by Karen Sánchez-Eppler

About Karen Sánchez-Eppler

Karen Sánchez-Eppler is Professor of American Studies and English at Amherst College. The author of Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism and the Politics of the Body and Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, she is also one of the founding co-editors of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth.


Childhood is an ancient word in English. The OED takes as its earliest example for cildhad a tenth-century gloss between the lines of the Lindisfarne Gospels: “soð he cuoeð from cildhad” (Mark 9:21). A father explains to Jesus that fits had wracked his son’s body since the earliest years of his life. The miraculous cure Jesus performs stands as a test of prayer. The gathered crowd, the disciples, and generations of interpreters since have voiced many questions about the meaning of this scene, but no one questions the meaning of childhood. This confident unanimity over the meaning of childhood is perhaps the most potent, and indeed dangerous, thing about this keyword. We have, it seems, a miraculous faith in childhood itself.