Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Historical Childhoods

Today's post is a little different to usual - it's quite lengthy and is in response to a specific request for freely available information on different historical aspects of childhood. So if this is a topic that interests you, then read on...

Perceptions of childhood have changed over time, and a brilliant starting point is Philippe Aries' book Centuries of Childhood (yes we have a copy in our library!). On the Web, the Representing Childhood site from the University of Pittsburgh summarises some of the different historical approaches to childhood, and provides suggestions for further reading. You can also read an essay entitled 'The Philosophy of Childhood'which forms part of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and a short essay called Re-Inventing Childhood by Professor Hugh Cunningham. More recent ideas are explored in an article by Martin Woodhead entitled Changing Perspectives on Early Childhood: Theory, Research and Policy, while if you've got a whole day to devote to this area, then the V&A Museum of Childhood could be worth a visit!

Closely linked to the above topic is the different attitudes over time that have governed children's education. To begin investigating these ideas you could visit the International Bureau of Education's Thinkers on Education page, which contains full text articles about some of the people whose ideas have influenced educational delivery, including Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky and many more. Closer to home, Derek Gillard's The History of Education in England provides very detailed information, including the full text of many landmark reports and relevant Acts of Parliament. Or for a more gentle introduction, try this 2002 journal article: Changing Curriculum for Early Childhood in England.

It isn't just attitudes to children themselves that have altered though - the nature of the family has also been subject to change. In 2009 the Family and Parenting Institute published Family Trends (yes the library has copies...) which examined changing family structures in the UK since the 1950s - a summary of the main points is freely available. The Institute was also responsible for Ten Years of Family Policy 1999-2009, which examines more recent developments. And only recently a new report entitled Helping to Understand the Modern British Family explores contemporary attitudes towards the changing shape of the family unit.

Another area that has seen huge changes has been the issue of children's rights; as far back as 1796, the English radical Thomas Spence had penned an essay entitled The Rights of Infants. However, any recent discussion of the issue must mention the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history (a summary is available here). Other related conventions dating back to the 1920s can be viewed in full in the Children's Rights Portal, and a history of child protection measures in the UK can be found in this article. For contemporary information, try the websites of the Children's Rights Alliance for England, and the Child Rights International Network.

Something that has seen a huge shift (in the UK at least) is the use of child labour. The National Archives' website provides information about child labour during the 19th Century, and the topic is given much more 'academic' attention in this 1994 paper. Though of course it's not purely an issue that's confined to the past - this brief ILO factsheet lists some key dates in the history of child labour, and also provides a snapshot of the global situation today.

And a final area that I've been asked to cover... children's television hasn't been around as long as the issues covered above, but it's still been with us long enough to have built up a rich history. Serious analysis is provided by Sonia Livingstone's articleHalf a Century of Television in the Lives of our Children, while information about and clips from UK programmes are provided by the BFI's ScreenOnline website - you can either take an interactive tour or simply read through this collection of articles.

I'm bound to have missed some good links - if you're aware of something that would go well in here, post the link as a comment below...

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