Priscilla Clement, ed.
This Bulletin includes reports of conferences held in 2010, which I hope you will find of interest. For future bulletins, I encourage all members who have attended a conference which you think may be of interest to SHCY members, to please write a brief report of it and send it along to me. There are no limits on length, and the format should roughly follow that of the reports below.
Children’s Literature Association Conference, Ann Arbor, Michigan, June 10-12, 2010
Jeanne Klein, University of Kansas
The annual Children’s Literature Association conference (co-sponsored by Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti) had a thematic focus on media. Many papers focused on literature in childhood history as well as mediated adaptations on film. Margaret Mackey (University of Alberta) presented an all-conference lecture on the history of the “flat rectangle” or children’s literature from printed pages to digital screens. A keynote address by Linda Simensky, Vice President of Children’s Programming for PBS, offered new initiatives.
New Perspectives on African American History and Culture Conference, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, February, 2010
Rebecca de Schweinitz, Brigham Young University
Several SCHY members presented papers at “Power and Place in African American History,” the fourth annual New Perspectives on African American History and Culture Conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in February 2010.
Tom Bergler’s (Huntington University) paper, “The Power of Faith and Mobility in the Lives of Young Activists” explored the ways that mobility and faith shaped the civil rights movement, especially among young people. Arguing that the students who launched the sit-ins of 1960 did so as the next stage in their spiritual and political pilgrimages, Bergler found that a growing and changing Christian faith empowered young civil rights activists while geographic mobility freed them for action. He noted that young people who participated in the movement in their home communities were more likely to maintain positive relationships with their churches and their faith. So while geographic and spiritual mobility were essential to the success of the civil rights movement, that same mobility sometimes isolated young activists from their faith communities ultimately resulting in losses for individuals, the movement, and the churches.
Rebecca de Schweinitz’s (Brigham Young University) paper, “Is the Whole United States Southern?: NAACP Youth in the West and the Black Freedom Struggle,” drew on the Western Region papers of the NAACP to explore the activism of young people in the West in the civil rights movement. She briefly noted the ways that the NAACP has long responded to criticisms of its conservatism and irrelevance by highlighting its youth programs, its long-standing efforts to respond to and engage youth, and by the way NAACP youth programs have incorporated more militant strategies and addressed salient youth and black community issues. She then examined the mid-to late-1960s as a period in which the NAACP began to focus more attention on the West as well as to “tap” the “great resource of the youth movement of this region.” Her research suggests that “scholars need to think more about youth—and the relationship of youth and youth programs to the NAACP and the larger civil rights movement, as well as more about the other end of the long history of the civil rights movement and to how the movement played out and was shaped by considerations outside the South.”
Susan Eckelman’s (Indiana University) paper, “‘Youth Makes the Revolution’: Black Panther Youth and the Freedom Struggle in the Bay Area, 1968–1972,” examined the role of Black youth in the Bay area during the Black freedom struggle, 1968–1972. By focusing on children as nonviolent activists, community organizers, and bearers of African American values and culture, her research “offers a corrective to normative conceptualizations of the Black Panther Party’s membership, ideological program, and protest strategies.” She argued that “Black Power advocates’ attitudes toward childhood and Black Panther Party youth’s involvement in demonstrations and community programs illuminate the complex political and cultural meanings of the black power movement. And that Panther pamphlets and publications, newspapers coverage on the bbp, and visual images reveal insights about children and teenagers’ vital roles in community protest.”
Jennifer Ritterhouse (George Mason University) commented on this session on Youth in the Civil Rights Movement.
Other research presented at the conference that may be of interest to SCHY members included the following:
Children as Activists: Stories from the Civil Rights Movement at the 2010 Organization of American Historians Meeting
Laura L. Lovett, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
At the OAH meeting this Spring, I had the great pleasure of commenting on a session that reframed the American Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of children and their roles as activists. The three presenters for this session were Thomas Bergler from Huntington University who discussed “Youth and the Battle for the Future of African American Christianity in the Civil Rights Movement,” Françoise Hamlin from Brown University who presented “Coming of Age in the Movement: Children, Activism, Trauma, and Memory,” and Jill Ogline Titus from Washington College who offered us “Caught in the Crossfire: Black Teenagers on Virginia’s Civil Rights Frontline.” These insightful presentations brought the Civil Rights Movement to two major themes familiar to historians of childhood and youth, that of children’s agency and that of a romanticized ideal of childhood.
Using divergent episodes from the Civil Rights Movement, these presentations demonstrated the key role that young people played in making the freedom struggle that continued from the direct action of youth in the 1930s through the Double V Campaign and sit-ins led by Pauli Murray and students at Howard in the 1940s to the movement to desegregate schools in the 1950s and the intensity of the direct action campaigns taken up by SNCC in the early 1960s. Children were crucial actors in this history, marching with adults, attacked by dogs and fire hoses, and creating new forms of protest: sit-ins, swim-ins, pray-ins, sing-ins. Their energy and presence helped to frame what Andrew Lewis in The Shadows of Youth calls the “generational tone in terms of rhetoric, style and ideas.”
These papers help us to understand this agency by taking the children’s perspective as a starting point to interpret what their presence meant in this struggle. I was impressed at the extent to which these scholars take this agency as an informed agency. By that I mean, that while the children in these studies may not have entirely embraced their role in the freedom struggle, these young people were capable of clearly articulating the consequences of the movement on their lives. Indeed, these presentations include evidence from interviews with young people who felt that they had their role in the quest to change segregation imposed upon them. This informed agency was evident in Thomas Bergler’s consideration of the spiritual agency of young people like John Lewis, for whom the passion of street protests seemed more authentic than the exhortations in the religious institutions of his childhood. The students of R.R. Moton High School in Prince Edward County, Virginia who struck for a new school in 1951, presented in Jill Ogline Titus’s analysis, clearly articulated their complicated positions as both protesters and victims of the all-white private school system with handlettered signs reading “we aren’t drop-outs…we are lock-outs.” Similarly, Francoise Hamlin’s discussion of Mary Davis, who desegregated the railroad station knowing that she would be targeted by law enforcement and put on the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission watch list. As a group, these papers develop our understanding of the consequences and intentionality with which young people absorbed the impact of the Movement on their lives and their communities.
At the same time, this suite of presentations draws on a sentimentalized or romantic ideal of childhood in the postwar period that seems to inform actors’ ideas of what their childhood might have been. The children in Prince Edward County discussed by Titus felt they lost a part of their youth in getting shut out of school, for instance. Yet this sense of loss is rooted in a cultural norm for youth at a time when the term “teenager” was new and its peer-driven subculture and popular representation were being actively manufactured. Hamlin’s answer to the triumphalist narrative of the Civil Rights Movement with a narrative of children’s harm requires that we ask what was understood as normal or as what childhood ought to be. When Rebecca Henry was sent to stay with relatives she reports being angry at this dislocation. Underlying this anger is an ideal of childhood as a protected time within a nuclear family.
The impact of this nuclear family ideal cannot be underestimated. In the hands of the state, the nuclear family ideal helped justify resegregation on a massive scale as the government developed a highway system, federal subsidies, and home loans that fostered suburban development. Suburbs were heralded as a child friendly place – “good places to raise kids. ” As such, they informed ideals of childhood and the nuclear family, yet they were also racially exclusive. The political economy of the nuclear family is present in these narratives. When Mary Davis works to clear blighted buildings in Detroit or protest airline flight paths in Boston, she is also dealing with the effects of housing policies and loan programs that were presented to the public as supporting the nuclear family. The extent to which Davis and others did not share the benefits of these policies indicates their distance from the nuclear family ideal as adults. Yet this distance between ideal and experience seems more acute when we are discussing children. Is it perhaps that we have accepted a romanticized ideal of childhood ourselves?
These papers signal an important and new direction that helps us reconsider the civil rights movement, the agency of children as activists, and their own awareness of the consequences, both good and bad, of engaging in the struggle against racism in the United States.
34th Annual Conference of the German Studies Association,
Oakland, CA, October 7-10, 2010
Martin Kalb, Northern Arizona University
The 2010 conference of the German Studies Association included more than 300 panels and scholars from all around the world. It covered a wide range of issues including history, Holocaust studies, literature, and cultural issues. Several discussants also touched on childhood and youth studies although only a couple of panels specifically focused on such topics.
I attended one panel titled “Race, Children, and Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany.” Moderated by Ann Taylor Allen (University of Louisville), several scholars touched on a variety of issues. Julia Roos (Indiana University) presented on debates surrounding “Children of the Occupiers” in the context of French occupation (Rheinland) after WW I. Helena Pohlandt-McCormick (University of Minnesota) and Michelle Mouton (University of Wisconsin Oshkosh) followed the path of German war orphans on their way to South Africa after WW II. Roland Spickermann (University of Texas, Permian Basin) analyzed how Germany has moved from a source for adoption to a nation frequently adopting children. Panelists combined a variety of approaches to conceptualize children’s history. The other panel focusing specifically on children and youth was titled “Children of War.” Susan Derwin (University of California, Santa Barbara) first spoke on “Hidden Children during and after Nazism.” Kathleen Nawyn from the U.S. Army Center of Military History then discussed changing conceptions of masculinity in U.S. occupied Baden-Württemberg after WW II. Touching on ideals of manhood and militarism, she focused on the rise of diverse youth groups and U.S. efforts of demilitarization. I (Martin Kalb) presented on “Social Constructions of Youth in Post-1945 Munich.” I concentrated on the 1940s and underlined how dominant images of youth have influenced the so-called rubble years. S. Marina Jones (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) concluded this panel with her talk on “Afro-Germans in West Germany and in the U.S, 1962-1970.”
Overall, this conference gave valuable insights into countless fields. Apart from several intriguing panels on issues within the field of German studies, many presenters also relied on stimulating theoretical conceptions. The field of childhood and youth studies was present but seems to emerge only slowly and within broader frameworks. Yet those panels discussing such issues provide valuable starting points towards new directions in the context of German history.