Illegitimate, Feebleminded, and Drunk: Historical geographies of childhood through early 20th C. archives

Authors: Meghan Cope*, University of Vermont
Topics: Historical Geography, Qualitative Research, Cultural Geography
Keywords: archives, geo-humanities, qualitative, historical geographies, childhood
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Calvert Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


‘Illegitimate’ births, ‘feebleminded’ children, and ‘drunk’ parents are just some of the comments included in the Matron’s handwritten records of the Home for Destitute Children in Burlington, VT. Add to this the incomplete records, sensitive issues of privacy, falsified public documents, and locational inaccuracies and my recent project digitizing and analyzing orphanage logbooks from the early 20th C present a variety of challenges. In a substantive way, the project raises issues of involuntary child migration and detention (to put it in current terms), trauma, family poverty and abuse, eugenics, and allusions to an ideal rural childhood that stand in stark relief to children’s lived experiences. Empirically, the project is limited by a lack of children’s own perspectives, with only brief hints at individual agency or ‘voice’ within the ‘official’ records. In an effort to combine my previous work on ‘qualitative GIS’ and children’s geographies with a peek back 100 years, I’m exploring the tools and approaches of geo-humanities, such as StoryMaps and timelines, in hopes that they will allow me to engage with these archives respectfully but with a critical perspective.

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