The April 2020 issue of the American Historical Review features a roundtable, "Chronological Age: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," organized by Nicholas Syrett (University of Kansas) and Corinne Field (University of Virginia). Of special interest to legal historians:
- Ishita Pande (Queen's University), "Power, Knowledge, and the Epistemic Contract on Age: The Case of Colonial India": on the implementation of age-of-consent legislation in high courts across colonial India
- Corrie Decker (University of California, Davis), "A Feminist Methodology of Age Grading and History in Africa": on how colonial authorities expanded the legal importance of chronological age while precolonial African societies assessed age in relative terms (juniors versus seniors). Faced with two incommensurable systems for understanding life stages, African women found new ways to assert a sense of generational belonging and new definitions of maturity.
- Bianca Premo (Florida International University), "Meticulous Imprecision: Calculating Age in Colonial Spanish American Law": on how indigenous, enslaved, and property-less individuals in Spain’s American colonies multiplied privileges based on age calculations that proved situational rather than numerically exact. The ages that Spanish American officials set down on paper in criminal trials, censuses, and freedom suits derived from complicated cultural equations; Premo contends that age proved a critical guarantee of rights, a language colonial subjects could use to turn legal incapacities into beneficial protections.
- Ashwini Tambe (University of Maryland), "The Moral Hierarchies of Age Standards: The UN Debates a Common Minimum Marriage Age, 1951-1962": on United Nations efforts to consider a universal minimum age of consent for marriage. This involved a series of tense deliberations, as former colonial powers framed early and forced marriage in newly independent states as forms of slavery. Debates about a universal marriage age came to mark differences between imperial powers and decolonizing nations.
- Corinne Field (University of Virginia) and Nicholas Syrett (University of Kansas), "Age and the Construction of Gendered and Raced Citizenship in the United States": on how the postbellum state relied upon age to reinforce inequalities rooted in female dependence and chattel slavery. Congress denied equal benefits to the families of black Civil War soldiers because they lacked adequate proof of age. Postbellum legal majority differentiated between men and women, shoring up gender inequality even as women gained new rights and opportunities. Chronological age, Field and Syrett conclude forcefully, is not a neutral fact, but a vector of power through which officials and ordinary people construct and contest the boundaries of citizenship and belonging.
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