Academic Conferences

The Cotsen Children's Library regularly sponsors academic conferences that focus on various aspects of children's literature and culture. Below you will find brief descriptions of current and past programs hosted by our library. 

Current Conference


Previous Conferences

Books for Children: Transnational Encounters 1750-1850 (Part II)

An international conference from 31 October - 2 November 2019
Held at the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton University

Books for Children: Transnational Encounters 1750-1850 (Part II). Traditionally research into pre-20th century children’s literature has focused on titles written and consumed in a particular country. However, most 18th- and 19th-century children, parents, and teachers would not have necessarily used a book’s national origin as the chief criterion for selection. In the majority of European countries, children read books in more than one language, so in reality there was a transnational corpus of children’s books crossing language groups, political borders, and the seas, their texts and illustrations translated and transformed. In order to better understand the world of children’s print culture from both the perspectives of the young reader and of the “children’s book business,” its transnational character should be taken into account.

“Books for Children: Transnational Encounters 1750-1850” (Part II) is a continuation of the May 2018 symposium of the same title held at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in Copenhagen, where the presentations and discussions made clear that the collaboration ought to continue in order to reach a wider audience.

Border-Crossing in Children's Literature

Hosted by the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University 14-16 June, 2018

Co-organized by Dr. Minjie Chen (Cotsen Children's Library) and Dr. Qiuying (Lydia) Wang (Oklahoma State University)

The Second International Symposium for Children’s Literature & The Fourth US-China Symposium for Children’s Literature. This conference seeks to facilitate interchange of ideas on new issues in children’s literature research between scholars from East and West. We are particularly interested in two thematic areas:

(1) Children’s literature on the screen.
Electronic screens have joined paper to carry text, images, and other multimodal contents that entertain, educate, inspire, and stimulate children. Shelby A. Wolf (2014) challenged us to widen literary analysis “to include the interplay of visual, auditory, and interactive opportunities” offered by digital children’s literature. We welcome proposals that investigate digital picture books or children’s book Apps from dimensions that range from definition to creation, evaluation, criticism, usage, access, response, and impact.

(2) Border-Crossing in Children’s Literature. 
This is a broad area that encompasses multicultural, international, and translated children’s literature, in any format and genre, including but not limited to East Asian children’s literature, its relationship with global literature, its application in second language education, and East Asian-themed American works.

Putting the Figure on the Map: Imagining Sameness and Difference for Children

Co-organized by Andrea Immel and Emer O’Sullivan

Hosted by the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University 11-13 September 2013

The world seemed to shrink during the nineteenth century, thanks to improved communications and transportation that facilitated travel, whether for commerce, conquest or leisure. Similarly the wonders of the world could be brought into the home via photography, maps, travel writing, and fiction. The representation of foreign lands inevitably required the illustration and description of their residents, which gave rise to a rich repository of colourful images of diversity. Children’s books were important vehicles for the expression of senses of national identity that could confirm the superiority of one culture, marginalize others, instill a sense of international brotherhood or regional patriotism, etc., not just reflections of dumbed-down ideas for adults.    Through a tangle of national types, stereotypes, and archetypes, children’s books shaped discourse as much as they reflected mainstream adult culture.

This interdisciplinary program, which will draw on the approaches of imagology, history, anthropology, psychology, and literary criticism, will focus on modes of expression arising within or without the classroom that either target children or appropriate discourses for them to create competing, complimentary or contradictory images of foreign nations.

The proceedings will also include two workshops focusing on materials from the Cotsen research collection, with a selection of artefacts on hand for viewing.  

Enduring Trifles: Writing the History of Childhood with Ephemera

17-19 February 2011

This program’s goal was to demonstrate the research potential of the most fragile and elusive of artifacts, printed ephemera through academic papers, a round table with curators of major ephemera collections, and a workshop where participants could see actual objects up close.  The program also features a live performance of an original play written for juvenile theater.

Home, School, Play, Work: The Visual and Textual Worlds of Children

14-15 November 2008 (Wooster, MA); 13-14 February 2009 (Princeton, NJ)

This conference was sponsored by the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) and the Program in the History of the Book in American Culture (PHBAC) at the American Antiquarian Society, in conjunction with Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Cotsen Children's Library, Princeton University.  Papers addressed aspects of eighteenth and nineteenth-century textual, visual, or material culture that related to the experience or representation of childhood.  More information about this conference can be found at the American Antiquarian Society website.

Sharpening the Subtle Knife: Cutting New Paths Through Children's Literature

16-18 November 2006

In November 2006, the Cotsen Children's Library hosted an ambitious conference that -- contrary to previous years' programs -- focused not on one particular period, theme, or genre, but instead will consider the breadth of children's literature from its beginnings to the present day. An impressive array of internationally recognized scholars presented papers on subjects including the origins of children's literature, book making, canonical works, illustrated texts, children's poetry, retellings and revisions, literacy, children's books for grownups, gender and genre, beast tales, fantasy and imagination, humor and subversion, children without families, and more.

Hidden But Not Forgotten: The Legacy of Hans Christian Andersen in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

10-12 November 2005

In honor of the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth, the Cotsen Children's Library hosted an academic conference assessing Andersen's impact as the creator of some of the greatest literary fairy tales ever produced. The conference addressed the relative lack of criticism on Andersen's works in comparison to those of Madame d'Aulnoy and the conteuses , Perrault, or Grimm. The conference welcomed a roster of international scholars who examined the nature of Andersen's legacy in the twentieth century, exploring those aspects of his style and imagination which are not immediately associated as hallmarks of his art, but which have had an undeniable impact on modern revisioning of fantasy and of the literary fairy tale--such as his colloquialism or satiric impulse.

In addition to academic papers, the program also included screenings of films based on Andersen's works, professional storytelling, dramatic productions, and an exhibition entitled Wonderful Stories for Pictures: H. C. Andersen and His Illustrators , that featured a number of the Andersen-related treasures owned by the Cotsen Children's Library.

Under Fire: Childhood in the Shadow of War

9-11 October 2003

This conference considered an extremely significant and topical theme: the role and place of children in times of war and conflict. From the Children's Crusade to modern school violence, the Napoleonic Wars to the Holocaust, and from the American Civil War to the War of the Ring in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, speakers discussed the ways in which war informs childhood, as well as ways in which childhood, in turn, informs war. In addition to the range of papers, two award-winning films were also screened (Behind Closed Eyes, a documentary film about four children traumatized by war; and Into the Arms of Strangers, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the kindertransports that saved over 10,000 European children from the Nazis in the months leading up to World War II" (this film’s director, Mark Jonathan Harris, was present to comment on his work).

'Seen and Heard:' The Place of the Child in Early Modern Europe, 1550-1800

18-20 April 2002

This conference assembled scholars from a variety of fields to examine changing perceptions of European children and childhood in the Early Modern period.  Presentations explored how the figure of the child " and actual children " were central to the articulation of important philosophical, political, religious, and cultural aspirations. Speakers discussed topics such as innocence, socialization, the acquisition of knowledge, and innovations in teaching, as well as considered a range of questions focusing on children’s status, experience, and activities.

Considering the Kunstmärchen : The History and Development of Literary Fairy Tales

30-31 March 2000

Conference participants explored the enduring popularity of the literary fairy tale, a genre that appeals to both children and adults, from its origins in the 17th century to its contemporary forms. Thirteen internationally-recognized scholars spoke at the conference on topics including 18th- and 19th-century German fairy tales, 20th-century fairy tale illustration, fairy tales and postmodernism, Arthur Hughes and Walter Crane, and "fantasy" vs. "fairy tale." In addition to the papers, Tom Davenport of Davenport Films screened his award-winning, feature-length film Willa: An American Snow White , a classic tale of envy, death, and redemption that follows the adventures of a young girl who runs away with a traveling medicine show. Mr. Davenport also offered public screenings of two additional films in his award-winning From the Brothers Grimm series, Ashpet: An American Cinderella and Soldier Jack, or The Man Who Caught Death in a Sack.

Struwwelpeter in English: Contemporaries & Successors

19-20 November 1999

1999 marked the 150th anniversary of Slovenly Peter , the first American translation of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Children’s classic Der Struwwelpeter . To celebrate the advent of the book in the New World, the Cotsen Library hosted an international conference dealing with the reception of the book and its many translations, adaptations and parodies in the English language. Among the topics discussed were Struwwelpeter in England, the American Struwwelpeter, Struwwelpeter in politics, and connections to other nonsense children’s literature and black humor. In addition to the papers, noted puppeteer, Preston Foerder, performed a series of nine cautionary tales starring Slovenly Peter, the boy who refused to cut his hair or nails, Paulina, the girl who played with matches, and Casper, a youngster who refuses to eat his soup.

Playing with Knowledge: Text, Toys & Teaching Children in Georgian England

30 October 1997

This conference explored the legacy of innovative Georgian writers and publishers whose contributions to the development of modern child-centered pedagogy are, to this day, still not widely recognized. All four papers were published in the Princeton University Library Chronicle, Volume LX:2 (Winter 1999).