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 simon.sleight@kcl.ac.uk and M.C.H.Martin@greenwich.ac.uk 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 simon.sleight@kcl.ac.uk and M.C.H.Martin@gre.ac.uk to express your interest.

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

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