Browse Primary Sources

Gravestones and Childhood

In 17th-century New England, Puritan beliefs about "infant depravity" (born with "original sin") generated anxieties about "eternal damnation" that shaped methods of childrearing and notions of death. Puritan beliefs can be "read" on the gravestones often made out of dark grey slate.

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Hobby Horse

This oil on canvas painting by an unknown American folk artist was painted around 1840. It depicts two siblings at play. While their mother is absent from the picture, she presided over the "private sphere" of the home as prescribed by the ideology of "separate spheres" that defined everyday life in 19th-century America.

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JFK's Assassination

The assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22nd in 1963 shocked, saddened, and bewildered American children. Girls and boys of all ages watched the funeral broadcast on television—including those who lived abroad during the 1960s. For many children, seeing their distraught parents and other adults in mourning undermined their sense of security.

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Neolithic Baby Burial

This infant burial is from Çatalhöyük , a Neolithic settlement in Turkey that was occupied continuously for 2,500 years, between 8000 and 6400 BCE. The infant was between six months and one year old, and the burial demonstrates great care. The infant was placed in a fetal position facing south and rested on a reed mat or basket. Red ochre, a mineral powder, had been used to decorate the body.

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Sibling Burial

The two children whose skeletons are shown in this photograph were both under 10 years of age, and were probably buried at the same time. An earlier burial of a baby was found at a slightly lower level in the space between them.

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Thumbnail of sippy cup

Sippy Cup

This ceramic cup with a drinking spout is from the cargo of an Arab or Indian ship that sank in the Strait of Malacca between 826 and 850 CE. The ship, which contained thousands of other ceramic pieces, was probably bound for the Persian Gulf. The cup was made at the Changshan ceramic production center, whose kilns produced export wares during the Tang dynasty (618-906 CE).

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Maqamat al-Hariri, Garden Scene by al-Wasiti

The image by 13th–century illustrator al-Wasiti (fl. 1237) is from the Maqamat (Assemblies), a collection of stories of a picaresque hero. In the upper half of the illustration, a boy in a short tunic and cap with tiraz embroidered bands, leads animals yoked to the saqiyya, a geared water-raising device that irrigated fields and gardens.

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Maqamat al-Hariri, Rural Scenes by al-Wasiti

The image by 13th–century illustrator al-Wasiti is from the Maqamat (Assemblies), a collection of stories of a picaresque hero. The author, al-Hariri (1054-1122 CE), is an important figure in Arabic literary history. The illustrations belong to the Baghdad School of miniature illustration, and depict scenes of ordinary life. The scene illustrates aspects of a village life.

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Kuttab, or Primary Level Qur’an School

This public building of Mamluk Cairo in Egypt has two functions. Its lower level housed a sabil, or fountain, for dispensing water to thirsty travelers and denizens of the city, and its upper level was a public primary school for the teaching of Qur'an, called a kuttab.

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Maqamat al-Hariri, Kuttab School

In this painting of a kuttab, or primary school, boys sit on a mat or carpet huddled close together with their writing boards. Boys, and sometimes girls, learned to recite the Qur'an at an early age, as well as the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in schools called kuttabs. It might be held in a mosque, a building especially for the purpose, or an open courtyard, as in West Africa.

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