- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Random House USA Inc (12 July 1965)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0394702867
- ISBN-13: 978-0394702865
- Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.5 x 20.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 46,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life Paperback – 12 Jul 1965
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More About the Author
The modern concept of family life is traced through the paintings and diaries of the last four centuries.
Inside This Book(Learn More)
A MAN of the sixteenth or the seventeenth century would be astonished at the exigencies with regard to civil status to which we submit quite naturally. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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The author's central thesis is that the concepts of childhood and the family are relatively new ideas. According to Ariés, the modern concept of childhood did not exist during the Middle Ages. Essentially, European's during this period viewed children as small adults as soon as they were no longer dependent on their mothers for weaning. According to the author, this occurred about the age of seven. Over the next several centuries, this began to change due to the evolution of the educational system. So, by the 18th century, a more familiar version of childhood had emerged. The author relies on secular and religious literature, paintings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, poems, songs, memoirs, and academic codes to support this argument. This monograph is an example of the third generation of the Annales school's emphasis on mentalities.
This book's primary emphasis is on events that take place between the 10th and 19th century. There are three charts located in the middle of this monograph, but it is otherwise free of graphic aids. This text also includes a brief section of endnotes and a short index. Ariés divides this work into three sections. The first section deals with the emergence of the modern concept of childhood, the second section examines scholastic life in Europe, and the last section discusses the evolution of the family.
He begins this book by providing a brief survey of the ambiguous terms used to refer to children in Europe during the time period examined. According to Ariés, many of these terms were gender-neutral, could be used to refer to humans of varying ages, and the meanings of these words changed over of time. Then, Ariés turns to demonstrating how paintings, sculpture, and literature reveal this evolution of the concept of childhood. For instance, during the 12th century, artists typically portrayed children with adultlike faces and dressed in adult clothing. Essentially, artists depict children as miniature adults. By the 15th century, however, artists increasingly portray children in ways that are more childlike. For example, some artists began to depict children playing games. Next, Ariés discusses childhood innocence. Here, he details the lurid childhood sexual encounters of Louis XIII. Based on these encounters, Ariés makes the claim that the idea of childhood innocence did not exist by the early 17th century. He concludes this section by asserting that during the Middle Ages, childhood as it is known today, did not exist.
The author examines the evolution of scholastic life in Europe in the second part of this monograph. One significant point the author makes in this section is that the diversity of medieval classrooms reveals the way society viewed children. For instance, in most medieval classrooms adults were educated right along with children. Ariés claims this occurred because children entered the society of adults as soon as they were no longer dependent upon their mothers. By the 15th century, however, students would increasingly be divided by ability and age. The most important argument that Aries makes in this section is that the structure of scholastic life contributed to the development of the modern conception of childhood. Specifically, because of the emergence of the middle class and the increase in access to education, an extended concept of childhood began to emerge. Now, instead of ending at the age of seven, childhood lasted well in to a person's late teens or perhaps early twenties. In lower classes, however, Ariés alleges the antiquated view of childhood persisted into the 18th century in some parts of Europe.
Ariés dedicates the final part of this book to discussing the relationship between childhood and the development of the modern concept of the family. To trace this relationship, he relies heavily upon family iconography, although, he also mentions references to the family from literature. For example, the books of hours during the 12th century depicted agricultural scenes and the changing of the seasons. This emphasis began to shift over the next several centuries and in the 16th century, the family emerged as a primary focus of books of hours. Now, instead of depicting the changing of a season, artists might depict domestic scenes showing a husband, wife, and children. Nevertheless, Aries claims that it was not until the 17th century that the family gained widespread importance across Europe. The primary reason for this change was the evolution of the concept of children. According to Ariés, parents went from seeing their children indifferently and as miniature adults, to viewing them as worthy and in need of special care, attention, and education. Thus, the author argues that the child is the foundation of the modern family.
While Centuries of Childhood is an essential book for any scholar interested in children or the family, it does have several significant weaknesses. First, most of the evidence that Ariés uses come from upper and middle class society. Further, his discussion of the lower class is always relegated to a few paragraphs usually at the end of a section. So, this calls into question some of his wide reaching assertions about the role of the child and family outside of upper and middle class society. Second, his assertion that sexual contact with children was permissible into the early 17th century is based on very thin evidence. Nonetheless, and despite the fact that this book has been widely criticized, it is a very Historiographically significant book.
Philippe Ariès writes in Centuries of Childhood that the concept of childhood was not portrayed medieval art prior to the 12th century. And that it is highly unlikely that it was an oversight or the part of artist, but that in fact what they painted was the reality of the situation i.e. the concept of childhood was unknown; however, artist or miniaturist painted children on a smaller scale i.e. small men. The paintings further reveal that there was very little separation between children and adults socially - whether in the workforce, sporting, or relaxing.