Mass, currently a professor of transnational history of the nineteenth century at the Ruhr University Bochum, presents here a slight revision her Habilitationsschrift from 2014 at the University of Bielefeld. Her theme is the relationship of children to money, taking into account children’s ageing, and to economic ideas in general in the century and half between 1750 and 1900. The book focuses primarily on Britain and the German states, but Mass brings in some examples from other western European countries and the United States. A particular strength of the book is its effort to go beyond prescriptive moral and pedagogical writings to incorporate the analysis of ‘ego documents’ that reflect lived experiences with money of both middle- and lower-class children. The first part of the book looks at the second half of the eighteenth century, with particular attention to English Dissenters and the Philanthropen in northern Germany. Mass sees both traditional religious teachings and ‘enlightened’ ideals of rational man and useful knowledge in agreement on the need for children to be taught to curb their drives, especially greed. For many authors, money remained ‘dangerous’ as a temptation to uncontrolled spending; one solution was for children to maintain simple financial and moral balance sheets. Peculiar to Britain was the practice of urging better-off children to devote significant amounts to charity. Moving into the early nineteenth century, part two examines the diffusion of economic ideas in ‘popular’ writings aimed not only at children, but also at women and members of the working class. What was new in this era was a focus on control of spending not only as a virtue, but as an investment in the future. Mass finds male academics dominating this field in the German states, whereas Britain saw more laymen such as James and John Stuart Mill and a significant number of female authors, with Jane Marcet and Harriet Martineau leading the way. She also discusses briefly the insurance broker William Ellis who founded the Birkbeck Schools to spread the ideas he recorded in Outlines of Social Economy (1846 and later editions). In general, arithmetic lessons in this era focused more than previously on examples and exercises involving money. An observation that Mass could have explored more fully is how the Bildungsideal of the early nineteenth century rejected any ‘purely practical education’ (p. 117), even in the elementary schools. The result was that German schools generally gave less attention to economic matters that did British ones. The most interesting section of the book is part three, where Mass makes the greatest use of ‘ego documents’. From memoirs of both rural and urban poor, she concludes that such children were necessarily well aware of money or its absence in their everyday lives. They did not need any intervention by schools to give them this awareness, as many had to work or beg to contribute to their family’s survival. Their financial knowledge was circumscribed by their own day-to-day realities, which Mass illustrates through a delightful example from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor (1851). A young girl who sold water cress told her interviewer: ‘I knows how many pennies goes to a shilling, why, twelve of course, but I don’t know how many ha’pence there is, though there’s two to a penny’ (p. 176). Middle-class children, in contrast, often faced a taboo against discussing money; if they received an allowance, they were still encouraged to donate some to charity or to missions. Part three also draws on numerous examples from material culture, including ‘piggy banks’ of various sorts that Mass says reached all classes of children. The expanding toy industry could lure children to spend, but some toys—including a model general store—also involved introductions to business practices. German companies in particular produced a significant amount of ‘play money’ for children’s games. Magazines for young people and fairy tales also included monetary themes, with many cases of both misers and spendthrifts ending badly. Only in part four, devoted to education for thrift after 1850, does Mass turn directly to the question posed in the book’s title. Noting that in this era ‘the public plea for private saving belonged to the exalted values (Wertehimmel) of the middle and lower classes’, (p. 225) she directs attention particularly to the rise of school savings accounts. She cites one German author who saw in this new phenomenon a conception of ‘Save and become capitalists’ (p. 228), but she concludes that such language was in fact rare. More common was the view that such accounts were another way that schools could make up for faulty parenting. Mass sees Germany as a relative latecomer to such savings programs, as many teachers and pedagogical theorists offered more resistance to the intrusion of ‘materialism’ into the schools. Some writers argued that children should not be robbed of their childhood by such focus on the future. British authors linked savings to personal independence much more often than did Germans, which Mass attributes to the widespread concern in Britain with ‘working class respectability’ (p. 238). Greater attention to sources from the German working class and especially the Social Democratic subculture might have altered this conclusion. As a number of authors have shown, Social Democrats were as concerned with moral, responsible teenagers as were many of the more hysterical critics of delinquent youth around the turn of the twentieth century. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 25, 2018
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