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Fairy Tales and the Construction of Childhood

Program(s): Immersion

In this course we will study fairy tales within the broader context of the history of childhood and practices of education and socialization. Today, fairy tales are commonly considered the stuff of children’s literature and film. But as historians such as Philippe Aries remind us, before the Enlightenment children were seen as little adults and childhood was therefore not considered as a distinctive period of life. When the brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first edition of their Children and House Tales they were animated by patriotism, aiming to preserve a product of the spirit of the Germanic people. In subsequent editions they refashioned their collection of fairy tales as a piece of children’s literature that ultimately became the first bestseller in this new genre. Thus, the Grimm’s fairy tales were shaped as much by the emergence of childhood as they contributed to its very construction. While we will concentrate on the German context and in particular on the work of the Brothers Grimm, we will also consider fairy tales drawn from a number of different national traditions and historical periods, including the American present. We will address issues such as the varying historical conceptions of the child, and the role of adults – parents and pedagogues – in the shaping of fairy tales for the instruction of children. In addition to our main focus on the socializing forces directed at children we will explore different interpretive approaches, including those that place fairy tales against the backdrop of folklore, of psychoanalysis, of the history of gender roles. We will investigate the evolution of specific tale types and trace their ‘medial’ history from oral traditions through print to film; as well as the potential strategies for the reinterpretation and adaptation of fairy tales.

See sample syllabus here.

Remote or Residential

✓ Residential Course


Course Considerations

This course is designed to give students a taste of what all UChicago first-year students experience in the Humanities Core, a foundational part of every student’s education in the College, where students enter into conversation with great thinkers of the past and present about questions and issues that have preoccupied mankind for millennia. The Humanities Core teaches students to read closely, think critically, and communicate effectively. In small discussion-based seminars, students learn and practice the art of oral argument and dialogue. Through short assignments and longer papers, as well as group sessions that replicate writing seminars taken by University of Chicago undergraduates, students will work on constructing cogent arguments and refine their expository writing skills. In short, they will come away with an insider’s view of what makes a UChicago education unique, and with training that will stand them in good stead wherever they undertake their undergraduate studies.

Writing Intensive

Course Overview

Current Grade / Education Level

9th Grade
10th Grade
11th Grade



Start Date

June 12

End Date

June 29

Class Details

Primary Instructor

Chris Wild

Academic Interest

Humanities (e.g., arts, philosophy)
Examining Culture and Society
Social Sciences (e.g., history, sociology)
Writing and Literature

Class Specifics

Course Code

HUMA 10102 94

Class Day(s)

Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri

Class Duration (CST)


3:00 P.M.


Session I

Course Length

3 weeks

HS Orientation Date

June 10
June 11