About the Keynote Address
The Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1924, its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959, and its 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child marked the beginning and development of what scholars have called “The Century of the Child” (Marten 97). These declarations reveal that a renewed change in thinking – after a first period of considering children in British romanticism – has taken place since the twentieth century leading into the twenty-first century’s increased attention to children in crisis situations such as, for example, (im)migration. This change is also reflected in literature, whether fictional or non-fictional. Children’s experiences are often not recorded and are, therefore, lost to cultural memory.
However, (im)migrants have attempted to access moments of childhood that include the departure from home, the journey, and their arrival in what they might eventually consider their new home. Those narratives are strategic transformations of authors’ lives and usually go on to trace the history of their development from childhood into adulthood to uncover significant experiences that have shaped the unfolding of their identities. The purpose of these autobiographically inspired narratives is both communal and individual, “reclaiming history and building community” (Davis 3), thus, doing cultural work, on the one hand, and allowing introspection into the writers’ minds and their understanding of what childhood was like, on the other hand. Additionally, a reading of these “writerly acts” (Davis 4) unravels the narrative strategies applied in order to authentically represent a child’s perspective. Most of all, it serves as “an exploration of an interior life that was not written” (Morrison 195).
This talk will zoom in on forms of narrative representation of a child’s perspective with respect to (im)migration. She will work along chronological and comparative lines, starting with short glimpses at texts written before 1924 and selectively moving on to the twenty-first century. Her analysis will include U.S.-American novels, short stories, film and photography as well as life writing, spanning the geographies and languages of various ethnic groups. Questions will address notions of childhood as politicized, constructed, vulnerable or strong, the use of the alter ego and narrative voice, and the functions of a child’s (limited) perspective of home and host cultures.
This public keynote presentation is part of the EAAS Conference 2024.
Photo: Carmen Birkle ©private
About the Speaker
Carmen Birkle is a professor of North American Literary and Cultural Studies at Philipps-Universität Marburg. She was president, vice president, executive director, and international delegate of the German Association for American Studies and currently serves as treasurer for the European Association for American Studies. She is Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Philipps-Universität (2017-23). Apart from being the author of two monographs – Women’s Stories of the Looking Glass (1996) and Migration—Miscegenation—Transculturation (2004) – and of numerous articles and (co-)editor of 15 volumes of essays and special issues of journals, she is also General (Co-)Editor of the journal Amerikastudien / American Studies (open access). Her current work on a monograph is situated at the intersection of American literature, culture, and medicine in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Moreover, her contribution to a larger interdisciplinary project on “Geschlecht—Macht—Staat” focuses on female presidents in U.S.-American TV series. A monograph on Muriel Gardiner and the edition of Gardiner’s correspondence are projects gradually taking shape.
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