Since the early seventeenth century, stories of encounters with strange children in unusual circumstances have been recorded, circulated, and reproduced in Europe and North America not simply as myths, legends, or good tabloid copy but as occurrences deserving serious scrutiny by philosophers and scientists. “Wild children” were seen as privileged objects of knowledge, believed to hold answers to fundamental questions about the boundaries of the human, the character and significance of civilization, and the relation between nature and culture, heredity and environment.
Through detailed readings of a wide variety of accounts, debates, and representations, Encounters with Wild Children explores the many different meanings these children were given and the varied responses they elicited. Adriana Benzaquén explains why wild children continue to haunt and fascinate Western scientists and shows how the knowledge they have generated in different disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, pedagogy, linguistics, and sociology, has contributed to the shaping and reshaping of the modern understanding of “the child” and affected the social and institutional practices directed at all children in schools, welfare, mental health, and the law.
Adriana S. Benzaquén is assistant professor, history, Mount Saint Vincent University.