Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood / Edition 1

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Overview

Like Huck's raft, the experience of American childhood has been both adventurous and terrifying. For more than three centuries, adults have agonized over raising children while children have followed their own paths to development and expression. Now, Steven Mintz gives us the first comprehensive history of American childhood encompassing both the child's and the adult's tumultuous early years of life.

Underscoring diversity through time and across regions, Mintz traces the transformation of children from the sinful creatures perceived by Puritans to the productive workers of nineteenth-century farms and factories, from the cosseted cherubs of the Victorian era to the confident consumers of our own. He explores their role in revolutionary upheaval, westward expansion, industrial growth, wartime mobilization, and the modern welfare state. Revealing the harsh realities of children's lives through history--the rigors of physical labor, the fear of chronic ailments, the heartbreak of premature death--he also acknowledges the freedom children once possessed to discover their world as well as themselves.

Whether at work or play, at home or school, the transition from childhood to adulthood has required generations of Americans to tackle tremendously difficult challenges. Today, adults impose ever-increasing demands on the young for self-discipline, cognitive development, and academic achievement, even as the influence of the mass media and consumer culture has grown. With a nod to the past, Mintz revisits an alternative to the goal-driven realities of contemporary childhood. An odyssey of psychological self-discovery and growth, this book suggests a vision of childhood that embraces risk and freedom--like the daring adventure on Huck's raft.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post

The children of the past did possess something lost to their descendants of today: freedom. Once kids were allowed to ride their bikes all over town or idle away the summer in daydreams; they could fail a course or even a grade, and no one got overly excited about it; they might even make serious mistakes and find themselves pregnant or working on the line at Ford rather than studying lines of poetry at college. But now, in our test-driven, increasingly regimented educational system, we forthrightly aim to leave no child behind, which means that we leave no child alone. Slow learners must be sped up, dreamy kids must be made to focus, all must wear uniforms, and, eventually, all must have prizes—or at least AP courses. In the past, parents might exploit their kids as little more than indentured servants or simply ignore them. Today we are their chauffeurs and social secretaries...This is, then, a rich and stimulating book, revealing how much childhood has changed over the centuries and how much some things never change...I suppose that every generation of adults tends to feel, when regarding the young people around them, that the barbarians are at the gates. But really, there's nothing for us to worry about: One day our children will have children of their own.
— Michael Dirda

Chicago Tribune

[Mintz] proposes to set the record straight in his sweeping study of American childhood that effectively synthesizes a large body of scholarship on its subject. The result is an engaging, sober and often poignant account of how adults have viewed and treated children and, equally important, how children's own experiences and life chances have been heavily influenced by economics, race and ethnicity...The compelling history of childhood he offers us is a valuable reminder that nostalgia for a golden age that never existed is not just misleading, but counterproductive.
— Eric Arnesen

San Antonio Express-News

[A] provocative, anecdote-packed analysis of American parents and their progeny. From Puritans to postmoderns, we have shaped our kids to match shifting cultural mores and social desires.
— Char Miller

Ruminator

With the vast number of political and cultural decisions made in America under the guise of 'thinking of the children,' a book like Steven Mintz's brilliant Huck's Raft, which actually does offer plenty of thinking about children, is long overdue. Mintz is aiming to write nothing less than a complete history of childhood in America, tracing kids' lives from the Puritan era to today and examining the roles they've played as workers, soldiers, pioneers, inspirations, burdens, consumers and citizens.
— Matt Konrad

Times Literary Supplement

[An] often fascinating and massively documented exploration of four centuries of American childhood...Huck's Raft is a work of scholarly integrity and humanist zeal.
— Joyce Carol Oates

Richmond Times Dispatch

Were this simply a book of trivia about the years of childhood, it would be fascinating reading...However, this work is much more than a collection of curiosities. It is an ambitious attempt to retell the story of America with children as the focus of attention...This work of historical synthesis is likely to become a classic that future historians will be hard-pressed to surpass.
— Robert Holland

Bloomsbury Review

Steven Mintz' brilliant, wide-ranging, but remarkably concise study shows how complex an invention childhood has been in this country...The book is so good on the first 300 years or so of the story that it is somewhat surprising that Mintz is even more provocative on the last 50 years or so, especially on the most recent decade. It seems that no other account of Columbine or 'No Child Left Behind' has been as thoughtful or persuasive...This is history at its most instructive and engaging.
— William T. Hamilton

Texas Observer

Steven Mintz's Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood offers an impressive and unprecedented synthesis of the relevant scholarly literature...[It] demonstrate[s] that childhood has never been a stable, innocent, or transcendent experience...Reflecting the prevailing literature, the book is a rainbow coalition of inclusion that arches over the panorama of American history. Anyone tempted to criticize the book as a 'clip job' misses the underlying importance of Mintz's signal accomplishment...To any parent trying to figure out what [kind of kid] he's got, the mundane manifestations of an innocent childhood are the clues to life. Mintz's book makes some sense out of this mystery.
— James E. McWilliams

USA Today Magazine

[A] richly detailed study of how childhood in the US. has changed over time...Mintz uses history to debunk several myths—that childhood once was carefree, families were stable, and American childhood is the story of either steady progress or decline.
— Steven G. Kellman

Marian Wright Edelman
Huck's Raft is a rich and fascinating study of the realities of children's lives--and adults' ideas about children and our responsibilities towards them--throughout our nation's history.
Linda Gordon
Huck's Raft is simply the best overview of the history of childhood in the US. Through masterful scholarship and lively writing, it persuasively exposes some widespread myths about family history, while telling fascinating stories about children's lives past and present. Mintz's work shows that historical understanding can guide our responses to the problems of children today.
John R. Gillis
Steven Mintz's Huck's Raft is the most comprehensive, culturally sensitive history of American childhood ever written. It illuminates in fascinating detail the variegated experience of the nation's children, but it is equally successful in revealing the mentalities of the adults who have shaped childhood over time. This book is sure to become the standard in the field"
Stephanie Coontz
At last, a synthesis of the scattered research on the history of youth. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Mintz's book is sure to become a classic.
Frank F. Furstenberg
Huck's Raft is a breath of fresh air. This engaging and compelling account of the history of childhood in America is a tonic by a first-rate historian that is both scholarly and beautifully written. A must read for all those concerned with our youth today and in times past.
Paula Fass
Steven Mintz's remarkable and comprehensive book provides the first important synthesis of childhood in American history. Learned and rich in detail, it will become indispensable for all those who want to know more about children's experiences over the past 400 years.
Washington Post - Michael Dirda
The children of the past did possess something lost to their descendants of today: freedom. Once kids were allowed to ride their bikes all over town or idle away the summer in daydreams; they could fail a course or even a grade, and no one got overly excited about it; they might even make serious mistakes and find themselves pregnant or working on the line at Ford rather than studying lines of poetry at college. But now, in our test-driven, increasingly regimented educational system, we forthrightly aim to leave no child behind, which means that we leave no child alone. Slow learners must be sped up, dreamy kids must be made to focus, all must wear uniforms, and, eventually, all must have prizes--or at least AP courses. In the past, parents might exploit their kids as little more than indentured servants or simply ignore them. Today we are their chauffeurs and social secretaries...This is, then, a rich and stimulating book, revealing how much childhood has changed over the centuries and how much some things never change...I suppose that every generation of adults tends to feel, when regarding the young people around them, that the barbarians are at the gates. But really, there's nothing for us to worry about: One day our children will have children of their own.
Chicago Tribune - Eric Arnesen
[Mintz] proposes to set the record straight in his sweeping study of American childhood that effectively synthesizes a large body of scholarship on its subject. The result is an engaging, sober and often poignant account of how adults have viewed and treated children and, equally important, how children's own experiences and life chances have been heavily influenced by economics, race and ethnicity...The compelling history of childhood he offers us is a valuable reminder that nostalgia for a golden age that never existed is not just misleading, but counterproductive.
San Antonio Express-News - Char Miller
[A] provocative, anecdote-packed analysis of American parents and their progeny. From Puritans to postmoderns, we have shaped our kids to match shifting cultural mores and social desires.
Ruminator - Matt Konrad
With the vast number of political and cultural decisions made in America under the guise of 'thinking of the children,' a book like Steven Mintz's brilliant Huck's Raft, which actually does offer plenty of thinking about children, is long overdue. Mintz is aiming to write nothing less than a complete history of childhood in America, tracing kids' lives from the Puritan era to today and examining the roles they've played as workers, soldiers, pioneers, inspirations, burdens, consumers and citizens.
Times Literary Supplement - Joyce Carol Oates
[An] often fascinating and massively documented exploration of four centuries of American childhood...Huck's Raft is a work of scholarly integrity and humanist zeal.
Richmond Times Dispatch - Robert Holland
Were this simply a book of trivia about the years of childhood, it would be fascinating reading...However, this work is much more than a collection of curiosities. It is an ambitious attempt to retell the story of America with children as the focus of attention...This work of historical synthesis is likely to become a classic that future historians will be hard-pressed to surpass.
Bloomsbury Review - William T. Hamilton
Steven Mintz' brilliant, wide-ranging, but remarkably concise study shows how complex an invention childhood has been in this country...The book is so good on the first 300 years or so of the story that it is somewhat surprising that Mintz is even more provocative on the last 50 years or so, especially on the most recent decade. It seems that no other account of Columbine or 'No Child Left Behind' has been as thoughtful or persuasive...This is history at its most instructive and engaging.
Texas Observer - James E. McWilliams
Steven Mintz's Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood offers an impressive and unprecedented synthesis of the relevant scholarly literature...[It] demonstrate[s] that childhood has never been a stable, innocent, or transcendent experience...Reflecting the prevailing literature, the book is a rainbow coalition of inclusion that arches over the panorama of American history. Anyone tempted to criticize the book as a 'clip job' misses the underlying importance of Mintz's signal accomplishment...To any parent trying to figure out what [kind of kid] he's got, the mundane manifestations of an innocent childhood are the clues to life. Mintz's book makes some sense out of this mystery.
USA Today Magazine - Steven G. Kellman
[A] richly detailed study of how childhood in the US. has changed over time...Mintz uses history to debunk several myths--that childhood once was carefree, families were stable, and American childhood is the story of either steady progress or decline.
Chicago Tribune
[Mintz] proposes to set the record straight in his sweeping study of American childhood that effectively synthesizes a large body of scholarship on its subject. The result is an engaging, sober and often poignant account of how adults have viewed and treated children and, equally important, how children's own experiences and life chances have been heavily influenced by economics, race and ethnicity...The compelling history of childhood he offers us is a valuable reminder that nostalgia for a golden age that never existed is not just misleading, but counterproductive.
— Eric Arnesen
Washington Post
The children of the past did possess something lost to their descendants of today: freedom. Once kids were allowed to ride their bikes all over town or idle away the summer in daydreams; they could fail a course or even a grade, and no one got overly excited about it; they might even make serious mistakes and find themselves pregnant or working on the line at Ford rather than studying lines of poetry at college. But now, in our test-driven, increasingly regimented educational system, we forthrightly aim to leave no child behind, which means that we leave no child alone. Slow learners must be sped up, dreamy kids must be made to focus, all must wear uniforms, and, eventually, all must have prizes--or at least AP courses. In the past, parents might exploit their kids as little more than indentured servants or simply ignore them. Today we are their chauffeurs and social secretaries...This is, then, a rich and stimulating book, revealing how much childhood has changed over the centuries and how much some things never change...I suppose that every generation of adults tends to feel, when regarding the young people around them, that the barbarians are at the gates. But really, there's nothing for us to worry about: One day our children will have children of their own.
— Michael Dirda
Bloomsbury Review
Steven Mintz' brilliant, wide-ranging, but remarkably concise study shows how complex an invention childhood has been in this country...The book is so good on the first 300 years or so of the story that it is somewhat surprising that Mintz is even more provocative on the last 50 years or so, especially on the most recent decade. It seems that no other account of Columbine or 'No Child Left Behind' has been as thoughtful or persuasive...This is history at its most instructive and engaging.
— William T. Hamilton
Times Literary Supplement
[An] often fascinating and massively documented exploration of four centuries of American childhood...Huck's Raft is a work of scholarly integrity and humanist zeal.
— Joyce Carol Oates
Texas Observer
Steven Mintz's Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood offers an impressive and unprecedented synthesis of the relevant scholarly literature...[It] demonstrate[s] that childhood has never been a stable, innocent, or transcendent experience...Reflecting the prevailing literature, the book is a rainbow coalition of inclusion that arches over the panorama of American history. Anyone tempted to criticize the book as a 'clip job' misses the underlying importance of Mintz's signal accomplishment...To any parent trying to figure out what [kind of kid] he's got, the mundane manifestations of an innocent childhood are the clues to life. Mintz's book makes some sense out of this mystery.
— James E. McWilliams
San Antonio Express-News
[A] provocative, anecdote-packed analysis of American parents and their progeny. From Puritans to postmoderns, we have shaped our kids to match shifting cultural mores and social desires.
— Char Miller
Richmond Times Dispatch
Were this simply a book of trivia about the years of childhood, it would be fascinating reading...However, this work is much more than a collection of curiosities. It is an ambitious attempt to retell the story of America with children as the focus of attention...This work of historical synthesis is likely to become a classic that future historians will be hard-pressed to surpass.
— Robert Holland
Ruminator
With the vast number of political and cultural decisions made in America under the guise of 'thinking of the children,' a book like Steven Mintz's brilliant Huck's Raft, which actually does offer plenty of thinking about children, is long overdue. Mintz is aiming to write nothing less than a complete history of childhood in America, tracing kids' lives from the Puritan era to today and examining the roles they've played as workers, soldiers, pioneers, inspirations, burdens, consumers and citizens.
— Matt Konrad
USA Today Magazine
[A] richly detailed study of how childhood in the US. has changed over time...Mintz uses history to debunk several myths--that childhood once was carefree, families were stable, and American childhood is the story of either steady progress or decline.
— Steven G. Kellman
Michael Dirda
This is, then, a rich and stimulating book, revealing how much childhood has changed over the centuries and how much some things never change.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
No aspect of American life is as shrouded in idealizing myth as childhood. In this compelling work of historical synthesis, University of Houston history professor Mintz argues forcefully if not originally that for most of the past three centuries childhood has been the exception rather than the norm. Responding to the exigencies of colonial life, Mintz writes, the Puritans unsentimentally mentored children as "adults in training." With the explosive rise of an urban, factory-based economy in the mid-19th century, childhood first emerged as a discrete period of development. Limited, home-based instruction was replaced by compulsory instruction in public schools but not all children benefited. For most young people in the years after the Industrial Revolution despite the mixed results of reformers childhood meant grim factory or farm labor, poverty, loneliness, exploitation (economic and sexual) and often unspeakable cruelty. Poor, immigrant and black children suffered disproportionately as the class gap widened. More recently, Mintz recounts, childhood has been refined and extended into the phenomenon of protracted adolescence. That childhood has mostly been less than ideal is not surprising. What may be, for many readers, is Mintz's portrait of just how far from the ideal this country has been and perhaps continues to be in meeting the health needs, education and welfare of all its children. 36 b&w photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Children have long served as a lightning rod for America's anxieties about society as a whole," writes historian Mintz, who successfully lays the foundation for his statement in this intriguing new book. Mintz revisits the treatment of children from the Puritan era up to the edge of the millennium, which he calls "The Unfinished Century of the Child, " showing that we have alternately vilified our offspring (the Puritans believed they were born in sin) and glorified them (Victorian parents saw them as pure and angelic). In addition, the roles children have assumed in the workforce have fluctuated with the needs of the era-economic expansion led to harsh child labor, while its aftermath, prosperity, led to an interest in child welfare. Supported with considerable scholarship, as evidenced by the lengthy bibliography, Mintz's thorough yet accessibly written study delves into the external forces that have shaped the lives of our young while also probing the internal developments in their collective consciousness. Highly recommended for academic collections.-Janet Sassi, New York City Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019980
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 318,116
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Mintz is Executive Director of the Institute for Transformational Learning at the University of Texas.
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Table of Contents

Preface

Prologue

1. Children of the Covenant

2. Red, White, and Black in Colonial America

3. Sons and Daughters of Liberty

4. Inventing the Middle-Class Child

5. Growing Up in Bondage

6. Childhood Battles of the Civil War

7. Laboring Children

8. Save the Child

9. Children under the Magnifying Glass

10. New to the Promised Land

11. Revolt of Modern Youth

12. Coming of Age in the Great Depression

13. Mobilizing Children for World War II

14. In Pursuit of the Perfect Childhood

15. Youthquake

16. Parental Panics and the Reshaping of Childhood

17. The Unfinished Century of the Child

Notes

Index

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