Paul M. Renfro, Susan Eckelmann Berghel, and Sara Fieldston

Apr 29, 2021

Growing Up America

Youth and Politics Since 1945

University of Georgia Press 2019

Growing Up America: Youth and Politics Since 1945 (U Georgia Press, 2019) is a fascinating book that weaves together the burgeoning field of Childhood History, the post-World War II history of the United States, and the familiar concepts of political advocacy by younger citizens. Eckelmann Berghel, Fieldston, and Renfro, all historians, have brought together a rigorous and engaging work by other historians, legal scholars, and ethnic and indigenous studies experts, to which they have also contributed their own expertise. This book brings in the actual voices of children in the United States in the postwar period, highlighting their roles as political actors in their own right, and examining so many aspects of politics and culture as seen through the eyes of young people. The contributing authors of Growing Up America are knitting together, in their respective chapters of the book, children as agents, as actively engaged members of the society, and children as symbols, used in a whole host of different ways by different political actors and organizations.

The book is divided into three sections that follow the chronological direction of recent American history, but that also focus on conceptual frameworks for each era under examination. The first part of the book is focused on the Cold War period and how children were integrated into both the symbolic and the political constructions of life during the Cold War. This section integrates the book’s first discussion of young people and science, as well as exploring the role that groups like the Boy Scouts played in building America’s Cold War empire. There is also research about the ways in which American girls and women, in particular, were supposed to look and act and how they were taught these qualities in school and how they were to shape the projected image of Americans. The second part of Growing Up America follows the arc of history through the Rights revolution that comes to dominate the political and cultural landscape in the U.S. (and elsewhere) in the 1960s and 1970s. This part of the book examines expected areas of youth involvement, but perhaps in unexpected ways, such as the many pre-adolescents who wrote to President Lyndon Johnson supporting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The final section of the book examines the late 20th century political turn towards conservativism in American politics, and how this shift impacted and was experienced by children. Growing Up America brings in another chapter focusing on young people and science in this section, with a chapter on young women and STEM. The final chapter in this section evaluates the real and perceived vulnerability of childhood, especially in the racially segregated symbolism that was the milk carton campaign for missing children in the mid-1980s. Growing up America will be of great interest to scholars and students across a range of disciplines and areas of expertise, especially in the ways it draws on different arenas of politics and culture to explore youth engagement in the United States since 1945.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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