A History of Young People in the West, vol. 1, Ancient and Medieval Rites of Passage.
The history of the social and cultural construction of "youth" as a distinctive stage in life is the theme unifying this illustrated collection of eighteen essays on representations of adolescents and young adults. Indeed, the editors emphasize that youth, in comparison to other life stages, is quintessentially a social construct, positioned between childish dependency and adult autonomy, and between sexual immaturity and maturity. Often entailing intellectual or vocational training and (for males) military service, it is not yet the time for exercising authority and power. Youth cannot be adequately defined by either demographic quantification or legal classifications. In Roman republican texts and medieval ecclesiastical sources, "adulescentia" might extend from age 14 to 21 or 28 and "juventus" from 21-28 to 35 or more. Furthermore, many historical sources make the male rather than female life cycle the norm for classifications. Marriage and establishment of a household have been familiar benchmarks for the end of youth but did not necessarily signify a male's economic independence from a paterfamilias.
Largely written by French and Italian social historians, and by some art and literary historians, these translated volumes include three essays on classical antiquity but focus primarily on medieval and modern France and Italy. Some essays will primarily interest specialists in a given era, and there are large gaps in coverage. Volume One jumps from a chapter on republican Rome to one on Jewish youth and marriage practices in Europe between 1300 and 1800. While some authors include female subjects, treatment of males predominates. Formal and informal male rites of passage loom large in Alain Schnapp's discussion of images of the civic and military formation of youth in Greek city states; augusto Fraschetti's treatment of such Roman republican rituals as donning the toga or participating in festivals, including those with fertility rituals; and Christiane Marchello-Nizia's study of how medieval French literary texts represented the dubbing of knights and other aspects of "courtly chivalry." Such rites symbolized steps toward maturity but also were substitutes for the actual power still wielded by elders. Indeed, the theme of preoccupation with the "social control" of youth frequently appears. For example, Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan delineates the multiplication of urban regulations to control behavior in medieval Italy, and Norbert Schindler considers young men's organizations as "guardians of disorder" in early modern Switzerland and Germany. Through charivaris and other disorderly acts, brotherhoods of young bachelors tried to regulate marriage. Ultimately, such practices conflicted with both post-Reformation efforts to halt youthful misbehavior and the modern nation-state's new regulations.
Volume One's last chapter treats youth and families at the moment when the power of the early modern state was on the rise. Renata Ago examines the marriage practices of seventeenth-century Italian noble families and, through references to French and English counterparts, introduces a comparative dimension absent from many chapters. Her use of autobiographical and family records adds a depth lacking in the many essays based only on images of youth, and young women figure prominently as subjects. Convents offered women a choice not available in Protestant countries, educating and preparing them for both the religious veil and marriage. Ago also shows that the Catholic church sometimes tempered parental power, noting that the Council of Trent in 1563 made parental consent to marriage desirable but not always essential. Whereas both state and church regulated marriage in early modern France, in Italy the church long had sole authority, and occasionally mothers whose brothers were clerics allied with those brothers to counter husbands' wishes regarding a child's marriage or entry into a religious order. Case studies convince Ago that neither the Protestant Reformation nor the rise of absolutism necessarily made most fathers tyrants. Yet she also notes that the massive adoption of primogeniture in western Europe during the sixteenth century and later effectively destined larger numbers of the aristocracy's younger children to celibacy: perhaps half of all French and Italian noble sons between 1550 and 1650, and a third of English counterparts. If many of the celibate in Catholic countries took holy orders, it was not only because of parental dictates but also because young people often interiorized parents' sense of familial interests and accepted destinies chosen for them.
The extended transition from early modern to modern times in Europe opens Volume Two. Tracing artistic images of youth from Caravaggio through the early Romantics, Giovanni Romano notes that youth in medieval imagery were typically on the margins and depicted in relationship to others older and younger, but by the seventeenth century they were more often the subjects of individual portraits. During the Romantic era, their stage in life was portrayed as one less warped by social artifices. Nonetheless, the modern state created new intrusions into youthful existence. Surveying military obligations and experiences from the seventeenth through the early twentieth centuries, Sabrina Loriga cites such benchmarks as Prussia's imposition of military training for young males in 1732 and Revolutionary France's universal conscription. The separation from family during military service was long a more significant rite of passage for upper-class youth than for working-class counterparts, Loriga argues, because the latter often left home for work at an early age. Compulsory primary schooling, first most prevalent in Protestant German states, also was widely adopted by the later nineteenth century, and in due course the legal age for entering the work force coincided with the school-leaving age, typically 12 or 13.
Other chapters on nineteenth-century developments treat working-class youth, secondary school students, and young political rebels. Michelle Perrot emphasizes that working-class boys and girls had limited possibilities for experiencing adolescence as a time for self-discovery and leisure, in the twentieth-century sense, because many went directly from school to work. By 1860, 87 percent of Parisian workers were literate, and some were increasingly impatient with poor working conditions. While cities certainly offered more recreations than small towns, constraints of time and money limited workers' enjoyment of them. Nonetheless, Perrot concludes that nineteenth-century youth enjoyed a new degree of freedom, perhaps indicated by the average marriage age in France dropping from 28.7 for males and 26.1 for females in 1821 to 25.2 and 24.1, respectively, in 1901.
The division between European primary and secondary schools has typically been indicative of social class as well as age and instructional level. In France, the central focus of Jean-Claude Caron's chapter, post-primary education was further divided between secondary schools and higher primary schools. By 1895, there were about 180,000 students in France's post-primary schools (including 65,000 in public secondary schools), as compared to 5.5 million in primary schools. Separation by gender was typically mandated for post-primary education in France and other countries, Catholic and Protestant, and was also the norm in French primary schools in larger towns. The creation of public secondary schools for girls usually trailed well behind their provision for boys, and curricular differences meant that female graduates were often ineligible for certain diplomas or university admission. Noting that the introduction of national systems of secondary education paralleled the growing importance of middle classes, Caron nonetheless concludes that the high school was less important for the "social promotion" celebrated by democratic regimes like the Third Republic than for functioning as a "normative agent" dispensing "general culture" and discipline to future elites.
Youthful revolutionaries of the Left emerged from more than one social background between the French and Russian Revolutions, Sergio Luzzato demonstrates, and the same was true for twentieth-century revolutionaries of the Right. Italian fascism equated youth with heroism and old age with decadence. Its gendered imagery, asserts Laura Malvano, was particularly contradictory for women. Athletic images conveyed a new liberation, but renderings of female athletes were more "discreet" than those of males, and fascism's preferred image of woman was the mother producing children for Il Duce. The Nazis also appealed to the young with images of physical freedom, while endeavoring to create youthful soldiers ready to serve a warped racial idea. Eventually, notes Eric Michaud, the regime made enrollment in the Hitler youth obligatory for all "Aryan" boys; girls entered a separate organization, and some learned that motherhood without marriage was a service to the Fuehrer.
Luisa Passerini's final chapter on "youth as a metaphor for social change" provocatively contrasts positive Italian fascist images of youth with negative images of juvenile delinquents that multiplied in the United States of the 1950s. Although governed by different systems, both societies were capitalist and, contends Passerini, American fear of risky or "alien" (and largely male) adolescent behavior often resembled Cold War-era fears of communism. In the absence of a concluding chapter, Passerini also offers some general perspectives on youth since 1789. She treats the fascist and American episodes as part of the "deconstruction" of a concept of youth first framed during the nineteenth century and fully expressed in psychologist G. Stanley Hall's 1907 book, Adolescence. Hall characterized the teenaged years as a unique moment of turbulence and regeneration, marked by such antithetical qualities as hyperactivity and inertia, social sensitivity and egocentrism. The United States of the 1950s witnessed the first generation of teenagers who mostly attended high school and whose group memberships, along with consumer and sexual habits, attracted countless analysts. This historical phase culminated on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968, Passerini argues, for university students (largely middle-class) then rejected the idea that they were simply youth in revolt. Pronouncing the 1950s image of the teenager to be "dead," she does not reconstruct an alternate but does observe that "a diaspora of immigrants and cultures" in current western societies necessitates that future studies of youth emphasize "its multiplicity" (p. 339).
That conclusion, like the incomplete nature of these volumes, indicates why much remains to be added to the history of youth. This survey's emphasis on representations of youth needs enrichment with more sources registering individual voices of the young, such as the family documents and life histories utilized by some of the authors.
Linda L. Clark Millersville University of Pennsylvania
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|Author:||Clark, Linda L.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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