The Neil Sutherland Article Prize
Mona Gleason, “Avoiding the Agency Trap: Caveats for Historians of Children, Youth, and Education,” Journal of the History of Education (Vol. 45, no. 4, 2016): 446-59.
Gleason’s exploration of the scholarly roots, opportunities and limitations of the concept of agency in the history of children and youth offers a timely and compelling reflection. It effectively recasts the discussion around the “agency ideal” by laying out its pitfalls while pointing out new ways that the field may move forward in its efforts to engage more fully with the complexity of childhood. The committee was impressed by how Gleason skillfully uses a collection of family letters from the British Columbia Department of Education to explore new ways that the concept – and limitations – of children’s agency can be approached; mainly through empathic inference and a closer reading of age through the prisms of relational and power dynamics. Gleason’s masterful discussion of the lessons of similar debates in anthropology, women’s studies and the history of children and youth serves as both a historiographical roadmap and a discussion point for new ways to approach an essential question in the field.
Julia M. Gossard, “Tattletales: Childhood & Authority in Eighteenth-Century France,” Journal for the History of Childhood and Youth (Vol. 10, No. 2, Spring 2017): 169-187.
Gossard’s research on how children attending charity schools in Lyon and Paris, France, from 1689-1789 reported the immoral or illegal misdeeds of their parents, siblings, household members, and strangers deftly complicates the study of early modern French family power dynamics. Her use of charity and hospital school reports skillfully paints a nuanced picture of how French children and youth could challenge patriarchal power within a coercive system of surveillance of private life. The committee was impressed by Gossard’s nuanced use of school records, particularly in her discussion of children’s limited agency in navigating a broader system of social policing. Gossard’s empathetic yet rigorous examination of these sources provides a new layer of interpretation to the rich and influential historiography of this period in French history.