Children as Migrants, Converts, and Mothers: Using Age as a Category of Analysis to Link Historical Experiences

AHA Session 83
Conference on Latin American History 14
Society for the History of Children and Youth 2
Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1C (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Rebecca de Schweinitz, Brigham Young University
Susan Eckelmann, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Session Abstract

In recent decades, historians have expanded traditional interpretive categories of race, class, and gender to include equally dynamic methods of analysis, such as religion and sexuality. While this continual expansion of analytical categories significantly broadens scholarly frames of reference, our panel suggests that historians can expand these interpretive structures further by adding another crucial component: age. Scholars of childhood studies - such as Steven Mintz (2003) and Anna Mae Duane (2013) - assert that employing age as a major category of analysis can link the experiences of overlooked social groups, primarily children, to overarching historical narratives. Age cuts across and encompasses race or gender, making it a useful tool for rethinking questions of identity, constructions of power, and cultural formation. Moreover, exploring the varied meanings of “age” helps historians understand how individual interactions with social, religious, and political structures can change across the lifespan, as well as how these interactions reflect larger ideological and cultural shifts. Age encompasses diverse activities and expectations depending on the location and time period under study, and zooming in on these specific differences can serve as an entry point for examining larger patterns of human development.

This panel explores ways to use age as a category of analysis by showcasing original research on changing, often paradoxical, experiences of children across the globe throughout the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. The expansive time periods and multiple cultural contexts treated in the papers allow the panel to show change over time and demonstrate the utility of incorporating children and concepts of age into traditional adult-dominated narratives. Our panel begins with Kristen McCabe Lashua’s discussion of age and migration in the early modern British world. Lashua argues that children can be understood as legitimate global migrants, showing how their roles as laborers, convicts, and commodities illuminate new levels of experience during the early phases of British colonization. Elise Leal’s paper brings the panel forward to the nineteenth century by exploring how the creation of the American Sunday school movement reveals a significant reciprocal relationship between ideas about childhood and the national expansion of evangelical Protestantism. Bianca Premo’s paper extends the panel’s chronological and geographic focus with a discussion of racialized concepts of Hispanic “precocious puberty” in the 20th century. Premo explores different depictions of child mothers in 1950s and 1960s Latin America, arguing that these representations helped connect medical innovations in Lima to global obstetric developments. Finally, Anita Casavantes Bradford’s paper brings the panel back to the subject of children as migrants, but from the perspective of late twentieth-century U.S. immigration policies in both domestic and international contexts. Using comparative and transnational analysis, she demonstrates how the post-World War Two migration of unaccompanied Hungarian, Cuban, Southeast Asian, African, and Central American and Mexican children to the United States complicated the evolution of immigration policies for minors. Each of these papers use specific case studies to show how local ideas about age influenced larger global processes of identity, agency, and social structure.

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