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Raising a Well-Grown Child: Media and Material Cultures of Child Health in the Early Nineteenth Century

Applicant Rietmann Felix
Number 193557
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Medizin und Gesellschaft/Medical Humanities Université Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.06.2021 - 31.05.2025
Approved amount 864'687.00
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All Disciplines (2)

General history (without pre-and early history)
German and English languages and literature

Keywords (13)

Media History; Child Health; History of Childhood; History of Pedagogy; History of Pediatrics; History of Medicine; History of Science; Magazines; Periodicals; Public Sphere; Material Culture; Domestic Practice; Medical Practice

Lay Summary (German)

Das Forschungsvorhaben untersucht die Gesundheitsgeschichte der Kindheit im deutschsprachigen Europa des frühen 19.Jahrhundert anhand des aufkommenden populären Zeitschriftenwesens sowie häuslicher und medizinischer Praktiken und Objekte.
Lay summary

Das Projekt erforscht populäre Vorstellungen von Gesundheit und Krankheit im Kindesalter im deutschsprachigen Europe des frühen 19.Jahrhundert - einer Zeit wesentlicher Umbrüche in Medizin, Gesellschaft und Kindheit. Dabei geht es einerseits darum, zu erkunden, wie Gesundheits- und Krankheitsvorstellungen im neu entstehenden und gesellschaftlich einflussreichen populären Zeitschriftenwesen verhandelt wurden. Hier stützt sich das Projekt auf Methoden der digitalen Geisteswissenschaften und untersucht sowohl auflagenstarke Zeitschriften wie das Pfennig-Magazin (1833-1855) und die Illustrirte Zeitung (1843-1869), als auch weniger bekannte und kaum erforschte Periodika wie das Journal für Kinder, Eltern und Erzieher (1805) und Des Knaben Lust und Lehr (1857-1866). Andererseits sollen anhand von ausgewählten Fallstudien häusliche und medizinische Praktiken untersucht werden. Dazu stützt sich das Projekt auf Tagebücher von Müttern in grossbürgerlichen Familien, Aufzeichnungen von Ärzten, medizinische Publikationen und die Studie medizinisch-pädagogischer Geräte und Spielzeuge wie dem Laufwagen, das Korsett und der Babywiege. Das Vorhaben verknüpft medizin-, kultur- und mediengeschichtliche Herangehensweisen und leistet einen Beitrag zur Geschichte der Kinderheilkunde, der Pädagogik und der Kindheit und zur Aufarbeitung der noch wenig erforschten Zeitschriftenkultur des frühen neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 17.03.2021

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



The project seeks to provide the first historical study of the impact of popular print media on understandings of health and illness in childhood in German speaking-Europe in the early 19th century. During that time, children moved into the focus of a rising commercial culture that included periodicals, playthings, and medico-pedagogical devices. This print and material culture of childhood has hardly been used as a source basis for the history of science and medicine. This is a considerable omission if we consider the importance of magazines for the emergence of the modern public sphere and their corresponding impact on social and cultural discourses. To address this gap in our historical understanding of modern science, medicine and childhood, my project combines medical and media historical approaches. It focuses on three main questions: What is the impact of magazines on concepts of health and illness in childhood in the early 19th century? What role did the popular discourse about child health play in the professionalization of pediatrics? And, how did it inform domestic, educational, and medical practices? The project is divided into three interrelated parts. The first part focuses on the analysis of magazines published in German-speaking Europe (primarily Prussia, Southern German States, and Northern Switzerland) between ca. 1800 and 1860. The periodical press during that period is heterogeneous, quickly changing, and still insufficiently explored. Part and parcel of the project will be to provide an overview of magazines pertaining to child health and child health education. Examples include print media providing an educated public with news about the sciences and the arts (e.g. Cotta’s Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände [1807-1865]), magazines for a mass popular audience (e.g. penny-magazines [since the 1830s]), and periodicals aiming at a scientific education of children (e.g. Des Knaben Lust und Lehr [1857-1866]). Attention will be paid to content, genre, and mode of address of articles, para-textual aspects (e.g. design, images), as well as context of production, distribution, and reception (authors, editors, publishers, readers). The aim of this first part is to map themes and topics of popular discussion, trace the historical development of discourses, and situate the magazines in a changing social and professional landscape. To master the considerable amount of source material, the exploration will draw on digital tools using the software NVivo. In a second step, the popular discourse about child health in magazines will be contextualized with a range of additional published textual sources, including advice books, educational materials, professional medical journals, and medical treatises. The main purpose of this second part is to trace the impact of popular discourse on medical professionalization and scientific debate. Finally, I will selectively draw on three types of additional archival sources to anchor the analysis in contemporary practices: collections of playthings and educational objects, documents from private families concerning child education, and practice journals of physicians. These last sets of sources will provide case studies for an assessment of domestic, educational, and medical practices. The project will result in a referential body of work on the history of child health in the German public sphere in the early nineteenth century. It will provide a major complementary perspective to institutional and professional histories of pediatrics, pedagogy, and child psychiatry, and offer new insights into the history of modern childhood. The study will also be of interest to media scholars, furnishing a major historical study of the still little explored magazine culture of the early 19th century.