Childhood in World History: 3rd Edition (Paperback) book cover

Childhood in World History

3rd Edition

By Peter N Stearns


188 pages

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Taking a global look at what the category of childhood has meant from agricultural societies to the present day, Childhood in World History offers a vital overview of this topical field. Through comparative analysis, Peter Stearns facilitates a cross-cultural and transnational understanding of attitudes towards the role of children in society, and how "models" of childhood have developed throughout history. Engaging with issues around children’s role in the family and the involvement of communal, national, educational, and global infrastructures, Stearns unpacks the experience of childhood in the West, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

This expanded and updated third edition includes:

  • updated bibliographies and suggested readings
  • expanded discussions of religion and children’s rights
  • a new chapter on families in developing economies in the early twentieth century
  • broadened discussions of childhood in Japan and in communist countries.

With expanded further reading lists, Stearns’s accessible text not only provides an overview of its field but also offers a research guide for more specialized study. Concisely presented but broad in scope, Stearns’s accessible text guides readers through the transformations of the concept of childhood.


"Freshly updated with new material, there is no better introduction to childhood in a world context. The breadth of Peter Stearns's knowledge of world history and his analytic acuity makes this an essential text for students of childhood history and for all historians who are learning to appreciate the significance of this subject to an understanding of the human past and the evolving present."

Paula S. Fass, author of the End of American Childhood: From Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child

"This sweeping, eye-opening history demonstrates that the contemporary Western ideal of childhood – as an innocent period devoted to play, schooling, and pleasure, and sharply segregated from the adult world -- is a historical anomaly. By placing contemporary childhood into a fresh global-historical perspective, this book not only provides a succinct overview of how human societies have evolved over millennia, it challenges the widespread assumption that childhood today is unequivocally better than in the past. Despite obvious improvements in health and living standards, too many contemporary children are exposed to violence, abuse, poverty, and displacement, while the most affluent lead over-organized, overly coddled lives with distressingly few opportunities for unstructured, outdoor play free from adult supervision."

Steven Mintz, author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood

"Characteristically learned, conceptually sleek, and sensitive to societal and temporal variation, Stearns is intensely dubious about the relative value of contemporary gains in children's material and physical well-being. The preeminent surveyor of uncharted historical landscapes importantly updates the literature of the ensuing decade, in this 3rd edition of his sweeping Childhood in World History."

Stephen Lassonde, author of Learning to Forget: Schooling and Family Life in New Haven’s Working Class, 1870-1940

"The publication of the 3rd edition of "Children in World History" is a welcome event. As a guide to our changing conceptions of childhood across historical, cultural and religious contexts this book has few rivals. Although written in an accessible and fluid style, it highlights the complexities and contradictions in the childhood narrative. The focus not just on Western but on other regional perspectives including Africa, India, Japan, China and Latin America is one of the major strengths of the volume. Stearns’s book will be of interest not only to historians and their students but all scholars of childhood including social scientists. A real achievement."

Ross D. Parke, author of Future Families: Diverse Forms, Rich Possibilities

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: childhood in world history
  2. Childhood in agricultural societies: the first big changes
  3. Childhood in the classical civilizations
  4. Childhood in postclassical world history: the impact of religious change
  5. Contacts and Contrasts in the Postclassical World
  6. Forces of change and the modern model of childhood: developments in the west, eighteenth century to 1914
  7. Alongside the modern model: the pressures of colonialism
  8. Modern childhood in Asia: Japan adapts the new model
  9. Childhood and communist revolutions
  10. Childhood in the affluent societies, twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  11. The dislocations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: children face war and violence
  12. Globalization and childhoods
  13. The Dilemma of Children’s Happiness
  14. Conclusion: childhoods from past toward future

About the Series

Themes in World History

The Themes in World History series provides exciting, new and wide-ranging surveys of the important themes of world history. Each theme is examined over a broad period of time allowing analysis of continuities and change, and introduces students to historians' methods and debates in their context.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Children's Studies