If you think that children today are too spoiled, History Professor Sarah Curtis may tell you, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same).” She won a 2018 summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to research her forthcoming book on how the 19th-century consumer revolution of France resulted in more toys and books on children’s shelves.
“The rise of the department store, the increasingly commercial celebration of Christmas and new forms of publicity were all elements that contributed to this explosion of material goods for children,” Curtis says. “Childhood was romanticized as a special time of innocence shaping children’s hearts and minds, and in France, concerns about a falling birth rate further increased the value of children.”
Curtis’ research focuses on 19th-century France, with a focus on social, cultural, religious and gender history. Her previous books include Educating the Faithful: Religion, Society and Schooling in 19th Century France (Northern Illinois University Press, 2000) and Civilizing Habits: Women Missionaries and the Revival of French Empire (Oxford University Press, 2010).
Curtis teaches courses on European social, cultural and intellectual history, including gender, religion and empire, from the French Revolution to World War I. She serves as the History Department’s graduate coordinator and director of European Studies. She joined SF State in 2003.
The NEH funded 8 percent of all proposals it received this year. Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.
— Matt Itelson