In 1900, Ellen Key wrote the international bestseller “The Century of the Child.” In it, she proposed that the world’s children should be the central work of society during the 20th century. Although she never thought that her idea would become a reality, in fact it had much more resonance than she could have imagined.
For the past half century, the study of the child has been dominated by two towering figures, psychologist Jean Piaget and historian Philippe Ariès. Interest in the subject has been driven by Ariès’ argument that adults failed even to have a concept of childhood before the 13th century, and that from the 13th century to the 17th there was an increasing separation between the adult world and that of the child. Piaget proposed that children’s logic and modes of thinking are entirely different from those of adults.
In the 20th century this distance between the spheres of children and adults made possible the distinctive study of child development and also specific legislation to protect children from exploitation, abuse, and neglect. Recent students of childhood have challenged the ideas those titans promoted; they ask whether the distancing process has gone too far and has begun to reverse itself.
“Beyond the Century of the Child,” a series of essays edited by Professor of History Michael Zuckerman and Willem Koops, professor of developmental psychology at Utrecht University, brings together leading psychologists and historians from around the world to question whether we unwittingly created a detrimental wall between the worlds of children and adults and whether the century of the child has in fact come to an end.
— University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on February 13, 2003