Reforming children : the pedagogy, commerce, and politics of childhood in the early modern French world

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2015-08

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Gossard, Julia Morrow

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“Reforming Children” reconfigures the history of childhood in early modern France by considering children as actors as well as subjects. Using “childhood” as a central category for historical analysis, this dissertation reveals that social reform was not a strictly top-down process mandated by the state. Instead, social reform hinged on children’s compliance and defiance as they passed through educational programs in charity schools, hospital-orphanages, and colonial schools. Embedded in these institutions were complex relationships that intertwined children with commerce, work, subjecthood, state formation, and Catholic morality. Unpacking these networks and relationships, this dissertation asserts that childhood was a formative period of development and that children, especially poor children, played fundamental, active roles in society, politics, and economics. As key sources of labor, as future taxpayers, as potential criminals, as prospective colonial subjects, and as future parents, children were a central focus for civic and religious authorities as well as their own families. Through these educational programs, authorities attempted to create a new generation of loyal, industrious workers, with children’s actions essential to achieving this goal. “Reforming Children” refocuses attention on the importance of childhood experience and the centrality of children to the early modern state, collective community, family and kinship networks, regional commerce, and general social welfare. In addition to examining metropolitan children and educational institutions in cities like Lyon and Paris, “Reforming Children” also looks at children in the wider French world in Louisiana, New France, Siam, and the Ottoman Empire, placing children in a wide early modern global context. With such a large geographical scope, this dissertation argues that whether in the colonies, in the metropolitan cities, in the workshops, in the Church, or in the home, children were cruxes of French imperial strategy.

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