Child of the Enlightenment

Revolutionary Europe Reflected in a Boyhood Diary


A diary kept by a boy in the 1790s sheds new light on the rise of autobiographical writing in the 19th century and sketches a panoramic view of Europe in the Age of Enlightenment. The French Revolution and the Batavian Revolution in the Netherlands provide the backdrop to this study, which ranges from changing perceptions of time, space and nature to the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and its influence on such far-flung fields as education, landscape gardening and politics. The book describes the high expectations people had of science and medicine, and their disappointment at the failure of these new branches of learning to cure the world of its ills.

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Arianne Baggerman (Erasmus University Rotterdam and University of Amsterdam) She has published books and articles on the history of writing, publishing and reading. Her dissertation on book publishing in the Netherlands in the 18th and 19th centuries will be published in English by Brill.

Rudolf Dekker is the author of Humour in Dutch Culture of the Golden Age (Palgrave 2001) and the editor of Egodocuments and History: Autobiographical Writing in its Social Context since the Middle Ages (Verloren 2002). Together with Arianne Baggerman, he directs the Institute for Egodocuments and History (
“There is so much in this beautifully translated book which is a pleasure to devour, not least the carefully chosen images that abound throughout. The whole lays a superb path into the diverse world of the Enlightenment.” - Ruth Watts, University of Birmingham, in: History of Education 42.2 (2013), pp. 289-291
"Child of the Enlightenment is a good read and provides a richly personalized history of a Dutch Enlightened education [...]. The original approach [...] makes it come to life so vividly that the epilogie of the book is very moving." - Sanne Parlevliet, in: Paedagogica Historica, Vol. 48 (2012), p. 1-4
"Arianne Baggerman and Rudolf Dekker's Child of the Enlightenment is a significant contribution to the already substantial literature on ego-documents in the early-modern world. [...] Baggerman and Dekker's work makes clear that the eighteenth-century discovery of childhood as a distinct stage of life was connected to the incalculation of discipline in the Enlightenment's name. [...] Baggerman and Dekker have provided a valuable service. The book is highly recommended." - Michael Sauter, in: European History Quarterly 42.3 (2012), p. 494-496
"Child of the Enlightenment is a wonderful, fascinating book, a valuable and complex achievement at the intersection of a number of different historical fields. It contributes to our understanding of the Enlightenment as an intellectual movement which “real” people embodied and enacted – a “hybrid” Enlightenment full of diversity, complications and ironies. It is a social history of Europe in a period of profound transformation [...]. And it is a gripping political history of the first tumultuous years of revolution in the Netherlands in the 1790s, all from the initial perspective a child—and moving far beyond." - John Cornell, in: H-France Review, Vol. 12 (2012) p. 3-4
"This is a book that is indispensable to scholars of diverse historical topics and countries. It shows the application of Enlightenment principles in home, culture, and politics and thus enriches scholars’ understanding of the long 18th century. It is indispensable for anyone interested in the development of pedagogy, the values inculcated in elite child-rearing, and family life, but also the dissemination of political rhetoric across generations, changing conceptions of nature, time, space and religion. In fact it is exemplary in revealing how ideas and practice interweave. [...] a superb book." - Joanne Bailey, in: Reviews in History, Review No. 1264
"A remarkable story...; …a valuable contribution not just to Dutch but also to European historiography—that is, required reading for social, medical, and political historians." - Margaret C. Jacob, in: The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 83 (2011) No. 2, p. 396-398
"Altogether, this is a delightful book. …. Gracefully written and scrupulously documented, this imaginitative study offers much of interest both to specialists in related historical fields and to more general readers." - Joyce Senders Pedersen, in: The European Legacy 16.4 (2011), p. 563-564
"Ingesamt is das Buch ein Opus Magnum geworden, und es bleibt zu wünschen, dass es Nachahmung findet." - Pia Schmidt, in: BIOS Vol. 24 (2011), p. 157-163
"[...] a book that brings together social history, political history, the history of ideas, and the history of reading in an intelligent and admirably creative way." - Dorothee Sturkenboom, in: The Journal of Social History 45.1 (Fall 2011), p. 559-560
"The story …in Baggerman and Dekkers’ insightful and poignant retelling, brings into focus the paradoxes of Enlightenment and the limitations of enlightened programs for educational and political reform. This ‘exciting book’ deserves a wide audience." - Adriana S. Benzaquén, in: Journal of the History of Behavorial Sciences 47.1 (Winter 2011), p. 109-111
"Child of the Enlightenment rests on the author's expert knowledge of daily events in 1780s and 1790s Netherlands and adjacent cultures. Its dense and telling prose, translated into graceful English by Diane Webb, is a delight to read, and its 164 illustrations give real world images for the historical concepts discussed." - Ruth B. Bottigheimer, in: SHARP News 20.2 (2011), p. 5-6
"All in all, the book impresses with the broad range of its interests, and its sure touch with even the most arcane topic." - Colin Heywood, in: French History, Vol. 24 (2010), p. 306-307
"A biography that breaks with the rules of the genre. The story…is fascinating, dramatic, and ultimately provides a sad commentary on human nature." - Julia Douthwaite, in: Biography. An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 33.2 (2010), p. 403-405
"Child of the Enlightenment is an extremely impressive achievement…" - Mark Towsey, in: Dutch Crossing 34.3 (November 2010), p. 278-279
"Le jeune Otto nous livre un témoignage particulièrement passionant […]; nous disposons là d’une étude riche sur la réception des modèles pédagogiques au temps des Lumières." - Dominique Julia, in: Annales, Histoire, Sciences Sociales, Vol. 65 (2010), p. 1556-1558
"[...] [L]e livre est incontournable, d'autant plus qu'il est remarquablement écrit." - Annie Jourdan, in: Annales historiques de la Révoltion françaiseno, Vol. 358 (2010), p. 218-220
"Through their engagement with Otto’s dairy, Baggerman and Dekker have produced a detailed, nuanced and highly original account of the Enlightenment, ‘constructed, for a change, from the bottom up’." - Neil Cocks, University of Reading, in: The British Society for Literature and Science
"The authors [...] provide an excellent panoramic overview of Otto's world and education. Drawing on a wide diversity of sources, including international and Dutch authors, pedagogical treatises and manuals, medical manuals, novels, family histories, encyclopedias, travelogues, and maps, Baggerman and Dekker carefully recreate the world in which Otto lived." - Benjamin Roberts, in: American Historical Review 115.2 (April 2010), p. 626-627

1. An Enlightened Education
2. Otto’s Diary
3. Required Reading
4. The Garden as a Pedagogical Project
5. Social World
6. Broadening Horizons
7. Changing Concepts of Time
8. Reconstructing Man and Society
9. Revolution in the Netherlands
10. Children of the Future
11. Theophilanthropists and Physico-Theologians
12. The Vulnerable Body


List of Illustrations
Illustration Credits
All those interested in the development of autobiographical writing, the history of ideas, culture and education, and the history of the Dutch Republic and the age of the French Revolution.
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