MLA 2019: Visuality, Race, and Childhood in the Golden Age of American Print Culture

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Shawna McDermott / University of Pittsburgh
contact email: 

Call for Papers for a proposed panel at the 2019 MLA Conference in Chicago, IL.  This non-guaranteed panel is co-sponsored by the Children's Literature Association (ChLA) and The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS).  Please send abstracts to panel presider Shawna McDermott at by March 1st, 2018.  Abstracts should be no more than 500 words. 


Visuality, Race, and Childhood in the Golden Age of American Print Culture


As the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth, rapid changes in print technology provided American readers with a surge in the number of visuals that came into their home.  Suddenly a wealth of wood cuts, engravings, etchings, lithographs, and photographs were readily available from the news, book, and periodical presses.  Included in these images, but understudied as a genre, were thousands of visual portrayals of American children.  Inspired by the recent turn to visual and object culture in childhood and literary studies by such authors as Robin Bernstein in Racial Innocence and Patricia Crain in Reading Children, this panel explores images of children or images created for a child audience produced during the Golden Age of American print culture from approximately 1880 to 1920.


This non-guaranteed session takes seriously the idea that during this era print images had new priority in reading practices and required Americans to become literate in imagery as well as text.  In this increasingly visual society, images became a primary method of experiencing and understanding the world.  This session considers how this new epistemology of the visual asked readers and viewers, both adults and children of a variety of races, to understand the complicated social, racial, and political landscape of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 


We further seek papers that take race and childhood as their focus in order to better understand the connections between them.  Understanding that both race and childhood are cultural constructions that mediate certain populations' access to political and social rights, this session explores how visual portrayals of racialized persons, children, and especially racialized children uniquely portray and negotiate systems of power and resistance.  Responding to Anna Mae Duane's call in The Children's Table for children's literature and childhood studies to "assume its place as an epistemological game changer," this session seeks to be cross-disciplinary.  We thus encourage papers that engage with fields such as art history, film, literature, photography, and pop culture (among others).