CFP Conference "Transnational Families and Childhood in Modern History: Perspectives and Challenges"

Lasse Heerten's picture
September 3, 2020 to September 5, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Childhood and Education, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies, World History / Studies, Immigration & Migration History / Studies


CFP Conference "Transnational Families and Childhood in Modern History: Perspectives and Challenges"


Thursday, 3 September – Saturday, 5 September 2020

Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

organized by Prof. Dr. Sandra Maß


The history of the family and childhood has expanded considerably in the context of global, transnational and imperial perspectives in historical studies. Historiography has long emphasized the regional diversity of family models and quickly abandoned the notion that the development of the modern family was teleologically directed towards a nuclear family (Kernfamilie). The same differentiation applies to research on the history of childhood. It has underlined the synchronic and diachronic differences in the concept of childhood from its very beginning.

The extension of this critical differentiation to imperial and global spaces, however, has only recently begun to shape historiography. The results point to different models of extended families in the modern age, thereby relating friends, stuff, parents-in-law, adoptive and biological parents and even surrogate mothers with each other on a global level. At the same time, an unproductive separation of the historiographies of childhood and family can still be observed.

The conference will discuss these developments and develop new perspectives on transnational histories of family and childhood. Furthermore, it aims to bring young researchers into dialogue with established experts in the field. General questions like, how were families constructed on a global scale, or, how did children live global lives in history, shall be directed at more specific fields of research, such as:


Childhood and family in imperial contexts: colonial families, missionary families, migration (19-20th century)

Historical studies on family and childhood in imperial and missionary contexts [Boucher 2014; Buettner 2004; Gosh 2006; Manktelow 2013; Saada 2007] emphasized that children, men and women lived in global family networks. Separated family members constituted their affiliations solely with the help of regular correspondence. In this way they resembled other migrant groups whose family structures were linked to diasporan communities and letter networks prior to the development of modern transport systems. At the same time, they differ from these migrants, since in the imperial and missionary context often only the children returned to the European countries, while the parents mostly stayed in the colonies or in the mission areas.

Possible topics related to this field include: child migration; emotions; conflicts; servants and nannies; resistance; fatherhood.


Modes of transnational family construction: marriage, adoption, reproductive technologies (19-20th century)

As early as the 19th century, migrants tried to marry endogenously and therefore sought a transcontinental marriage with a partner from their home region. This affected, for example, German emigrants to North America as well as Japanese migrants to California. Increasingly, new techniques, like photographs were used alongside the letters in this process of marriage initiation. This media development in family construction was further advanced by the invention of the Internet [Lehmkuhl 2014; Luehrmann 2004; Tanaka 2004].

Adoption and modern reproductive technologies have increasingly shaped alternative family constructions since the beginning of the 20th century. However, adoptions have only taken on global dimensions since the end of the Second World War, and especially since the Korean War. After all, international adoption has developed into a global placement system in which orphans are circulated, against the backdrop of wealth differences, to people who want to start or expand a family [Ceniza Choy 2013; Marre/Briggs 2009]. In recent decades, surrogacy or egg/sperm donation have created a global reproductive tourism that takes into account both the different legal frameworks and the wealth gap.

Possible topics related to this field include: media, marriage and migration; negotiations of identity; legal and illegal adoption practices; conflicts in surrogacy; global inequality and racism in reproduction technology. 


Global households in the capitalist economy (20-21st century)

In contrast to historians, anthropologists have already dealt with the developments of family and childhood in recent global commodity chains. The feminisation of labour migration in the last three decades has also led to a new circulation of children. These new global households are constituted by remittances, child migration and modern media. The relationship between family and kinship-based values/institutions and capitalist economies is thus coming to the fore and has yet to be discovered by contemporary historians [Krause/Bressan 2018; Safri/Graham 2010].

Possible topics related to this field include: grandmothers in global capitalism; fatherhood; remittances and family construction.

Please send an abstract for your proposed paper (up to 300 words) and a brief CV by December 20, 2019 to:  


Contact Info: 

Prof. Dr. Sandra Maß

Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Geschichtswissenschaften
Transnationale Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts