Childhood, parents and the family: 1500–1900

Authored by: Linda Pollock

The Routledge Handbook of Global Child Welfare

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138942752
eBook ISBN: 9781315672960
Adobe ISBN: 9781317374749


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There is no culture that does not distinguish in some way between a child and an adult, making the study of childhood an essential component for understanding current and past societies. Yet it is only relatively recently that children were considered as important historical subjects. Scholarly interest in the history of childhood perhaps began with Philippe Ariès classic book, Centuries of Childhood, published in 1962, which claimed that the past had no concept of childhood, meaning that children were viewed as adults in miniature rather than as a different kind of person with their own needs. His work encouraged other historians to develop what has become known as the ‘Black Legend’ of childhood in the past: parents in the past were not bonded to their children, grieved lightly if at all at their deaths, disciplined them harshly and forced them into arranged marriages. Family life and domestic relationships became based on affect only from the 18th century on. In turn, this model was challenged by a wave of revisionist scholarship that argued for a great deal of continuity in parent–child relations, especially in the realms of love and affection, rather than any dramatic change from harshness to permissiveness. Past parents, according to this model, loved their children, took the best care they could of them, and did not beat them harshly. 1

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