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The Dominion of Youth

Adolescence and the Making of Modern Canada, 1920 to 1950

by Cynthia Comacchio

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list price: $65
also available: Paperback eBook
category: History
published: 2006
  • Winner, Founders’ Prize for English-language book/anthology, Canadian History of Education Association
  • Commended, Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, Canadian Historical Association
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Adolescence, like childhood, is more than a biologically defined life stage: it is also a sociohistorical construction. The meaning and experience of adolescence are reformulated according to societal needs, evolving scientific precepts, and national aspirations relative to historic conditions. Although adolescence was by no means a “discovery” of the early twentieth century, it did assume an identifiably modern form during the years between the Great War and 1950.

The Dominion of Youth: Adolescence and the Making of Modern Canada, 1920 to 1950 captures what it meant for young Canadians to inhabit this liminal stage of life within the context of a young nation caught up in the self-formation and historic transformation that would make modern Canada. Because the young at this time were seen paradoxically as both the hope of the nation and the source of its possible degeneration, new policies and institutions were developed to deal with the “problem of youth.” This history considers how young Canadians made the transition to adulthood during a period that was “developmental”—both for youth and for a nation also working toward individuation. During the years considered here, those who occupied this “dominion” of youth would see their experiences more clearly demarcated by generation and culture than ever before. With this book, Cynthia Comacchio offers the first detailed study of adolescence in early-twentieth-century Canada and demonstrates how young Canadians of the period became the nation’s first modern teenagers.

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Editorial Reviews

''Extensively research ... this book makes an important contribution to the history of youth, to family history, and to Canadian history more broadly.''

— Canadian Historical Association Bulletin, Volume 34, Number 2, Summer 2008

''The Dominion of Youth is an outstanding achievement that will be useful to researchers across many fields and in classes relating to transnational histories of youth, education, nationalism, and modern Canada. Comacchio's work breaks new ground for North American childhood studies. She brings important new observations into the growing global conversation about the history of adolescence and the challenges of finding the voices, practices, and cultural realities of adolescence in the past.''

— History of Education Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 3, August 2008

''Offers a fascinating account of young Canadians during the first half of the twentieth century. In a thoroughly detailed and densely researched work, Comacchio synthesizes several important themse related to adolescent historiogrgaphy including theoretical concepts of youth, familial relations, dating, school, work, and leisure.... What makes the analysis truly innovative is the attention paid to the 1920s as the focus for the emergence of a modern adolescent concept.''

— H-NET BOOK REVIEW, March 2007

''This book about the creation and social construction of adolescence in Canada will appeal to historians who are increasingly turning their attention to the second half of the 20th century, where youth experiences and youth culture surface as major themes. As Comacchio clearly demonstrates, the 1950s and 1960s did not mark the emergence of a youth culture in Canada because a separate youth culture predated that period by as much as 30 years. The Dominion of Youth clearly and convincingly establishes the fact and therefore it should become a standard reference on 20th-century you and popular culture.''

— Labour/Le Travail, Volume 60, Winter 2007

''This study is remarkable on several fronts. No study to date has analyzed concomitantly the evolving social perceptions of youth, and the changing attitudes and activites of teenagers alongside an analysis of wider social developments in such depth and over such an extended period of time.... Not unrelated ... is her impressive use of extensive and varied sources.... [Comacchio's] study lays new 'historiographical ground work' that will assuredly become a mandatory point of departure for future scholars.''

— Canadian Historical Review, November 2008
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Out of print

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About the Author

Cynthia Comacchio

Cynthia Comacchio is a professor in the Department of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. Her previous publications include Nations Are Built of Babies: Saving Ontarios Mothers and Children, 1900 to 1940 and The Infinite Bonds of Family: Domesticity in Canada, 1850 to 1940. With Elizabeth Jane Errington, she edited People, Places and Times: Topics in Canadian Social History, vol. 1: Pre-Confederation and vol. 2: Post-Confederation.
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