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A Review of

Children’s Nature:
The Rise of the American Summer Camp.

Leslie Paris.
Hardback: NYU Press, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Enstad.

I, more or less, grew up at a church camp. Starting in third grade you could find me up on the North Shore of Lake Superior at the church camp my congregation had the foresight to organize and build in the 1950’s. By the time I began attending “our” camp it was already well-established with cabins, a lodge, a chapel, and traditions going back decades. Every camper knew that the “biffies” stunk; but some stunk more than others. We knew that the “cool” kids figured out how to sneak out at night to meet a camper of the opposite sex at “the Rock” presumably to sit together scared of being discovered but, of course, the stories became embellished by morning. There were ghost stories and disappearing camper stories. Underneath it all we developed a deeper relationship with each other and, through twice-a-day chapel and daily Bible study, with God. I was the second generation of my family to attend that camp and it is amazing to know that there are third, fourth, and fifth generation campers up there as I write this.

It’s hard for me to imagine that as early as the late nineteenth century there was no such thing as children with leisure time. With the rise of urban life on the East coast came a desire to hold on to the pioneering, outdoor spirit of the recent American past. In Children’s Nature: the Rise of the American Summer Camp, Leslie Paris, Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, has written a part-historical, part-anthropological study of this phenomenon. In doing so, Dr. Paris gives great insight into how summer camping became such an important part of so many people’s lives and, indeed, American culture itself.

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