Enduring Trifles: Writing the History of Childhood with Ephemera
February 17-19, 2011
On February 17-19, over 70 scholars, collectors, and bibliophiles gathered at Princeton for the 9th Cotsen conference on children’s books, organized by Andrea Immel of Princeton and Jill Shefrin of the University of London.
The topic of this year’s conference was, “Enduring Trifles: Writing the History of Childhood with Ephemera,” and it explored the multi-faceted concept of “ephemera” with reference to children’s material culture, perceived needs, and prevailing constructs of childhood, pleasure, play, and learning.
The Shorter OED defines “ephemera” as an item “of short-lived interest or use … collectible items originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.” A fragile artifact can be defined as ephemeral, but similarly, if its content is slight, its format or genre perceived as trivial, or it reflects contemporary events of passing interest, it can be considered ephemeral. The word also has another key meaning with respect to children’s things: an object or text can be ephemeral by design if conceived for use during a particular stage in a young person’s cognitive or social development.
Speakers from various institutions world-wide — including the Bodleian Library, the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood, Newcastle University, and the University of Toronto — explored various aspects of ephemera, thus broadly conceived, in papers such as: “Caught in the Moment: Current Events in Eighteenth-century Children Books,” “Goodrich’s Grab Bag & Visualizing the Natural World for the Young,” “Fuller Paper Doll Books: Interactive Design and Gender(ed) Play,” “Child-Authored Poetry in the Late Eighteenth Century,” and “‘A Colony of Puffins:’ Documenting a Reading Community.” A full listing of papers and presenters and a PDF of the conference schedule (designed by Isabella Palowich of Artisa LLC) are both available on the conference website.
The program also included two workshops where Alan Powers and Peter Cope utilized actual artifacts to discuss Juvenile Theaters and Dean’s Rag Books, respectively, and an actual Juvenile Toy Theater performance of Rip Van Winkle, by Dr. Neff’s Incredible Puppet Company, was followed by a behind-the-scenes look at the theater and its apparatus.