Revolutions at Home

Revolutions at Home: The Origin of Modern Childhood and the German Middle Class

How did we come to imagine what “ideal childhood” requires? Beginning in the late 18th century, German child-rearing radically transformed, and as these innovations in ideology and educational practice spread from middle-class families across European society, childhood came to be seen as a life stage critical to self-formation. This new approach was in part a process that adults imposed on youth, one that hinged on motivating children’s behavior through affection and cultivating internal discipline. But this is not just a story about parents’ and pedagogues’ efforts to shape childhood. Offering rare glimpses of young students’ diaries, letters and marginalia, Emily C. Bruce ’07 reveals how children themselves negotiated these changes.

Revolutions at Home analyzes a rich set of documents created for and by young Germans to show that children were central to reinventing their own education between 1770 and 1850. Through their reading and writing, they helped construct the modern child subject. The active child who emerged at this time was not simply a consequence of expanding literacy but was, in fact, a key participant in defining modern life.