On the Threshold: Youth as Arbiters of Urban Space in Early Modern France

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2009


Recent historical interest in early modern urban space has largely ignored the place of children and youth in the city. This study uses criminal records from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dijon, France to determine the triggers, locations, and contexts for disputes involving young people. The essay demonstrates that while young people articulated a field of honor similar to that of established adults in their neighbourhoods, their liminal status encouraged them to refine their concepts of honor and identity in urban areas not controlled by adults. City walls and night-time streets, for example, were common spaces where youth experimented with their identities. While historians may anticipate that the youths’ activities occurred primarily within peer groups, this essay argues that the fragile identities of young men and women were strongly rooted in their households. The strategies and tactics the youth employed within the city landscape were informed by their gender and by their transitional life-stage between dependence and autonomy.

Publication Title

Journal of Social History