators:  Paula Fass, an expert on the history of childhood, and Julia Adeney Thomas (who will also serve as chair), an expert on Japan and the historical uses of photography.   We envision an audience of historians interested in childhood, visual culture, humanitarianism, nationalism, internationalism and militarism.

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