February 17, 2006
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.—Karen Sánchez-Eppler, professor of American studies and English at Amherst College, is the author of Dependent States: the Child’s Part in 19th-Century American Culture ($35, 288 pp., University of Chicago Press, Chicago), a recent book that explores what happens to our understanding of U.S. culture once we include children as historical actors, recognizing them as participants in the making of cultural meaning.
For Sánchez-Eppler, 19th-century childhood was a vehicle for national reform. Dependent States examines the ties between children’s literacy training and the growing cultural prestige of the novel; the way children functioned rhetorically in reform literature to enforce social norms; the way the risks of death to children shored up emotional power in the home; how Sunday schools socialized children into racial, religious and national identities; and how class identity was produced, not only in terms of work, but also in the way children played. Using deeply researched examples, Sánchez-Eppler reveals that children participated in the making of social meaning. Her focus on childhood as a dependent state thus offers a rewarding corrective to our notions of autonomous individualism and a new perspective on American culture itself.
A member of the Amherst faculty since 1988, Sanchez-Eppler has a B.A. degree in English and the history of ideas from Williams College, a B.A. in English from Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. in English from the Johns Hopkins University. Her first book, Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism and the Politics of the Body (1993) described how the political rhetoric of the abolitionist and feminist movements, and their ways of talking about the body, leave their traces on a wide range of 19th-century American writing.