“Culture,” writes Raymond Williams, “is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” (1983b, 87). When applied to the study of children and their literatures, it is also one of the most contested, as it sprawls across distinctions between artistic practices and prestige, media, conventions of societal groups, regions, and nations. The Latin cultura is derived from the past participial stem of the root word colere: “to cultivate,” “to worship.” The 1805 OED definition is the one most relevant to the tensions central to children’s literature and culture: “The training and refinement of mind, tastes and manners; the condition of being thus trained and refined; the intellectual side of civilization.” Lingering in the definition are the oppositional senses that children can be cultivated like the land or worshipped, as in idealizing the “cult of childhood.” The 1805 definition locates this culture at the beginning of the Romantic era, foregrounding the tension between worshipping children for being natural and cultivating them into civilized adults.

This essay may be found on page 51 of the printed volume.

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