Defining Print Culture for Youth: The Cultural Work of Children's Literature

By Anne Lundin; Wayne A. Wiegand | Go to book overview
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4
THE POWER OF
BLACK AND WHITE:
AFRICAN AMERICANS IN
LATE-NINETEENTH-CENTURY
CHILDREN'S PERIODICALS

Leslie R. Miller

With any effort to define print culture for youth, scholars must recognize its powerful influence in teaching American values to children. The portrayal of African Americans in late-nineteenth-century children's periodicals demonstrates how popular culture, such as children's literature, helped shape social relations in the United States. During the nineteenth century, American children's literature achieved a wide readership in both the North and the South as a source of both informal education and entertainment.1 Anne Scott MacLeod argues that the study of children's literature, which usually represents the “broadly accepted attitudes of its period,” offers scholars the opportunity to understand better one of the more elusive yet important parts of history: how people thought about and understood their world.2 One such nineteenth-century American attitude was the assumption that nonwhite people were inferior.

Although children learned this attitude from a variety of sources, children's literature played a significant role in children's racial education.3 As one instrument of nineteenth-century child rearing that has survived, children's literature offers an opportunity to trace the crucial transmission of racial ideologies to new generations.4 The predominance of children's literature made written material as important in teaching values in the nineteenth century as the ubiquitous television and films are today. Cultural influences upon the young continue to be important sources for understanding the continually changing (but also invariably existing) racism in American society.

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