– towards the history of an invisible child
In this paper I will
consider the theme of the “Gender and Knowledge – Gendered Knowledge”
conference and the history of Finnish childhood, on the basis of
the first research plan for my doctoral thesis Tracing Reason
– Recognition of Childhood and Its Political Space in Finnish Society
1809–1863. At first I will consider some ontological and epistemological
starting points for the research process. I will then look at the
methods, or ways, towards my sources: the Swedish law of 1734, the
Church Law of 1686, official decrees of the Russian emperors between
1809–1863, a selection of Finnish newspapers, periodicals and children’s
literature, and the administrative court records of the city of
Tampere. After that I will describe the idea of exploring whether
one can trace the “child’s voice” from the nineteenth century in
various contemporary social questions.
In relation to the
source material, it is noticeable that the texts generally seem
to be written by men. It is therefore necessary to take into account
how they used the child’s voice: firstly, in the family and secondly
as possessors of civil, political and cultural power in a traditional
agrarian community and state. However, in this context the most
challenging task is to ask about the children’s invisibility in
these kind of historical discourses. When discussing this question,
the need will arise for more in-depth consideration regarding who
actually took part in the public discussion on the child’s legal
position in society and what type of individuals were ignored? Where,
in reality, were the children, in nurseries and play-yards, on streets
and in schools, or in factories, poorhouses and spinning houses?
And finally, how and where in general did the traditional concepts
about childhood, or the “children’s best”, encounter modern ideas,
or has notion of a so-called “enlightened childhood” been a “dormant
reason” or even a “nightmare”, as L. DeMause has stated?
child and childhood – some thoughts on ontology and epistemology
I examined the history
of Finnish pedagogy in my Master’s thesis, entitled Reason and
Children’s Education – J. V. Snellman’s Conception of Childhood
in His Lecture on Pedagogy 1861 (2004)
 . The starting point in this study was early childhood education
and I approached the subject matter according to the Hegelian philosophy
of the Finn, Johan Vilhelm Snellman (1806–1881). Snellman approved
of Descartes’ notion of “I think, therefore I am”, as outlined in
”Discours de la Méthode  . My own research process began
in the “spirit” of this assumption, which lasted from the late seventeenth
century up until the early nineteenth century. This is why I will
also distinguish between the concepts of the child as a natural
phenomenon and childhood as an open discursive concept. Both of
these concepts found different forms of expression in Finnish legal
and scholarly texts during the first half of the nineteenth century.
The philosophical method
Snellman adopted to cross the gap between body and soul was the
idea of Reason. For Snellman, the essential nature of the
human being meant the process of thought, whereby subjects become
the objects of their own thinking. For the subject, thinking is
the manner by which s/he is not simply aware of the content of
knowing. Snellman placed a third element of the human being – the
Spirit – between the body and the soul, which expresses itself
as Reason and Tradition in society.  According to this doctrine, a
child comes into the world without Reason. Snellman stated that
life-long self-education has its origin in child-rearing and will
gradually lead to ever deeper self-assertion. It enables a child
to have better knowledge of itself as a perceiving and sensual entity,
as well as a right-willed and acting human being.
According to Snellman’s
logic, language was the expression of thought and Word. Through
early childhood education and teaching at home, a child is able
to absorb the tradition of the word, which includes the whole human
system of thinking and acting – the Right. First and
foremost, this meant for Snellman that an individual had the ethical
responsibility to act in a free and rational, but also in a traditional
way – according to gender roles in society. Snellman gave parents
the responsibility of child-rearing in the family, and thereby the
task of leading children to the Tradition, the moral concept (sedlighet,
Sittlichkeit) and to their recognized position in civil society.
Furthermore, in general
the problem of historical knowledge or truth is complex. This relates
especially to language, which preserves meanings over time. However,
in Snellman’s opinion, language also had an ontological as well
as a lexical function. Thus, if as a researcher I take a textual
starting point for the history of childhood and conceptions about
it, it implies the account of different cultural histories, the
experiences of generations and the languages. The primary sources
in my research are written in old-fashioned Swedish and Finnish,
with the theoretical frame being in modern German or in English.
The conceptual correspondence between my thinking and the past will
undoubtedly meet many difficulties. One of the problems here concerns
the manifold conceptual incommensurability between the conceptual
system in the nineteenth century and our current century. Furthermore,
what in practice seems to be in the child -rearing problematic to
us was not necessarily the same in the beginning of the nineteenth
It has also been common
in our own time to argue for the close connection between language
and gender: how men’s knowledge is somehow more technical or rational
and women’s thinking progresses through more bodily-intuitive processes.
In addition, there will certainly be the specific knowledge of the
different generations, and this also relates to the children’s life
and position in society. As boys or girls, have they somehow different
ways of thinking? During historical research, how can we take these
kinds of question into consideration?
From invisible to
tend to approach childhood through the mental structures in a society.
New points for research are raised when one considers childhood
in general to be a special phase of human life. The question about
the interest of knowing in science will also be addressed. This
concerns whether its focus will be on our adult descriptions of
a specific single historical case, or will it continue the prevailing
narrative of white western middle-class childhood. Perhaps something
quite new will be found, which will maybe tell our children something
about their past? 
Here one methodological problem to be decided centres on the
conception of the researcher’s role. Shall I, for example, use the
hermeneutic interpretation as a method to understand my own conceptions,
or analyse the various historical social or cultural structures
that we can see to be connected with different conceptual constructions
The task of tracing
a child’s own unique knowledge in early childhood history is demanding
and perhaps impossible. The pre-textual essence and unwritten culture
of a little child’s world is problematic and forms a very special
kind of object in historical inquiry.  Children’s minds and lives have always opened
up as non-linear processes in many directions, including both conceptual
and pre-conceptual or masculine and feminine elements. Furthermore,
if a small child’s own authentic texts were at hand, all interpretations
would always be based on our adult gendered conceptions. Therefore,
I think a child’s own conceptions of the world have been, are, and
maybe will always remain somehow invisible to our final understanding.
Perhaps the only possibility
is to try to open up the different kinds of constructions related
to the myths of nineteenth century Finnish childhood, and then to
seek the relevant methods to analyse them. Finland became an autonomous
Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire after the war between Sweden and
Russia in 1808–1809. However, many social institutions remained
unchanged, as was also the case with the every day conditions of
population. A gradual process did occur, however, towards a new
and open national identity. At this point I would like to assume
that childhood was one narrative of the Finnish nationalistic movement,
which later gave childhood a relatively prominent place in our society.
Sometimes terms such
as “third-degree questioning” of sources or “silent sources” have
been used as metaphors in (my) historical research. Here I will
pose the question: how I can make my historical sources “speak”,
or is it even possible to give “a voice to the child”? Or maybe
we have to rephrase the question: how we can make the past visible
to the children? In this sense, what things will we call “historically
important” and “why” – or are we just offering “princesses for the
girls and knights for the boys”?
The concept of “invisibility”
in my research is in some ways a preceding step to the “child’s
voice”  . Invisibility points in manifold
directions. At first I would like, as mentioned, to use this “child’s
voice” to make visible the ideas of those writers who made the child
and childhood visible in their own time. That is why it is also
important to connect the concepts of childhood, or, for example,
the “best interest of a child” to the wider historical, social,
cultural or even political context. What kinds of thing were genuine
and which was new? This also means taking into consideration the
history of German idealism and its reception and influence on the
Finnish world of ideas, jurisprudence and political concepts in
the beginning of the nineteenth century. What is(‘) more, what kind
of influence have they had on pedagogical thinking and a child’s
legal position in the family and different kinds of social institutions? 
In relation to such
theoretical and contextual backgrounds, I would also like to approach
the history of Finnish early childhood education by following the
theory of recognition advanced by the German social philosopher
Axel Honneth in his ongoing studies at the Institute of Social Research
in Frankfurt am Main. In Invisibility: on the Epistemology of
“Recognition”, Honneth highlights social submission and
exclusion in western society – the absence of an “inner eye”, that
prevents us from seeing the true human person instead of mere numbers
and columns in statistics. 
It is possible in historiography
to draw wide lines or to concentrate on smaller matters, but it
is still important to realise the connections and development processes.
I have my own developmental way of looking at the past, with the
conceptions and historical framework I now have at my disposal.
Is it a common supposition that as a woman I will use them somehow
differently from men?  I do not argue that the male way to describe
the position of women or children in society or history has been
consciously negative. Perhaps it is simply a the question of a “different
starting point”? Whatever the case, the male point of view in nineteenth
century Finnish agrarian society was quite different from my own
or even that of men in the current post-industrialized century.
I am therefore also considering the real possibility of moving between
the different positions of children, men and women in the past because
they, for their own part, were located through conceptual networks
in definite institutions, languages and space: in governmental power,
the Church, the judicial system, schools or the poor relief system.
All the above-mentioned
texts will form the discursive area for a new public childhood at
the beginning of nineteenth century in Finnish society. It is interesting
to observe how multi-faceted this society was and to note the different
categories or social positions – or gendered voices – writers have
used to construct it. What were the specific social, cultural and
political positions that male – or female in some cases – authors
created for the different estates, genders and generations? Where
did the writers obtain the most important impulses for their conceptions
and where were these realized? Lastly, did they simply see children
as objects for adults or somehow as active participants in society?
– Connections between past and present reasons?
In this paper I have
asked how we can reach the “child’s voice” in history research.
I began by stating that it would maybe be better to speak about
a phenomenon called “childhood”, which has been connected to society
by different institutions and textual discourses. As such it is
possible to consider them as traces left by children in human culture.
Over the centuries it has been a common practice that children shared
their daily lives and worked together with adults, but we can also
see how upper and middle-class families placed them in nurseries
and schools – waiting rooms for adulthood. In every genuine human
culture, where there are human beings, there are also children.
We can also say that they produce multiple meanings: where there
are children, there is action… Everybody knows how a small child
leaves traces all around him or her – drawings, untidy clothing,
etc. Yet, they also leave some kind of “new order” in family lives
and roles. It often seems that an adult’s only task is to find the
proper method to control this “movement”. Is it any wonder that
for centuries there was considerable need for so many didactical
books on child-rearing? In The Great Didactics of J. A. Comenius,
for example, and in other historical accounts we can find the vital
conceptions of adults – or perhaps more correctly doctrines – about
the more imaginary child and its essence as a “spiritual plant”,
rather than a real child. 
In the 1840es, when
the German Friedrich Froebel (1782–1852) founded his kindergarten
as a “spiritual garden” for children, many boys and girls in my
home city of Tampere worked with their parents in the cotton weaving
mill. However, as social historians have stated, after modern western
society discovered the unique character of childhood, it was soon
separated in order to protect children from the adult world.  I think here is one possibility
to find a cause for the difficulty in tracing the cultural history
of children, which we have somehow cut off from past culture, when
different age groups traditionally lived together.
In undertaking research
in human history, we actually draw near to the political arenas
– the goals and means, the struggle for power and the right to justify
one’s own actions. Modern public society and private family life
have established a certain space for the politics of childhood.
The border zone between these private and public spaces and the
study of the movements of the various actors’ between them is a
challenging task: who crossed the lines, and why? What kinds of
encounter have there been?
At the beginning of
the nineteenth century, an inner development towards civil society
emerged in Finland. Later, this afforded everyone the opportunity
as a citizen to participate in a democratic national society. One
important element of this large national project was the child and
childhood: firstly as a metaphor for the future of the country and
nation, and secondly as future active citizens in national society.
From this point of view, for example, it is useful to study the
first children’s periodical in Finland, entitled “Eos” (the Autumn),
which was published from 1854. Many of the stories, drawings, songs
and poems were written by famous national writers, such as Zacharias
Topelius (1818–1898), and constructed an ideal picture of upper
or middle-class childhood and have given it a definite position
in Finnish children’s literature.
We have stated that
language was one of the most distinguishing features in the evolution
of the concept of a Finnish national childhood. Competence in a
specific language also produced privileges and a certain position
in society. However, in this sense we can also draw attention to
a child’s lack of empowerment in society. In his writings, Snellman
generally indicatedthe competence of Swedish, as the written cultural
heritage was more open to Swedish -speakers. Snellman’s age marks
the onset of, the Finnish national movement, which sought to cultivate
the nation, to create a completely new written Finnish national
culture and to bring literacy to the common people. For Snellman,
a patriotic education, where boys and girls had their own natural
social positions in society, was the highest and most important
part of the educational system.
Back to the beginning:
to think is to be a human being. To be a human being is to think
– in a certain time and context. My thinking is bound to my gender
and our post-modern time and context. From there I can try to reach
paths towards the past: books and texts, paintings and pictures
etc. Furthermore, what I would like to do in my research, in a certain
sense, is to locate the past and present in an intertextual relationship
and discussion: somehow to make them ask each other questions.
Who had the right to
speak for the child? In child research we have for a while now spoken
about giving a voice to the child. In my research, I would like
to make Finnish children and childhood more visible in the broader
historical context. One of my goals is to find some of these places
in the textual material where adults exercised their right to speak
for a child. I will try to consider how their conceptions of childhood
have been constructed in different texts, or how as writers they
have tried to express children’s emotions, their relationships to
knowledge or their experience of the world – to use “the child’s
Every time we choose
something from the past and make it an object of our historical
thinking, we are at the same time illuminating new approaches to
the subject. In the research of childhood, I see one option being
to make some form of map – also for children of our own time – of
the thoughts to be found in the various texts. It could make them
more approachable in the wider context of the whole cultural system
of knowledge. Furthermore, by focusing our research on the child
or childhood of the past we can find something that lies very deep
in our human nature and way of thinking. By giving it a name we
bring those thoughts to our prevalent system of meanings – we make
it part of our own existence. This is also the point where historical
thinking begins – as an empowering movement between different historical
conceptions and meanings. However, it is always the most opportune
moment, when in historical research children themselves can read
the traces of human life and take part in historical discourse.
is a postgraduate student in History at the University of Tampere.
 Descartes 1899, p. 55.
 See e.g. Snellman 1992 (1836), pp. 555–572.
 Also compare the different histories of childhood written
by Ariès 2003, deMause 1974, Aronsson et al. 1989 or Cunningham
 In EOS, the first periodical for children
in Finland, many historical stories were published for 19th
century upper-class family children, e.g. here the story
about Alexander the Great in Eos Vol 1 No 19–21
(1854), pp. 142–160.
 In Finland Marjatta Bardy, for example, has researched
J.-J. Rousseau’s conceptions of the nature of childhood. In Finnish
see Bardy 1998, pp. 15–20.
 In our Master’s Thesis (Tunturi & Åkerberg 2000)
we examined children’s contemporary stories about their “good
and bad days”. In this research we stated that the so-called “Century
of childhood” had gone, but that “the child’s voice” has remained
unheard in educational research. Adults conduct studies – for
adults – but the child has been left in an adulthood “waiting-room”.
While interpreting child’s world from an adult’s point of view,
the child’s own active role has been overshadowed.
 On Hegelian legal thinking see Hegel 1994 or 2002.
On the history of German Idealism in Finnish Pedagogy see Väyrynen
1992. On the discussion of “Children’s Best” see e.g. Grossberg
 Originally in German Honneth 2003.
 Ellsworth 1992, pp. 90–119.
 On women’s and children’s roles as factory workers,
see the English review of the Finnish study by Haapala 1986 or
 EOS tidskrift för barn och barnens vänner1854–1866.
Also see, for example, the fairy tales published in 1847 by Topelius,
the Finnish national history writer.
& Åkerberg, Aila, Meeting the Child – From Subject to Person:
(–) Stories of Pre-school- and Primary -school Children in a Postmodern
Time According to the Dialogical Philosophy of Martin Buber
(in Finnish Lapsen kohtaaminen: subjektista persoonaksi – esi-
ja alkuopetusikäisten lasten tarinoiden tarkastelua postmodernissa
ajassa Martin Buberin dialogisuusfilosofian valossa). Master’s
Thesis in Philosophy of Education. Department of Education, University
of Tampere 2000.
Reason and Children’s Education – J. V. Snellman’s Conception
of Childhood in His Lecture -Pedagogy 1861 (in Finnish Järki
ja lastenkasvatus – J. V. Snellmanin lapsikäsitys hänen kasvatusopin
luennoissaan 1861). Master’s Thesis in History of Ideas
and Sciences. Department of History, University of Oulu 2004.
Geschichte der Kindheit. Mit einem Vorwort von Hartmut
von Hentig. 15. Auflage (Originalausgabe L’enfant et la vie
familiale sous l’ancien régime 1960). dtv, München 2003.
& Cederblad, Marianne & Dahl Gudrun & Olausson, Lars
& Sandin Bengt, Barn i tid och rum. Liber, Malmö 1989.
“Lapsuus kulttuurin ja luonnon rajamaalla: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
etsimässä ihmisen paikkaa”, Tiedepolitiikka Vol. 23 No
1 (1998), pp. 15–20. Also available on-line at: http://elektra.helsinki.fi/se/t/0782-0674/23/1/lapsuusk.pdf
Amos, The Didactica Magna, in English it is usually called
The Great Didactic, written between 1628 and 1632 in Czech
and then in Latin. In Finnish Suuri opetusoppi. Latinan
kielestä kääntänyt, elämäkerralliset tiedot ja selittävät muistutukset
kirjoittanut E. J. Tammio. WSOY, Porvoo 1928.
Cunningham, Hugh, Children & Childhood in Western Society
since 1500. Longman, London 1995.
“Discourse on Method”. Reproduced in Reading about the World,
(trans.), Brians, Paul et al. (eds.), Vol. 2 (1999),
Harcourt College Publishing, Fort Worth, TX. In Finnish
Metodin esitys. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran kirjap.
osakeyhtiö, Helsinki 1899, p. 55.
“Why Doesn’t this Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive
Myths of Critical Pedagogy”, in Luke, Carmen & Gore, Jennifer
(eds.) Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy. Routledge, New
York 1992, pp. 90–119.
för barn och barnens vänner, Reuter, Titus (ed.). Helsingfors
“Who determines Children’s Best Interests?”, Law and History
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Tehtaan valossa: teollistuminen ja työväestön muodostuminen
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103 No. 406 (1988), pp. 145–147.
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Philosophy of Rights. In Finnish translated and edited
by Wahlberg, Markus, Oikeusfilosofian pääpiirteet eli luonnonoikeuden
ja valtiotieteen perusteet. Kustannus Pohjoinen, Oulu 1994.
In German e.g. Brandt, Horst D. (pub.), System der Sittlichkeit
[Critik der Fichteschen Naturrechts]. Meiner Verlag, Hamburg
Unsichtbarkeit. Stationen einer Theorie der Intersubjektivität.
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”Particula tertia”, J. V. Snellman. Samlade Arbeten I. 1826–1840.
Statsrådets kansli, Helsingfors 1992 (1836), pp. 555–572.
Sagor. Gröndahl, Helsingfors 1847. This book can also be
found at: http://www.lib.helsinki.fi/memory/helmi.html.
Der Prozeß der Bildung und Erziehung im finnischen Hegelianismus.
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