Children and adolescents are central characters in medieval religious and secular writings, as recent research has revealed (Orme, Shahar, Classen). This special session seeks papers that discuss how medieval German texts and literature from its neighboring lands (England, France, Italy) address issues of childhood and adolescence both as representations of lived realities and as narrative constructs. In Germany alone, courtly poets like Wolfram von Eschenbach (Parzival), Hartmann von Aue (Gregorius) and Gottfried von Strassburg (Tristan) present detailed narratives about the early years of their knightly and saintly heroes, including stories about their protagonists’ parents, their childhood games, childhood miracles and sins, and their often ill-fraught road to adulthood. Educators such as Thomas von Zerklaere (Der welsche Gast) and other didactic texts (Winsbeke und Helmbrecht) begin to address the younger audience specifically by advising them on proper conduct and setting out rules for the interaction between peers and superiors. These juvenile characters can neither be reduced to “small adults” as Aries would suggest in his 1962 Centuries of Childhood, nor is their adolescence shrouded in complete silence (Schultz, “Medieval Adolescence,” 1991).
This panel invites papers that address the representation of childhood in medieval texts. Questions may include: how is medieval childhood used as social commentary? How is the representation of childhood related to generational conflict (maturity vs. immaturity or naiveté)? In what ways do medieval authors address childhood to discuss the rebellious nature of the human individual versus demands of group conformity and adaptation to social norms? How do literary representations of childhood either reinforce or contest and revise ideas about foundational social values in the realms of the court (e.g. inheritance, sibling rivalry, and proper public conduct) and the church (e.g. Mary’s motherhood as role model, infant baptism, parental responses to premature death)? Papers that address the relationship between the individuality of children and their social interaction with others, including their exposure to affective or ineffective parenting, socializing play and “schooling” by role models or anti-role models, are especially encouraged. Contributions that investigate the creative and subversive nature of childhood and its close relationship to the writer’s craft as both creative and subversive are also highly welcome.
Please send a 300 word abstract and a short bio on or before September 12 to:
Nick Ostrau (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com)