Adulthood as a Category of Historical Analysis
Call for Papers
A one-day online workshop hosted by Newcastle University
Online using Zoom and Wonder
September 7th, 2021
[Four generations of the same family in Barrow-in-Furness, 1988. Left to right: Catherine Inman, shipyard engineer; Maureen Inman, typist before having first child; Gladys O’Flynn, shop assistant before marriage; Rose Ashton, domestic servant before marriage. Credit: Angela Holdworth, Out of the Doll’s House: the story of women in the twentieth century.]
This one-day interdisciplinary workshop, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will consider the question: how can we use adulthood as a category of historical analysis?
Expectations for adults have altered across time, just as other age-categories such as childhood, adolescence and old age have been shaped by their cultural and social context. However, historians have rarely thought about adulthood critically, tending to treat it as a neutral state, despite the fact that it is the yardstick by which ideas of what it means to be ‘childish’, ‘elderly’ or ‘adolescent’ are measured. Even modern Western concepts such as the ‘midlife crisis’ presume the existence of a healthy kind of adulthood that exists before you hit middle age.
Age, like gender, is a relational category: in the same way as an analysis of femininity is incomplete without understanding what is meant by masculinity, we cannot really understand how concepts of childhood, adolescence or old age have changed without thinking about how adulthood has changed as well, or how it is given different meanings in different societies at different times. Ideas of independent, self-sufficient adulthood also inform the ways in which groups such as women, people of colour, LGBT+ people and disabled people are oppressed.
This workshop welcomes submissions from scholars of any disciplinary background, considering any place and period, and of any career stage. Submissions from PGRs/ECRs and papers that look outside modern Western Europe and the United States are especially welcome, but all submissions are encouraged. We hope that the workshop will ultimately result in a special issue of a journal.
Themes may include, but are not confined to:
- the language of adulthood; how is being ‘grown up’ or ‘mature’ described and what implications does it have?
- the link between chronological age and adulthood; how tightly is adulthood linked to physical maturity?
- the psy sciences and adulthood
- pre-modern/early modern versus modern adulthood
- self-narratives of adulthood, either retrospective or anticipatory – how we look back on adulthood or, in the case of children and adolescents, imagine a future adulthood
- the ways the language of adulthood is used to oppress e.g. ‘childish’ or ‘immature’ social groups, regions or states
- historical turning-points that introduce new ideas of adulthood and maturity
- the imposition of colonising concepts of adulthood and chronological age on other people and places
- how adulthood intersects with categories such as class, race, sex, sexuality, gender identity and disability: who is allowed to be an adult?
If you are interested in speaking at this workshop, please send a 250-word abstract and brief bio to Dr Laura Tisdall (email@example.com) by Friday 30th July 2021. If you have any questions before submitting an abstract or are not sure if your research is a good fit, please also email Laura.