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Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life Paperback – 12 Jul 1965

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • 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)

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Product Description


The modern concept of family life is traced through the paintings and diaries of the last four centuries.

Inside This Book

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First Sentence
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
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unfortunately this book covered a disproportionate amount of the later part of the period it claimed to cover: and as my interest was the Mediaeval period, it was less useful to me than I had hoped. Also, some of Aries's views have been questioned by later authors. Nonetheless it was a ground-breaking work in its time, and well worth a place on my bookshelf. John Scott.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good to learn from especially to make comparison from 1960s studies of Middle Ages, to todays differing understanding of how children of this time played and had a childhood.
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I was looking for this film for a long time. Very good purchase. Matched perfectly my expectations. Arrived on time
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8f8e184c) out of 5 stars 10 reviews
60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8f811b64) out of 5 stars A Paradigm 1 April 2001
By Michael Sympson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
During the sixties (those were the times!) this was probably the most influential book on education. The funny thing is, that actually it is not at all about education, but its history and how our Western understanding of childhood as a concept has evolved. For everyone who uses to take for granted the values of a sheltered childhood and a period of prolonged 'innocence', it must come as a surprise, how relatively recent, in historical terms, these developments actually had been. In such light, the medieval society and even the Renaissance look very alien, like people from a distant planet. They had a custom to exchange their children in a network of chartered apprenticeships. Once a little sucker had passed the critical age of five and was deemed to be ready to fend for itself, it became time to learn the way of the world, and to be rented out to service at the tables of a trade or of landed nobility. Only a select few received rudimentary tuition and set out on an aca!demic career, which meant years of vagrancy and the open road between Universities and urban centers of learning. As for the pre-school age, the child was a sexless, almost nameless piece of livestock and roamed the townships in street gangs, wore an undistinguished piece of garb, rummaged the garbage dumps and contributed to the family's income with petty theft and beggary. It never washed, hunkered down to torture an unfortunate beetle or wrenched a cat's tail; it learned to drink small beer, in order to escape the diarrhea that lurked in every well. It was on a race against measles, small pocks, diphtheria, and crippling polio, and the odds weren't good. Parents preferred not to involve themselves too emotionally in the frequent deaths of their small ones. A little thing had died, sad, but a replacement is already under way. Scenes from modern day Calcutta come to mind. (This condition was not necessarily class-specific. The future emperor Frederick II (1194-1250), heir t!o the most powerful dynasty of his time, one of the best educated and most enlightened rulers in history, who was fluently conversant in six languages, including Arabic, had passed his early childhood and adolescence as a thieving thug in a Sicilian street-gang. He coined the notorious phrase of the three con-men: Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. Needless to say, the popes took turns to excommunicate this man.) These days, teachers use to complain over class-sizes. I still remember my first year in primary: we first graders shared the same classroom with the second grade, and one teacher took care of both at the same time. But this is idyllic if compared to the beginnings of the modern school system in the late Renaissance! You had first graders of every age between seven and twenty-five sitting in one room with second, third, and fourth graders. Many of the most renowned educators were practising pedophiles and nobody found anything wrong with it. Only gradually, the Jesuits in th!eir colleges set a trend for stricter discipline and the separation of the ages. This was paralleled by a new understanding of parenthood. Up to this point the Church had been too busy with her own agenda of sorting out who is orthodox or an infidel, to care much about such mundane matters as marriage (see my review of Caroll's 'Constantine's Sword'). Newly wed couples used to receive without much ceremony an informal blessing under the open sky, on the stairway to the church-entrance. But now marriage had became institutionalized at last and a 'holy sacrament'. The little ones, as the fruit of such commitment, became precious, and their still frequent deaths a source of inconsolable grief. For the first time since Antiquity, we find again infants to be buried in individually marked tombs. Supervision intensified; early tuition was recognized as a means to keep kids out of trouble. Children wore the same costumes as their parents and from early on displayed the airs of their !respective social classes. They no longer exposed their genitals in public and slept in a place removed from their parent's bed. It was not exactly a world of fairies and dreaming under soaring larks, there was little time for this and no space to wax sentimental. The kids were on a mission: to grow up as soon as possible and take their share of responsibility for the family's fortunes. The nuclear family was born out of economic expedience - your own children are more loyal then a hired apprentice; and you save on the wages. The emerging educational system served to reinforce this trend and at the same time developed a new sense of parental commitment. Then came the industrial age and mobilized human resources on an unprecedented scale. The sentimental attachment deepened and in the era of Victorian hypocrisy and a growing life expectancy, the biological learning period was stretched even further and a new myth was born: the myth of innocence and of an infancy in fairyland. !The fashion recognized the need for age related clothing, the age of children's literature was born and parents learned to lie to their children on the facts of life and the birds and the bees. Has this turned out to be a blessing? History's court is still in session, and the replacement of King Arthur, Cinderella and the Dwarfs by Kermit, the Cooky-Monster and Miss Piggy might turn out to be a rather dubious piece of pedagogic progress. Monsieur Aries book certainly deserves its rank as a classic.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fc4e2f4) out of 5 stars Extremely Dated... 1 Feb. 2012
By Ball State Grad-RMN - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Philippe Ariés' Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life examines the origin and evolution of the contemporary conceptions of childhood and the family in Europe. However, Ariés derives most of his sources from France and England. While this monograph's intended audience is the general academic community, the author's writing ability makes it accessible to most of the educated public. The stated purpose of this text is to determine whether the family has a medieval or more recent origin.
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.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fd406cc) out of 5 stars The author is enthusiastic about erasing the lines between childhood and adulthood, both sexually and vocationally. Unreliable. 1 Dec. 2013
By C Palmer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Purchased this for research for my Masters degree. The author is French and it was translated from French. Much of his research involved childhood in France, specifically. An excessive amount of time is spent "proving" that children were considered the same as adults by the time spent playing similar games such as chess, which did not impress me as sufficient proof that children were considered no different than adults. Surely children were disciplined, instructed, given patience as they learned. All children imitate adults, even now in this generation, but that does not mean that they are considered to be no different than adults. The sexually charged court diary of Louis XIII from his infancy to childhood is meant to be proof that all children were handled, permitted to have sexual relations as young boys and explore adult women's bodies randomly; I cannot accept that as truth that all children were treated this way. Rather, the graphic and exaggerated descriptions of the little boy's sexual escapades--could it not be that they were exaggerated for the purpose of displaying to the public that this little boy deserved to be King based on his accomplished sexual performance at such a young age? Indeed, all his talents appear to be exaggerated by his caregivers, and could we expect nothing less of the caregivers of a young prince in France during that period in history? Image was everything. The little guy needed to appear super human as well as well endowed in order to impress upon the country that this little boy deserved to be King. The author of the book does not appear to see through this veneer of Court praise. Instead, he seemed enthralled himself that this little prince of France was so sexually accomplished and knowledgeable at such a young age. The author takes this example of Louis XIII and determines that all children in France must have been treated this way--his conclusion is that there was no difference between children and adults during this time period. I'm not convinced that the author's conclusions on his research are completely trustworthy in other matters as well. It was very entertaining reading, but the author, being from France, appears nationalistic, and it could be that his loyalty to convey an specific impression of France to the general public could influence his analysis of his research. Furthermore, his favoring of the "rich-textured communal society of earlier times" in lieu of the modern family unit is telling. He paints a very positive picture of how children were better off being sexually molested by the whole community and playing adult games and working as servants at a young age instead of being protected within a smaller family unit and going to school. After a while, I became weary of the obvious bias. I don't believe the author is a reliable narrator. Furthermore, I noted that this kind of slanted bias that attempts to erase the line between childhood and adulthood could be used as proof by people of certain cultures that the practice of marrying child brides is acceptable, based on the fact that centuries ago, "there was no difference between children and adults." --When in fact, there most likely was. In short, the author of this book is too enthusiastic about portraying the underage child as capable of working as an adult, engaging in sexual relations at a young age as normative, and deserving of no special treatment or nurturing.
HASH(0x8fca0120) out of 5 stars I really enjoyed reading it 11 Mar. 2015
By Luciana Leitão da Silva - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed reading it! It gives a broad view of the development of childhood throught the centuries. It was of great help to deepen my graduate studies!
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8fd4275c) out of 5 stars Is Childhood a Recent Invention? 21 Aug. 2012
By The Writer Mo Ibrahim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is another book that I read for my new book on age-discrepant relationships and ephebopilia. As it pertains to my research, I learned the following among other interesting facts:

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.
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