Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


Reading and Discussion Questions
Anne Higonnet, Pictures of Innocence

1. Higonnet introduces her book by pointing out that pictures of children generate a lot of anxiety today. Why does she think so? Do you agree with her?

2. What does she mean by the “Romantic” ideal of childhood? How does this differ from “Knowing” childhood?

3. “Pictures are a form of ideas, not reality.” (14) Why does the difference between representation and reality matter so much to Higonnet? Do you agree with her definition of pictures and her understanding of what they do (and what they don’t do)? What do you believe about the relationship between images and behaviors?

4. What basic point is the author making about innocence?

5. List several genres of visual representation that were common among 19th century artists who depicted children. What do they have in common? How did they advance the ideal of Romantic Childhood?

6. Why is it important that many of the artists who gravitated toward images of children were women?

7. Why is it important that pictures of children were a commercially viable art form that appealed to a growing consumer market?

8. Is there a relationship between romanticizing images of children and sentimentalizing them?

9. Did photography accomplish something that painting and illustration did not? If so, what do you think it was? Compare the recent work of Betsy Cameron and Anne Geddes to the 19th and early 20th-century artists described in the book.

10. Higonnet contends that family snapshots are significant forces shaping childhood and that they are governed by many of the same rules that govern professional visual representations. What are these rules? Do you agree?

11. Why does Higonnet argue that photography was the form of visual representation with the capacity to challenge (as well as uphold) Romantic Childhood?

12. Do you think that Lewis Carroll’s pictures of little girls looked different to 19th-century viewers than they do to you? Why or why not?

13. How has ethnographic photography changed the picture of childhood?

14. What factors do you think are most responsible for the increasing sexualization of children in pictures? How do you feel about this development? Does it have advantages as well as disadvantages? Does it suggest that children can be powerful as well as vulnerable?

15. Higonnet points out that the paradox of Romantic Childhood is that “children could only become desirable if they were genuinely believed to be innocent.” (132) Explain.

16. Higonnet’s chapter on child pornography suggests that a movement to police picture has turned many parents and policymakers away from “real” child abuse during the past two decades. Do you agree? What relationship do you think exists between pictures that sexualize children and the abuse of children? Explain your thinking.

17. What is Higonnet’s solution to the problem of balancing freedom of speech against the protection of children? What is yours?

18. What do you think of the cases of parents (like Alice Sims) who were arrested under child pornography laws for pictures taken of their own children?

19. What is the significance of Knox v. United States?

20. “The most effective protection of children is law that targets actions.” (188) Why does Higonnet think so? What do you think?

21. Do you think a new childhood ideal is coming into being? Do Sally Mann’s pictures point in that direction? If so, how?

22. What does the end of Romantic Childhood have to do with the shifting borders between public and private?