HIGH POINT, N.C., Oct. 12, 2015 – Long before commercials aired with Saturday morning cartoons, 19th century children’s magazines brought marketing practices to America’s youngest consumers. Dr. Paul Ringel, associate professor of history at High Point University, explores the history of these practices in his new book “Commercializing Childhood: Children’s Magazines, Urban Gentility, and the Ideal of the Child Consumer in the United States, 1823-1918.”
The book, Ringel’s first, analyzes the stories found in the earliest children’s magazines and the backstories of their authors, editors and publishers to explain how this hugely successful industry trained generations of American children to become genteel consumers.
“The purpose of the book is to show that the overwhelming amount of marketing to children that we have today isn’t just a consequence of corporate manipulation of audiences, as earlier historians have claimed,” Ringel says. “It’s also a product of ambitious families’ desire to prepare their children for a world in which they would need to know how to interact with the marketplace in order to prosper.”
Ringel will provide a discussion and signing of the book at 6 p.m. on Oct. 29 at the High Point Museum. The event is free and open to the public.
Ringel adds that the book has practical applications for parents and teachers as they help guide children’s interactions with today’s commercial influences.
“We can have an impact on the types of products that are available for kids both by the choices we make in purchasing products and by making our voices heard when we find children’s products either particularly appropriate or inappropriate for young customers,” he says.
Insights Ringel developed as he conducted research for this work inform the courses he teaches at HPU, including a 19th century survey course, and his classes on consumer culture and Hollywood. He also hopes to explore how young black consumers were treated before and during the civil rights movement through his ongoing work with the William Penn Project.