Children's literature in the Age of Enlightenment



For centuries, children's literature has played an important role in the education of the young. However, it has evolved a great deal over time and has been at the centre of numerous debates. During the Age of Enlightenment (1750-1800), a rural exodus led to a growth in urban populations, and women and children were increasingly relegated to household tasks. Books then became tools for transmitting the knowledge that had formerly been acquired through experience.

Printed images and children's literature made a significant contribution to the development of the world as we know it today.

Université de Montréal research professor Nikola Von Merveldt examined the circulation and popularization of natural history knowledge, notably through printed images in children's literature in Enlightenment Europe. By establishing a link between children's books and the socio-historical context in which they were created and used, Von Merveldt showed that this literature should be studied in the wider media environment of its time. Rather than succumbing to the temptation – extremely prevalent in literary studies – of isolating the text from the illustrations, she favoured an interdisciplinary approach inspired by the book's history. 

Using this approach, she observed that printed images and children's literature made a significant contribution to the development of the world as we know it today, notably by ensuring the popularization and circulation of the scientific, historic, sociocultural and moral knowledge in circulation during the Age of Enlightenment. This wokr places our multimedia culture in a historical perspective by emphasizing its originary links with the Age of Enlightenment, during which the primary structures of our knowledge-based societies were built.