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Scholars from around the world heading to UC Berkeley to discuss the history of children and issues facing them

– Scholars from around the world will present recent research findings on a new subject - the history of children - at an upcoming conference at the University of California, Berkeley, in an effort to move children onto a broad academic and social agenda.

The conference, "Childhood: A World History," to be held Oct. 10-11, will take up topics ranging from infant mortality and puberty to toys and the representation of children in art. It is free and open to the public.

"As social historians have become more aware of the full panoply of human experiences, they have become aware that children's experience and what we call childhood is crucial to our understanding of the world in the past and in which we live," said Paula Fass, a UC Berkeley professor of history who organized the conference.

All 32 of the conference participants have contributed to The Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood: In History and Society, a three-volume set edited by Fass. The encyclopedia, to be published in mid-October by Macmillan Reference, will present the social, cultural and political history of childhood from antiquity to present day. This unprecedented undertaking aims to present the subject of children's history to a broad public of policy makers, lawyers, teachers and others concerned with children's issues.

At the conference, the lives of children in ancient Greece and Rome, Islamic society, the Bible, Native American culture, Latin America, Africa. modern Europe and the United States will be discussed. Fass hopes this global outlook will provide the broadest possible context for understanding historic as well as current concerns about youngsters.

"We are concerned that children be part of the intellectual and social agenda," said Fass. "We need to look at the history to better prepare for the future."

Other subjects to be addressed in a global framework include parenting, infant mortality, sexuality, childbirth, puberty, play, and toys and other forms of material culture. The conference will also look at institutions for children such as schools, the representation of children in art, children's literature, and children and the modern media.

The program is being sponsored by the UC Berkeley Center for Child and Youth Policy, the Townsend Center for Humanities and the Department of History.

In the United States, said Jill Duerr Berrick, a UC Berkeley associate professor of social welfare and co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy, "the outlook for children in the United States is not good. Sixteen percent of all U.S. children live in poverty, and rates for African American children are double that. Moreover, the percentage of children living in deep poverty - less than 50 percent of the poverty line - has not improved in over 25 years. Eleven percent of children live in households with severe housing problems, and 18 percent live in 'food insecure' households."

"This conference is critical," she said, " because it raises the visibility of the myriad challenges today's children and youth face."

Fass added that children who live beyond the borders of the United States also are in crisis.

"This is a particularly poignant moment in the history of childhood," Fass said. "We are faced with a number of paradoxes. Do we have a right to say how children should be brought up in different cultures? How do we judge a society which allows child labor and child soldiers? If we talk about globalization, we have to talk about children."

Speakers and their topics will include:

* Richard Meckel, professor of American civilization at Brown University, on infant mortality

* Assistant Professor Gene Kannenberg from the University of Houston on "Comic books, Tintin and Herge"

* Professor Michael Grossberg of Indiana University on children and the law

* Professor Hugh Cunningham of the University of Canterbury in England on work and poverty

* Professor of History Gary Cross of Pennsylvania State University on toys, vacations and consumerism

* Peter Stearns, provost of George Mason University, who will lead off the discussion speaking on understanding children in a global framework

* Hal Hansen of Suffolk University on urban school systems

* Professor Kirsten Drotner from Syddanks Universitet in Denmark on children and the media

"It is no longer possible to ignore the experiences of children worldwide," Fass said. "If you don't care about children, about their past experiences and present conditions, about how they have been treated and how they have been imagined in the West and elsewhere, then you don't care about people."