Annual Meeting Roundup "Growing Up and Growing Older in the United States: Age as a Category of Analysis"
Takingplace at the 2018 OAH Annual Meeting
How we understand age shapes the form of history. Most often, historians use age as a simple tool for framing other topics. For instance, biographers use age to note the passage of time in their subject’s life. Social historians demarcate age cohorts to analyze statistics. Cultural and political historians rely on birth dates to define generational shifts. In all of these forms of history, chronological age remains in the background, a transparent fact not worthy of inquiry. But what if age itself has a history that we need to explain? What if the ages found in archival documents are not simple facts, but a rich record of the process through which socially constructed hierarchies come to define lived experience? We have come to regard gender and race in precisely this way, recognizing that male and female or black and white are not simple facts but complex expressions of power that change over time. Recent research reveals that age, too, functions as a vector of power. Historians have shown that people used age to define citizenship, work, sexuality, imperial power, and social welfare. Age emerges in these accounts as a contested site, a shifting category at the center of historical developments rather than a neutral framework.
The OAH 2018 Annual Meeting panel “Growing Up and Growing Older in the United States: Age as a Category of Analysis” turns to questions of age and political power. Presenters will explore how women and girls used ideas about age to claim political authority and how their opponents drew on age-based stereotypes to marginalize and demean them. Rather than focusing on one particular age or life stage, this panel brings together work on youth, adulthood, and old age to consider how age intersected with race and sexuality in the formation of political identities.