Date of Completion
children, biography, American identity, America, eighteenth-century, nineteenth-century, Mason Locke Weems, Cotton Mather, Lydia Sigourney, Ann Plato, nonfiction
Katharine Capshaw Smith
Sharon M. Harris
Margaret R. Higonnet
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
Children’s Biography and American Identity, 1700-1860
Ivy Linton Stabell, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut, 2013
This dissertation is an archival project in children’s nonfiction that traces the simultaneous expansion of American publishing and authorship for young readers and the range of discussions about American identity from the colonial era through the Civil War. Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, America weathered a series of transformations, moving from a collection of colonies to an emergent nation, then to a new republic, and again to a country consumed by civil conflict, each change dramatically altering how its inhabitants understood their collective identity and the values required to preserve union and prosperity. Through each of these phases, children’s nonfiction, which was more widely read and recommended through the first half of the nineteenth century, served as an instrument with which each generation attempted to inscribe its ideology upon the next. Texts for children serve as the sites of various attempts to construct, control, and challenge the qualifications for and responsibilities of American identity. Children’s biographies selected which American lives were worthy of study and imitation and instructed child readers in how best to replicate the virtues exhibited in their pages.
Though many scholars have imagined children as perpetual tenants of the domestic space, socially constructed as dependent and in need of moral instruction, I argue that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century children’s literature, particularly children’s biography, instead views the child as what I call the “future public,” constantly imagining the child’s later adult role in matters of state and society and speaking to them as influential participants. My work intervenes in children’s literary and childhood studies by showing how fiction and nonfiction narrative techniques have informed one another throughout the course of American publishing for young audiences and contributes to American studies by more fully crediting children’s biography in the construction of national identity.
Stabell, Ivy Linton, "Children's Biography and American Identity, 1700-1860" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations. 63.