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Writing history for young people

Écrire l’histoire pour la jeunesse

Escribir la historia para la juventud

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Published on Wednesday, June 29, 2016 by João Fernandes

Summary

The past two decades have seen an increase in the number of publications in France on the subject of youth literature, which have approached the subject from various historical angles. Generally tending to favour the colonial period or periods of conflict and mainly focusing on the issue of propaganda, these studies have examined the creation of a colonial or war culture for children. Most notable among these studies are La guerre des enfants: 1914-1918 (The children’s war: 1914-1918) by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau (1993) and, more recently, Enfants en temps de guerre et littératures de jeunesse XXe-XXIe siècles (Wartime children and youth literature from the 20th-21st centuries), edited by Catherine Milkovitch-Rioux et al (2013), and Enfance et colonies: fictions et représentations (Children and colonies: stories and representations) (volume 3 of the online journal Strenæ, edited by Mathilde Lévêque, 2012). In an extension of these studies, this volume of Amnis aims to invite discussion more specifically on the writing of history for young people.

Announcement

Argument

The past two decades have seen an increase in the number of publications in France on the subject of youth literature, which have approached the subject from various historical angles. Generally tending to favour the colonial period or periods of conflict and mainly focusing on the issue of propaganda, these studies have examined the creation of a colonial or war culture for children. Most notable among these studies are La guerre des enfants: 1914-1918 (The children’s war: 1914-1918) by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau (1993) and, more recently, Enfants en temps de guerre et littératures de jeunesse XXe-XXIe siècles (Wartime children and youth literature from the 20th-21st centuries), edited by Catherine Milkovitch-Rioux et al (2013), and Enfance et colonies: fictions et représentations (Children and colonies: stories and representations) (volume 3 of the online journal Strenæ, edited by Mathilde Lévêque, 2012). In an extension of these studies, this volume of Amnis aims to invite discussion more specifically on the writing of history for young people.

 Since this topic is so vast, the aim is complex. There are many media and genres (fiction, biographies, anthologies, comic books, specialised collections, etc.), and the target audiences are very varied (early childhood, adolescence, boys, girls). To understand these works, it is useful to first reflect on what their precise mission is. It is clear that, during certain periods in history, they have primarily sought to educate and persuade in order to indoctrinate, but what about more generally? Regardless of whether they complement, rectify or challenge the teaching of history in schools, they have to – in order to appeal to the potential reader and purchaser – develop different formulae from those offered in educational establishments. They may be easily identified by their formats and special collections, but what subjects do they tend to prefer? Cécile Boulaire points out ‘contemporary children’s literature’s strange and sometimes disturbing fascination with the Second World War period, […] [where] an embarrassed silence about the events has given way to a sometimes voyeuristic form of expropriation of the worst ignominies’[1] (review of Enfants en temps de guerre et littératures de jeunesse [XXe-XXIe siècles] [Children in times of war and youth literature (20th-21st centuries)],Strenæ, 7, 2014). How can you make children understand about the concentration camps, about what it was to experience such extreme violence, without toning it down (see, for example, Auschwitz expliquée à ma fille [Auschwitz explained to my daughter][1999] by Annette Wieviorka)?

 These questions invite us to go beyond the distinction between a literature that has long been judged ‘minor’ or ‘lowbrow’ – youth literature – and the more ‘noble’, high-brow’ forms, such as history and literature. Such a standpoint tends to understand history writing for young people as being based on a hybrid form that combines historical tales with stories for young people, that is to say two narrative modes that should a priori sit uneasily together. Historically speaking, this opposition does not hold up. From their earliest origins, books aimed at the young reader have had an educational role. The whole idea of ‘removing reading from the educational system in the name of reading for pleasure’ (Christian Chelebourg and Francis Marcoin, La Littérature de jeunesse [Youth literature], 2007) is only a very recent one. It is therefore essential to historicise the approach to the phenomenon. In 1788, Jean-Jacques Barthélémy published Le Voyage du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, dans le milieu du quatrième siècle avant l'ère vulgaire (Travels of Anarcharsis the younger in Greece, during the middle of the fourth century before the Christian ære, 1796), which was an account based on the ‘grand tour’ model in which Barthélémy presented his young readers with everything that was known about Ancient Greece at the time. ‘I have put together a voyage rather than a history book,’ said the author. He was criticised for using this construction because it created a mixture of key historical figures and fictional minor characters. This same reticence continued in the 19th century. With no less that one hundred and seventy titles published and twelve million books sold, the famous publisher of children’s literature, Samuel G. Goodrich, flooded the North American market with their illustrated history books. Their success lay in two key ingredients. One was the presence of a narrator, Peter Parley, an old man ‘who has seen a great many things’, and the other was their determination to never refer to a subject without depicting it in large, high-quality illustrations. While these books may look like serious history textbooks to us today, Goodrich wryly admitted: ‘I, who had undertaken to teach truth, was forced to confess that fiction lay at the foundation of my scheme!’

 These different issues have inspired the thoughts and works of Thierry Aprile (1961-2013). This volume of Amnis pays tribute to this professor, historian and youth literature writer. As Laurence de Cock wrote, Thierry Aprile had ‘the belief that the formatting of history and the effectiveness of its transmission came through a narrative, or even a dramaturgical, framework, punctuated by characters that he described as ‘main’, willingly portrayed in a – albeit not exclusively – national setting’ (http://aggiornamento.hypotheses.org/1299). Author of six works published by Gallimard Jeunesse, Thierry Aprile encourages his young readers to follow – as the title of the collection suggests – ‘in the footsteps’ of Aladdin (2001), the Pirates (2009), Louis XIV (2010) and the Esclaves (Slaves) (2011). In 2004, in a different format, producing childish writing (‘Le journal d’un enfant’ [The diary of a child] collection), he reinvents the words of Rose, the daughter of a First World War soldier, to convey her gaze in relation to the Great War. In 2005, he lends his voice to Joseph, a boy from a town called Le Creusot in eastern France, who witnessed the industrial revolution (1868-1872).

 While the nationalist, colonialist, racist and sexist dimensions of youth literature have often been pointed out, Thierry Aprile was one of those authors who systematically countered these deviations in his choice of topics and characters. In Pendant la Grande Guerre (During the Great War), for example, the young Rose allows him to develop a loving but critical gaze in relation to her brother Jean and his patriotic fervour. On 13 March 1919, Rose writes in her diary: ‘Jean was demobbed on 15 February, he is now with us in Paris. But he is not like he was before’.

Areas for discussion

1/ Writing history for young people: mission and strategies.

  •  The relationship between truth and fiction: is there a specific relationship in youth literature?
  •  Writing history from the child’s point of view.
  •  Methods and functions of using images.
  •  How does history-writing mobilise genres like adventure stories, desert-island-type stories, fairy tales, etc.?
  •  The invention of new narrative modes?

2/ Youth literature: ideology, propaganda and militancy.

  •  The political and social missions of youth literature: the construction of a colonial or war culture (or any other culture) aimed at young people.
  •  The construction of heroes intended for young people (for example, biographies of key Afro-American figures, like Harriet Tubman, from the beginning of the Cold War in the United States) or the reinterpretation (postcolonial, for example) of certain key historical figures.
  •  Is youth literature a space for cultural remediation, making up for the transmission deficit that exists within the school system (for minority groups, in particular)?

3/ Youth literature and the historical account: reciprocal influences.

  •  Specific functioning of the dual market (the child reader and the adult purchaser)?
  •  New ways of tackling gender issues?
  •  The archives: their inscription in youth literature.

Submission guidelines

Abstracts (a presentation of the article in 30 lines) can be written in French, Spanish or English. They are to be sent to the following address

before October 15th, 2016: 

amnis@revues.org. The author, whose proposal has been accepted, has to submit their entry by April 30th, 2017. The articles, after being checked by the Scientific Committee and two external reviewers, will be published on the journal's website, (http://amnis.revues.org) in 2017.

Editor

Crystel Pinçonnat, Professeur des Universités, Aix Marseille Université


[1] All French quotations have been translated.

Date(s)

  • Saturday, October 15, 2016

Keywords

  • histoire, jeunesse, littérature

Contact(s)

  • Severiano Rojo Hernandez
    courriel : amnis [at] revues [dot] org

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Severiano Rojo Hernandez
    courriel : amnis [at] revues [dot] org

To cite this announcement

« Writing history for young people », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, June 29, 2016, https://calenda.org/371345

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