The Cotsen Children's Library regularly sponsors academic conferences that focus on various aspects of children's literature and culture. Below you will find brief descriptions of current and past programs hosted by the Cotsen Library. Please click on the conference titles for more information.
Enduring Trifles: Writing the History of Childhood with Ephemera
February 17-19, 2011
We are accustomed today to a market in which goods for children represent substantial industries, but children have been increasingly targeted in the English-speaking world’s consumer culture since the early industrial period. The desire to meet the developing child’s needs provided the print trades with an impeccable rationale for producing an array of paper ephemera to “improve the shining hour” in the school room, the parlor and beyond. By highlighting the variety of children’s ephemera from the eighteenth century to the present, this conference hopes to demonstrate its potential for studying the history of childhood.
“Ephemera” is a multi-faceted concept which this program will explore with reference to children’s material culture, perceived needs, and prevailing constructs of childhood, pleasure, play, and learning. The Shorter Oxford defines “ephemera” as an item “of short-lived interest or use … collectable items originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.” Thus a fragile artifact can be defined as ephemeral. Similarly, if its content is slight, its format or genre perceived as trivial, or it reflects contemporary events of passing interest, it can be considered ephemeral. But the word also has another key meaning with respect to children’s things: an object or text can be ephemeral by design if conceived for use during a particular stage in a young person’s cognitive or social development. For all these reasons, Western culture has tended to devalue children's material and their ephemera is more susceptible to casual disposal than the property of adults.
Although juvenile ephemera is eagerly sought by collectors, scholars tend to overlook this rich resource for evidence not only of distinct cultures of childhood, but also of children’s place in the larger historical picture. The unprepossessing object, such as the rag book, the poem composed by a child, the board game, the fund-raising ticket, the printed school form, the book cover, the paper doll, or the cookbook, can refract contemporary political, social, and cultural ideas, as well as perform the important cultural work of diffusing knowledge, forming values, and creating senses of identity and of community. Scholars at this conference will examine aspects of the history of childhood in Britain and the United States of America between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries from the perspectives of book history, gender studies, and the histories of science, religion, political movements, education, and literature.
The program will also include two workshops where the presenters will have actual artifacts on hand for viewing and a round table on children’s ephemera collecting, collection management, and the special challenges of making such materials available for research.
Conference participants: Brian Alderson; Peter Cope; M.O. Grenby (Newcastle University) Rachel Gross, (Princeton University); Catherine Howell (Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood); Russell Johnson (UCLA Biomedical Library); Katharine Kittredge (Ithaca College); Julie Anne Lambert (Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection); Sarah Lloyd (University of Hertfordshire); Mary Clare Martin (University of Greenwich); Katherine Pandora (University of Oklahoma); Lucy Pearson; Carol Percy (University of Toronto); Alan Powers (University of Greenwich); Jacqueline Reid-Walsh (Pennsylvania State University); Adrian Seville; Jill Shefrin; Adrianne Wadewitz (Indiana University, Bloomington); Jenna Weissman Joselit (George Washington University)
Organized by Andrea Immel and Jill Shefrin
Home, School, Play, Work: The Visual and Textual Worlds of Children
14-15 November 2008 (Wooster, MA); 13-14 February 2009 (Princeton, NJ)
This conference was sponsored by the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) and the Program in the History of the Book in American Culture (PHBAC) at the American Antiquarian Society, in conjunction with Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Cotsen Children's Library, Princeton University. Papers addressed aspects of eighteenth and nineteenth-century textual, visual, or material culture that related to the experience or representation of childhood. More information about this conference can be found at the American Antiquarian Society website.
Sharpening the Subtle Knife: Cutting New Paths Through Children's Literature
16-18 November 2006
In November 2006, the Cotsen Children's Library hosted an ambitious conference that -- contrary to previous years' programs -- focused not on one particular period, theme, or genre, but instead will consider the breadth of children's literature from its beginnings to the present day. An impressive array of internationally recognized scholars presented papers on subjects including the origins of children's literature, book making, canonical works, illustrated texts, children's poetry, retellings and revisions, literacy, children's books for grownups, gender and genre, beast tales, fantasy and imagination, humor and subversion, children without families, and more.
Hidden But Not Forgotten: The Legacy of Hans Christian Andersen in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
10-12 November 2005
In honor of the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth, the Cotsen Children's Library hosted an academic conference assessing Andersen's impact as the creator of some of the greatest literary fairy tales ever produced. The conference addressed the relative lack of criticism on Andersen's works in comparison to those of Madame d'Aulnoy and the conteuses , Perrault, or Grimm. The conference welcomed a roster of international scholars who examined the nature of Andersen's legacy in the twentieth century, exploring those aspects of his style and imagination which are not immediately associated as hallmarks of his art, but which have had an undeniable impact on modern revisioning of fantasy and of the literary fairy tale--such as his colloquialism or satiric impulse.
In addition to academic papers, the program also included screenings of films based on Andersen's works, professional storytelling, dramatic productions, and an exhibition entitled Wonderful Stories for Pictures: H. C. Andersen and His Illustrators , that featured a number of the Andersen-related treasures owned by the Cotsen Children's Library.
Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War
9-11 October 2003
This conference considered an extremely significant and topical theme: the role and place of children in times of war and conflict. From the Children's Crusade to modern school violence, the Napoleonic Wars to the Holocaust, and from the American Civil War to the War of the Ring in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, speakers discussed the ways in which war informs childhood, as well as ways in which childhood, in turn, informs war. In addition to the range of papers, two award-winning films were also screened (Behind Closed Eyes, a documentary film about four children traumatized by war; and Into the Arms of Strangers, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the kindertransports that saved over 10,000 European children from the Nazis in the months leading up to World War II" (this film’s director, Mark Jonathan Harris, was present to comment on his work).
'Seen and Heard:' The Place of the Child in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800
18-20 April 2002
This conference assembled scholars from a variety of fields to examine changing perceptions of European children and childhood in the Early Modern period. Presentations explored how the figure of the child " and actual children " were central to the articulation of important philosophical, political, religious, and cultural aspirations. Speakers discussed topics such as innocence, socialization, the acquisition of knowledge, and innovations in teaching, as well as considered a range of questions focusing on children’s status, experience, and activities. Click here for a list of speakers and their topics, as well as to access abstracts of their papers.
Considering the Kunstmärchen : The History and Development of Literary Fairy Tales
30-31 March 2000
Conference participants explored the enduring popularity of the literary fairy tale, a genre that appeals to both children and adults, from its origins in the 17th century to its contemporary forms. Thirteen internationally-recognized scholars spoke at the conference on topics including 18th- and 19th-century German fairy tales, 20th-century fairy tale illustration, fairy tales and postmodernism, Arthur Hughes and Walter Crane, and "fantasy" vs. "fairy tale." In addition to the papers, Tom Davenport of Davenport Films screened his award-winning, feature-length film Willa: An American Snow White , a classic tale of envy, death, and redemption that follows the adventures of a young girl who runs away with a traveling medicine show. Mr. Davenport also offered public screenings of two additional films in his award-winning From the Brothers Grimm series, Ashpet: An American Cinderella and Soldier Jack, or The Man Who Caught Death in a Sack .
Struwwelpeter in English: Contemporaries & Successors
19-20 November 1999
1999 marked the 150th anniversary of Slovenly Peter , the first American translation of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Children’s classic Der Struwwelpeter . To celebrate the advent of the book in the New World, the Cotsen Library hosted an international conference dealing with the reception of the book and its many translations, adaptations and parodies in the English language. Among the topics discussed were Struwwelpeter in England, the American Struwwelpeter, Struwwelpeter in politics, and connections to other nonsense children’s literature and black humor. In addition to the papers, noted puppeteer, Preston Foerder, performed a series of nine cautionary tales starring Slovenly Peter, the boy who refused to cut his hair or nails, Paulina, the girl who played with matches, and Casper, a youngster who refuses to eat his soup.
Playing with Knowledge: Text, Toys & Teaching Children in Georgian England
30 October 1997
This conference explored the legacy of innovative Georgian writers and publishers whose contributions to the development of modern child-centered pedagogy are, to this day, still not widely recognized. All four papers were published in the Princeton University Library Chronicle, Volume LX:2 (Winter 1999).