Mona Gleason, “ ‘Children Obviously Don’t Make History’: Historical Significance and Children’s Modalities of Power,” in the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (16.3 2023).
From the abstract: Sarah Maza has argued that “children obviously don’t make history” given they are marginal to more meaningful, adult-driven change over time. In her response to Maza’s claims, Nara Milanich encourages historians of children and youth to explore children’s unique modalities of power, rather than focusing on their agency, to help unearth youthful contributions to historical change. Here, I engage with two of these four modalities of power as outlined by Milanich, namely children’s temporariness and their ostensible malleability (via a reciprocal process I call “negotiated malleability”) to social reproduction, using examples from my research on the Elementary Correspondence School (ECS) that operated in the western Canadian province of British Columbia between 1919 and the late 1950s. Rather than searching for children’s agency in this history, however, I think through their entanglements with temporariness and malleability in relation to adults. In so doing, I demonstrate how and why young people wielded power and how they effected powerful responses from adults—primarily the parents, teachers, and administrators associated with the ECS. I argue that analyzed through a framework that privileges children’s modalities of power in relation to adults, children emerge as significant contributors to change over time.