Childhood in History, Literature, and Law: Confronting Authority, Illegitimacy, Myth, and Rights

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date



This essay reviews five recent books addressing important aspects of children's status and legal rights across time and cultures: Holly Brewer, By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (2005); Martin Guggenheim, What's Wrong with Children's Rights (2005); Steven Mintz, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (2004); Bianca Premo, Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima (2005); and Lisa Zunshine, Bastards and Foundlings: Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century England (2005). These books' authors help us to think broadly about the place of childhood in democratic theory and practice. Their books reveal the promise and perils of a deeply-contested concept that has shaped forms of governance, as well as the routines and rituals of everyday life, whether in seventeenth-century England, revolutionary America, colonial Peru, the unmistakable prose of Jane Austen and Mark Twain, or the hallways of Columbine High School.

Publication Citation

20 J. Women's Hist. 183 (2008).