Dr. Patrick Ryan

BIO

C.V.

 

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, I took a series of social service positions.  I taught fire safety for children for the Minneapolis Fire Department; I taught truant youth at an alternative school; I was a counselor at a group home for disabled youth;  I helped chronically unemployed and disabled adults find and keep jobs.  During these years, I began to wonder about the meanings commonly given to words like opportunity, responsibility, entitlement, liberty, equality, and justice.  I wanted to better understand how social policies interact with a larger political culture. 

I decided to explore these questions through graduate studies in social policy history and earned my doctorate from Case Western Reserve University in 1998.  My doctoral work was conducted under Michael Grossberg, and my dissertation explored how modern social policies transformed growing-up working-class in American cities between the late-19th and early-20th centuries. After graduate school, I worked for a year as an educational policy analyst with a Cleveland-area think-tank, before joining the faculty at the University of Texas at Dallas in 1999. 

In 1998, I helped Kris Lindenmeyer found H-Childhood, a network dedicated to the historical study of childhood that currently connects about 1,700 scholars world-wide.  H-Childhood fostered the communication necessary for the founding of the Society for the History of Children and Youth (SHCY) in 2001.  SHCY holds biennial conferences drawing between 180-220 papers dealing with the historical study of childhood.  It has been hosted by Marquette University (2001, 2005), the University of Maryland - Baltimore County (2003), Linkoping University in Sweden (2007), UC Berkeley (2009), Columbia University (2011), and Nottingham University in the UK (2013).  SHCY founded The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (JHCY) in 2008.  JHCY has several hundred individual subscribers and publishes peer-reviewed articles quarterly. 

As the history of childhood was becoming a field in its own right, in 2003 Alan Pomfret persuaded me (and later Sally McNamee) to join him in building a program in Childhood and Social Institutions (CSI) at Kings University College in London, Ontario.  Founded in 1999 as a program in "Childhood and Family Relations," by 2005 the CSI program at Kings had become (perhaps) the first four-year, undergraduate program focused entirely upon sociological, political, legal, and historical approaches toward childhood.  The program offers alternatives to biological determinism and bureaucratic instrumentality - as those assumptions and commitments continue to frame mainline educational and medical thought.  It advocates openly for a humanistic recognition of children as persons, and pursues a critical examination of culture, policy, and law. 

Creating the CSI program at Kings altered my research agenda in two ways that added significantly to my initial training as a social policy historian.  I began to read more rigorously within interdisciplinary critical theory, and 2) I focused on using the history of ideas to sketch a larger narrative of childhood.  The consequences are apparent in my subsequent essays from 2005-11 in The History of Education Quarterly, The Journal of Policy History, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Paedagogica Historica, and Educare - Vetenskapliga Skrifter.  All of these essays play with the tensions between a humanistic approach toward childhood and youth, and the critique of humanism offered by Michel Foucault`s theses on power and his conceptualization of discourse.  I continue to pursue these questions in an on-line series for the Society for the History of Children and Youth called "Childhood: History & Critique".

My interest in the dynamics between power and knowledge has developed over many years, and it frames my recent book - Master-Servant Childhood: a history of the idea of childhood in medieval English culture (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013).  The book is an interdisciplinary synthesis that offers a new understanding of childhood in the Middle Ages as a form of master-servant relation embedded in an ancient sense of time as a correspondence between earthly change and eternal order.  It insists upon the `historicity` of childhood - the idea that our sense of it is determined historically.  Yet, it challenges the misnomer that children were 'little adults' in the Middle Ages, and corrects the prevalent misconceptions that childhood was unimportant, unrecognized, or disregarded.  It argues for the value of studying childhood as a structure of thought and feeling, and as an important avenue for exploring large scale historical changes in our sense of what it is to be and become human.

My current project (The Well-Conditioned Child: a history of the idea of childhood socialization) is a study of the idea of childhood in early-modern Anglo-American culture and continues my attempt to grasp the discursive formation of modern childhood.

I am Associate Professor of Childhood and Social Institutions at King's College at Western University - Canada. 

Contact: pryan2@uwo.ca