Kristen Lashua

  • Fellowship year:2014-2015
  • University: University of Virginia
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: The Children at the Birth of Europe, c1600-1760
  • My scholarship is concerned with destitute children as the victims and beneficiaries of forced migration in the early modern world.  My dissertation develops three main claims:  that impoverished children were sent across the globe because Britons cared about them, that questions as to the legality of this overseas employment led to an increased valuation of children's consent, and that debates over children's self-determination helped to define notions about liberty.

    Early modern ideas of childhood, poverty, criminality, Christian charity, and civic duty combined with Britain's newfound ability- and increasing need- to employ its subjects in colonies and ports around the known world.  Though poor and piteous, these children were far from insignificant.

    Thousands of destitute British children were sent around the globe in the first hundred and fifty years of British colonial expansion.  Some were convicts; many were objects of charity.  Others were victims of a growing global trade in kidnapping.  In locations as far from their native land as Barbados, Muscovy, the Canary Islands, and Bombay, children as young as eight were used as plantation laborers, ships' boys, trading company clerks, translators, and diplomats.  By the late seventeenth century, persistent questions about the legality of sending children abroad had combined with the rise of kidnapping, the growth of the slave trade, and new rhetoric about English liberty.  The desire to differentiate among kidnapping, slavery, and charitable overseas employment led to an insistence on children's self-determination.  Thus, the study of destitute children provides new understandings of how Britain's relationship with the early modern world helped to form Briton's own ideas of race, consent, and liberty.

    By the middle of the eighteenth century, even the lowliest Briton was thought to possess liberty as a birthright:  destitute children helped to define legal and cultural ideas of free British Selves and bound foreign Others.