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).

Special Issue: The Media’s Evolving Role in Sex Education

Entertainment media have long been identified as having a key role to play in education about sex and relationships.

All too often in studies of sexual learning the media have been assessed for their potentially negative effects on young people. For example, studies have correlated consumption of particular media forms with early sexual intercourse or teenage pregnancy, while parents and schools have been seen as providing a positive corrective.

However empirical research shows that this simple binary is not always accurate: in some instances entertainment media may offer positive information and representations while school or parents often offer more moralizing or conservative perspectives. For example, a young person growing up in a homophobic family may see happy queer characters in a sitcom; or young people attending a school thatemphasizes young women’s role as gatekeepers and controllers of men’s sexuality may find helpful TV dramas that explore women’s active sexual agency.

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Children and Slavery, Past and Present

Contributions are invited for a forthcoming volume, Small Bonds: Enslaved Children from 1607-2014, currently slated for inclusion in Cambridge’s new series, Slavery Since Emancipation. The essays in this volume will collectively ask how placing children in the forefront of our thinking can change our understanding of how slavery functions in both the past and the present.

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Guest Post: Mona Gleason and the Limits of “Children’s Voices”

Observations on the Limits of “Children’s Voices”
Mona Gleason, Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia

Small Matters cover

Perhaps the one concern that binds historians of children and youth together, regardless of national context, time frame, or thematic interest, is the search for “children’s voices” in the past. Recovering and highlighting the perspectives of young people in our histories distinguishes our field from others. Many papers at SHCY conferences, published journal articles, and books in the field are devoted to finding and underscoring the child’s voice, often used as a short hand for a commitment to uncovering their “agency.” Having just completed a book entitled Small Matters: Canadian Children in Sickness and Health, 1900 to 1940, I’ve struggled quite intimately with what it means to include and highlight the “child’s voice.” After all, the perspectives of young people on this complex and multilayered history, I argue in the book, is the very thing missing in much of the Canadian historiography on health and medicine, generally, and health and childhood, in particular. My book relies heavily on the oral histories of a wide range of adults who grew up in Canada over the early to mid-twentieth century. It was critical to me that the oral histories about health experiences formed the backbone of the book. This would, I believed, literally “give voice,” however imperfect and mediated, to young people thereby establishing their agency as historical actors. It was not that simple. My attempts to “write children into” this history by including their “voices” in my analysis, brought to the surface a number of theoretical and methodological caveats that are particularly applicable to the Canadian historiography, but that also have relevance writ large. I briefly outline only two of these caveats below – there are others, but I’ll limit myself to these for this brief post.

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