Children and Change in the Progressive Era
NYU Professor Reflects on Comics and the Visual Culture of Early Childhood
On Thursday, December 8th, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum will host Lara Saguisag, a heralded comics and children’s literature scholar from NYU, for an evening lecture on the visual culture of childhood at the turn of the century.
The Progressive Era (1890-1920) was a period of intense social activism and reform. Committed citizens from this period sought to address a wide variety of problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption. Although their efforts ushered in profound change, greatly improving the living conditions of the politically excluded or marginalized, culture at large expressed significant anxieties over the new social codes emerging alongside this rapid transformation of everyday life.
For decades, academics have noted that cultural preoccupations play out in the visual culture—comics, movies, photographs, etc.—of a period. When trained correctly, it is possible to “read” these forms of entertainment to develop a more nuanced understanding of what goes unstated in other texts. To better understand the Progressive Era, Lara Saguisag’s research examines the proliferation of comic books headlined by children during that period, including Hogan’s Alley, Buster Brown, The Katzenjammer Kids, and Little Nemo in Slumberland. She suggests that popular representations of children in these strips reflect the emerging social codes of industrial society while also prefiguring public expectations about the future boundaries of citizenship, particularly along the lines of race, class, and gender. Saguisag’s study is tremendous contribution to comics scholarship and an important work for understanding the processes by which social dynamics evolve.
Incorrigibles and Innocents received the Charles Hatfield Book Prize from the Comics Studies Society, the Ray and Pat Browne Award for Best Single Book from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, and an Eisner nomination for Best Academic/Scholarly Work.
The lecture will take place at 7:00pm in the Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium. Tickets are available online at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s website.
Lara Saguisag is Associate Professor and the inaugural Georgiou Chair in Children’s Literacy and Literature in the Department of Teaching and Learning at NYU Steinhardt. She earned her Ph.D. in Childhood Studies from Rutgers University-Camden; MFA in Creative Writing from The New School; MA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University; and BA in English from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Saguisag served on the Board of the Children’s Literature Association from 2019-2022.