Childhood in the Promised Land: Working-Class Movements and the Colonies de Vacances in France, 1880-1960 (Hardback)
  • Childhood in the Promised Land: Working-Class Movements and the Colonies de Vacances in France, 1880-1960 (Hardback)

Childhood in the Promised Land: Working-Class Movements and the Colonies de Vacances in France, 1880-1960 (Hardback)

Hardback 432 Pages / Published: 29/11/2002
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Childhood in the Promised Land is the first history of France's colonies de vacances, a vast network of summer camps created for working-class children. The colonies originated as a late-nineteenth-century charitable institution, providing rural retreats intended to restore the fragile health of poor urban children. Participation grew steadily throughout the first half of the twentieth century, "trickling up" by the late 1940s to embrace middle-class youth as well.

At the heart of the study lie the municipal colonies de vacances, organized by the working-class cities of the Paris red belt. Located in remote villages or along the more inexpensive stretches of the Atlantic coast, the municipal colonies gathered their young clientele into variously structured "child villages," within which they were to live out particular, ideal visions of the collective life of children throughout the long summer holiday. Focusing on the creation of and participation in these summer camps, Laura Lee Downs presents surprising insights into the location and significance of childhood in French working-class cities and, ultimately, within the development of modern France.

Drawing on a rich array of historical sources, including dossiers and records of municipal colonies discovered in remote town halls of the Paris suburbs, newspaper accounts, and interviews with adults who participated in the colonies as children, Downs reveals how diverse groups-including local Socialist and Communist leaders and Catholic seminarians-seized the opportunity to shape the minds and bodies of working-class youth. Childhood in the Promised Land shows how, in creating the summer camps, these various groups combined pedagogical theories, religious convictions, political ideologies, and theories about the relationship between the countryside and children's physical and cognitive development. At the same time, the book sheds light on classic questions of social control, highlighting the active role of the children in shaping their experiences.

Publisher: Duke University Press
ISBN: 9780822329282
Number of pages: 432
Weight: 794 g
Dimensions: 228 x 154 x 33 mm

"Childhood in the Promised Land reveals the prominent place of contesting and complementary ideas of the countryside, childhood, education, and play in republican, social Catholic, Socialist, and Communist worldviews as they developed in Third and Fourth Republic France. Laura Lee Downs takes us beyond parliamentary and extra-parliamentary politics to the differing cultural projects of each group."-Donald Reid, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
"This is a marvelous book, written with the analytic power and sensitivity to human experience that only the finest practitioners of the historian's craft manage to combine. Laura Lee Downs takes us deep into the complexities of the colonies des vacances to reveal a world of working-class childhood that has largely been closed to us until now. She also provides a brilliant history of the grown-ups-Catholic, Socialist, and Communist-who created the colonies with competing political agendas, even as they shared pedagogical convictions that summertime play held a key to nothing short of human freedom. The result is an arresting reexamination of working-class life and social reform that will make this book a milestone in the literature on twentieth-century France."-Herrick Chapman, New York University

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