Children in the Archives: Epistolary Evidence, Youth Agency, and the Social Meanings of “Coming of Age” in Interwar Nyasaland

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Family History, Volume 35, p.25–47 (2010)



Africa, childhood, children, colonialism, miscegenation, Nyasaland


This study looks at multiracial boys and girls, often referred to as “half castes,” in Nyasaland. It reconstructs the status and agency of these children by assessing the ways in which they maneuvered local African and European communities to explore opportunities that would improve their individual situations. At times they took initiative by writing letters to the Nyasaland administration for financial support. Furthermore, state responses to these letters provide evidence of how the state perceived these children, particularly the moral responsibility felt given that their fathers were often white settlers and at times colonial officials. This article also discusses the general challenges and opportunities that childhood experiences raise, with specific attention to the kind of subaltern social knowledge that such evidence presents—knowledge that challenges conventional visions of what constitutes history and who makes it.

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