Supervisor: Claudia Opitz-Belakhal
Researcher Elise Voerkel
Since Philippe Ariès published his famous book in 1960, there has been much research on the history of childhood. But until very recently, the focus has almost exclusively been on the (pedagogical) discourse on childhood and education. The children’s situation and position within the family – varying according to age, gender, social and religious origin – has attracted much less attention. Furthermore, children have mostly been seen as ‘objects’ of practices and discourses. Only recently, for example due to the increased interest in children’s role in the European witch craze, has there been a growing awareness of children’s agency in the patriarchal and hierarchical world of early modern household-families and society. At the same time, Enlightenment debates on new forms of family life, child rearing, education and schooling (especially the ‘Höhere Mädchenbildung’ for girls) began to reshape bourgeois practices and identities, in Switzerland and elsewhere. This project aims to bring together the rich source material of 18th century Switzerland, particularly from the German-speaking protestant City states (Basel, Bern, Zurich). The focus will be the bourgeois families’ rich correspondence about and also with children, as well as diaries, autobiographies and memoirs. The main questions relate to when and how children (i.e. from newborn to the age of about 12 years) and childrearing practices appear in family correspondence and ego-documents. Can we then detect a change in the timespan ca. 1750 to 1830? Further questions concern the (possibly changing) influence of mothers on the education of children and child-care practices. Did their influence increase with the improvement of girls’ education and the growing interest in small children during the second half of the 18th century? Or, on the contrary, did the father become an even more important authority, at least for the rearing and education of sons? Is there in consequence an increasing bifurcation along gender lines of family life along with these newly emerging education practices? What was the impact of the male relatives? And how did aunts and female cousins interact in raising children? Is there in fact a growing importance of relatives and thus a new kind of social openness? Or is the ‘realm of childhood’, on the contrary, the very space of emotionalisation and intimisation of domestic and family life, as Phlippe Ariès once suggested? Last but not least, the changing role of domestic servants in raising children has to be clarified.