All SHCY members receive the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. Published three times a year, it features scholarly research and critical book reviews.

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Jul  27

Indigenous Children’s Rights

Canadian Journal of Children’s Rights
Call for Manuscripts, Special Issue: Indigenous Children’s Rights

A special issue of the Canadian Journal of Children’s Rights dedicated to exploring rights in the lives of Indigenous children is open for submissions. For this special issue we invite a range of contributions including scholarly essays, original research articles, comparative analyses, critical reviews, advocacy and policy articles as well as personal narratives, interviews, oral histories, and poetry. We are interested in presenting a wide range of perspectives relating to Indigenous children and rights.

For more information, download the full CFP (PDF)..

Jul  22

Feminism and the Politics of Childhood

Feminism and the Politics of Childhood: Friends or foes?
Workshop at UCL Institute of Education, London, UK, 16-17th November 2015

This workshop will bring together community- and university-based academics and activists to unpack perceived conflicts between children’s interests and women’s interests (which themselves are heterogeneous) and, more broadly, intersections and antagonisms between various forms of feminism and the politics of childhood.

The lives of women and children are deeply entangled and the way relations between them are conceptualized has implications for approaches to service provision, public education, and social movement building about critical issues including childcare, domestic work and global care chains, familial violence, and the division of labor. Children, to varying degrees, are positioned as primarily dependent and in need of care, and women take by far the greatest responsibility for this, whether in families, education, formal care settings, global care chains, and so on. Women and children have often been elided or linked ideologically. Both feminist and childhood scholars and activists have worked against this conflation, but, in so doing, have been criticized for portraying women and children’s interests as opposing and adversarial (Thorne, 1987). Feminist scholars have argued that prioritizing children’s rights has led to increases in women’s ascribed responsibilities for children’s wellbeing (Molyneux, 2006; Newberry, 2014) and that rising attention to “the child” in the policy arena has side-lined women’s citizenship demands (Dobrowolsky and Jenson, 2004). Childhood theorists have commented that feminism is an “adultist” enterprise, rendering children largely absent from the social world and sociological consideration except as objects of social reproduction (Mayall, 2002). Concerns have been raised that this antagonism reduces the complexity of adult-child relations – which include joy, love, reciprocal concern, and solidarity – solely to that of work and burden (Riley, 1987).

Until now, there has been limited attention to the ways these perceived antipathies might be addressed (but see Alanen, 1994; Burman, 2008; Oakley, 1994; Thorne, 1987). We propose to use this workshop as a means to initiate such a dialogue. We are inviting abstracts which address the following, or other relevant, themes:
• How do we ensure the well-being of children and women, particularly in contexts where their interests may (appear to) be in conflict?
• How might a conversation between feminism and the politics of childhood reconcile these tensions?
o Are women’s and children’s interests necessarily opposed or inevitably linked?
o What are the consequences of denaturalizing motherhood and childhood for women and children?
o How do we conceptualize women and children’s involvement in creating a gendered and generationed social order?
• What are the implications of theorizing women and children together?
o Does discussing women and children together reify their relationship?
o Where do men, the state, and society fit?
o To what extent does this reinforce compulsory heterosexuality?

To promote in-depth discussion and debate, workshop spaces will be limited to a small number of presenters and participants. Working papers of no more than 4000 words will be pre-circulated. At the workshop, each presenter will give a short synopsis which will be followed by discussion. We anticipate producing an edited volume from the workshop. All participants (including presenters) will be charged a nominal fee of £20.

To apply to present: Please send titles and abstracts of no more than 250 words to by 15th August 2015 (Subject line: PRESENTER Feminism and Childhood). Full papers will be due 26th October 2015.

To apply to participate: If you wish to participate in the workshop as a non-presenter, please submit an expression of interest of no more than 250 words outlining relevant academic and/or community-based experience to by 30th September 2015 (Subject line: PARTICIPANT Feminism and Childhood).

Hosted by the Childhood and Gender Stream (Social Science Research Unit) and Gender and Sexuality Studies, UCL.

Jul  20

Special Issue: Histories of Play

International Journal of Play
Call for papers for forthcoming Special Issue: Histories of Play

The universality of children’s play crosses times, places and cultures — and histories of play offer unique perspectives on children and their worlds, and the wider societies they inhabit. This special issue examines the histories of play across historical periods, exploring (but not limited) to such topics as:

• continuity and change in children’s play and playlore
• histories of the material and oral cultures of play
• the economies and consumption of games, toys and play “things”
• the spaces and environments of play in historical context
• documenting histories of play through visual, oral and other sources
• transnational and comparative histories of games and playlore
• remembering play: nostalgia, “kidults” and memorialization
• children’s voices in the history of play

The guest editors of the Histories of Play special issue (no. 3 in 2016, appearing in December) are Kate Darian-Smith (University of Melbourne) and Simon Sleight (King’s College London). Potential contributors are invited to send an abstract of 300 words to the editors by 1 November 2015 in the first instance.

Full papers of up to 7,000 words, which will go through a blind peer-review process prior to publication, need to be submitted by 1 April 2016. Suggestions for shorter pieces of up to 2,500 words on historical archives and cultural collections relating to the histories of play are also welcome.

Please check the International Journal of Play (Taylor and Francis Online) website for details on the journal and regarding presentation of material:

Email contact for further information, enquiries and to submit abstracts:
Kate Darian-Smith:
Simon Sleight:

Jul  20

Horrible Histories?

Horrible Histories? Children’s Lives in Historical Contexts
16 and 17 June 2016, King’s College London

It is now over forty years since the bold declaration of psychohistorian Lloyd deMause that “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken.” Stirred by such claims, scholars have subsequently tested the “nightmare thesis” for both the pre-modern and modern eras, locating children’s agency in unexpected places and stressing the contingencies of context, gender, ethnicity, age, class, caste and sexuality. Narratives of historic and contemporary institutional abuse, however, together with insights concerning the legacies of forced child migration, children’s labours and other challenging aspects of childhood experience, suggest that sorrow rather than joy characterises much scholarship on children and childhood. Should this be so?

In another context, since 1993 the phenomenally successful Horrible Histories books, stage plays and television series have helped introduce countless thousands of children around the world to the past. As their titles indicate, Horrible Histories also examine difficult and sometimes grisly historical episodes. Progressive narratives are at work here too, reinforced by children’s museum exhibits emphasizing an emergence from the “dark ages” of childhood in the twentieth century.

“Horrible Histories? Children’s Lives in Historical Contexts” is the launch conference marking the inauguration of the new UK-based Children’s History Society. Offering a forum for historical reflections from established and upcoming historians of children, childhood and youth, we also anticipate that this will be a platform for school-age scholars to reflect on the ways they respond to the history. This two-day conference invites paper proposals on the following themes:

• Dealing with difficult history and heritage
• Children’s histories and the longue durée
• The “West and the rest” in children’s history
• Definitions of subjecthood and status
• Pain and resilience
• Archival approaches for retrieving children’s agency
• The things of childhood
• Children’s places and places for children
• Play as protest, recreation and the “work” of childhood
• Children’s histories in museums, online and in the media
• The histories of children’s places and places for children
• Future trajectories for researching children’s histories

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, together with a two-page CV, to both and by 1 December 2015. Applicants will be notified of the outcome in January. Panel submissions featuring three papers of 15-20 minutes apiece are also encouraged, particularly for panels showcasing in concert transnational and/or long chronological perspectives. Note that our definition of children is flexible, reflecting the multiple constructions through time of childhood as a social category.

The conference will be free to attend, courtesy of the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies and the Department of History, both at King’s College London. Further details will follow regarding accommodation options, conference-related activities and Society administration. If you would like to become involved in the running of the Children’s History Society, please email and to express your interest.

Dr Simon Sleight (King’s College London) and Dr Mary Clare Martin (University of Greenwich).

Jul  06

Guest Post: Ashley Mathisen on the Curious History of the Spinal Machine

Ashley Mathisen recently graduated from Oxford University with a DPhil in History, and is currently working on course development in the History Department at Guelph University, while pursuing a Bachelor of Education at York University. Her doctoral dissertation examined the role of the London Foundling Hospital as a center for research on childhood illness in the eighteenth century. Her current research focuses on the experience of childhood disability in eighteenth-century Britain, the emergence of disability technology in the popular press, and the links between early pediatrics and orthopedics.

Disability Devices for Children: The Curious History of the Spinal Machine

diagram of spine machine from 1783

Timothy Sheldrake, An essay on the various causes and effects of the distorted spine. . . (London: DillyLondon, 1783). Wellcome Library.

Eighteenth-century medical practitioners were in a particularly interesting position when it came to children’s medicine. Child patients were, of course, treated by medical practitioners before the rise of paediatric medicine as a formal speciality, but many medical men had limited knowledge of children’s health, and many were reticent to involve themselves with a patient population so prone to disease and death. Children’s medicine was also associated with mothers, nurses, and midwives, and was considered beneath the dignity of many medical men, some of whom also felt that a man could not possibly understand a child’s body in quite the same way as a woman could. Many were also put off by the prospect of treating patients unable to vocalize their symptoms. Finally, it is entirely possible that some medical men were, quite simply, uninterested in children. Fortunately, as the eighteenth century progressed, some of these obstacles were discarded and the subject of child health began to occupy a more prominent place in medical discussions and in medical education.

Along with this increased interest in the bodies and health of children came a diverse set of “solutions” for correcting childhood disability or for integrating the disabled child into society. One of the more curious solutions was the “spinal machine”. In his Zoonomia, Erasmus Darwin referred to a machine:

capable of improvement by joints in the bar at the back of it, to permit the body to bend forwards with-out diminishing the extension of the spine. The objections of this machine of M. Vacher, which is made by Mr. Jones, are first, that it is worn in the day-time, and has a very unsightly appearance. Mr. Jones has endeavoured to remedy this, by taking away the curved bar over the head, and substituting in its place a forked bar, rising up behind each ear, with webs fastened to it, which pass under the chin and occiput. But this is not an improvement, but a deterioration of M. Vacher’s machine, as it prevents the head from turning with facility to either side.[1]

The spinal machine Darwin ascribed to Vacher was comprised of a whalebone corset, to which was attached a metal staff used to support the head and lengthen or straighten the spine. Darwin himself went on to devise two spinal machines: one for sitting (an armchair grasping the head and supporting the neck), and the other a sloping bed which supported the neck while extending the spine. Vacher’s machine was widely considered to be an improvement on other spinal devices, like the neck swing, since Vacher’s apparatus “does not prevent children from dancing, drawing, or writing”.[2]

By 1777, Philip Jones, “Spinal Stay and Machine-maker”, was “offering his Spinal Machine to the public in general” and was “so happy to find, that by experience, it has proved an effectual remedy for curing distortions of the spine in children”.[3] In the same year, Jones was hired by the London Foundling Hospital to examine several girls suffering from distortions of the spine. For three guineas a piece, Jones tailored a machine for two of the Foundling children, though he refused to charge the Hospital for his time.[4] Two and a half months later, he returned and demonstrated the use of the machines for the general committee of the Hospital, recording that Blanch Rivers was three feet, nine inches without the machine, and three feet, nine inches and five eighths with the machine on. Bridget Smith was not measured at this time, since it was felt that her distortion was far less severe. The two girls, Blanch Rivers and Bridget Smith, were thirteen and eight years of age, respectively, when Jones was brought to the Hospital to tailor their spinal machines. Rivers had been returned to the Hospital by her apprentice master in 1775 as a result of her disability, which accounts for the Hospital’s eagerness to consult with Jones about remedying her distortion.[5] Rivers was not subsequently apprenticed, but was instead released from the Hospital’s care at age 24, suggesting that her disability persisted and continued to pose a difficulty in securing an apprenticeship on her behalf. Bridget Smith was apprenticed successfully in 1781, suggesting that her distortion had become less problematic, or that it posed no challenge as far as her apprentice master was concerned.

The spinal machine represents a fascinating chapter in disability history and in the history of paediatric medicine. The efforts of Vacher, Darwin, Jones, and others reveal a great deal about medical attitudes to childhood disability, and the impetus to “cure”, rather than simply care, for the disabled child. Frustratingly, we know very little about how Blanch Rivers, Bridget Smith, and other similar children experienced their disabilities, or even if they considered them as such. While the story of the spinal machine in the eighteenth century can only ever be partially complete, it is a narrative worth exploring, since it tells us so much about social and medical attitudes to the bodies, and minds of children who lay outside the accepted norm.

[1] Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia; or, The laws of organic life. In three parts, vol. ii (London, 1796), 89.
[2] Timothy Sheldrake, An essay on the various causes and effects of the distorted spine (London, 1783), 23.
[3] “Classified ads”, Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (London, England), Thursday, January 9, 1777; Issue 14 938.
[4] London Foundling Hospital Sub-Committee Minutes, 23 August 1777, London Metropolitan Archives.
[5] London Foundling Hospital General Committee Minutes, 22 Nov 1775, London Metropolitan Archives.

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