Transatlantic Childhoods: Literature and the Child Study Movement, 1880-1920 (EASM129)

Staff - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF LevelM
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to examine tension in attitudes to, and representations of, children between 1990-1920: when emergent sciences, especially evolutionary theory and psychology, raised significant theoretical challenges to cherished 'Romantic' assumptions about children's innocence, malleability, and intuitive, spiritual creativity. Yet it also considers how, paradoxically, ideological pressures increasingly required the child to acquiesce to these older, idealizing models of the 'good' child, newly enforced by state controlled social welfare and educational institutions, which frequently sought to preserve the perceived purity of childhood from succumbing to the 'contaminations' of race, sexuality, and delinquency. For scholars of literature, a major consequence of this tension was the divorcing of literature proper ('high,' modernist, obtuse) from the newly demarcated genre of 'children's literature' (popular, 'innocent', transparent). The module complicates this narrative by examining the dialogues, debates, critiques, and line of influence across seemingly disparate texts written by 'scientists', writers of modernist literature, and of children's fiction.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of the complex debates surrounding attitudes to, and representations of, childhood across the turn of the twentieth-century.
  • 2. demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of how ideas of audience impact on representations of childhood across different literary and scientific texts.
  • 3. demonstrate an advanced appreciation of the contexts (cultural, political, intellectual, historical, social, economic) that have informed ideas about attitudes towards childhood from the 1880s onwards.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. demonstrate a sophisticated and intellectually mature ability to analyse the literature an earlier era and to relate its concerns and its modes of expression to its historical context.
  • 5. demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history.
  • 6. demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary texts.
  • 7. demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debate across disciplinary boundaries

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to articulate their views convincingly both individually and in groups.
  • 9. through essay-writing, demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and to write clear and correct prose.
  • 10. through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate an advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.
  • 11. through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process.

Syllabus plan

Section I: Child Study: A Theoretical Framework

Week 1: Introductions: Literature and the Child Study Movement 

Week 2. Childhood and Evolutionism (Darwin) 

Week 3. American Child Psychology (William James and G Stanley Hall) 

Week 4. Psychoanalysis and Infantile Sexuality (Freud) 

Week 5. Theory Summary and Essay Writing Workshop (St Luke’s Library)

Section II: The Literary Child

Week 6: Childhood and Creativity: (Auto)biographies of The Artist as a Child 

Week 7. The James/Stevenson Debate on The Art of Fiction 

Week 8. Childhood and Modernity: What Maisie Knew 

Section III: Literature and Childhood: Interdisciplinary Project

Week 9 – 11. Seminar reading determined by students’ choice from a selection of literary texts. (Indicative titles below) 

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
SLT300including 10 x 2 hour seminars and 1 essay workshop
Teaching is by one two-hour seminar per week. Students will be expected to participate in class discussion and will be encouraged to hold independent small group meetings in preparation for the seminars. Students will be required to give small group presentations. Seminar attendance is compulsory.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Formative Group Presentations: Theory20 mins- min 2 students per group1-8, 10,11feedback via seminars
Formative Group Presentations: Inderdisciplinary Project20 mins, min 2 students per group1-7,8,10,11Cohort feedback via seminars.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research Report252500 words1-3, 5, 7,10,11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up. Cohort feedback via seminars
Essay755000 words1-7, 9-11Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Primary texts [To Purchase] 
Freud, Sigmund, “A Case of Hysteria,” “Three Essays” and Other Works: Complete Psychological Works, Volume 7. (Vintage, 2001). [Must be this edition] 
James, Henry, What Maisie Knew (1897). 
James, William. Talks to Teachers on Psychology (1892) 
Stevenson, Robert Louis, Treasure Island (1881).

Selected secondary texts
Clarke, Beverly Lyon, Kiddie Lit: The Cultural Construction of Childhood in America (John Hopkins UP, 2003.)
Kidd, Kenneth B, Making American Boys: Boyology and the Feral Tale (Minneapolis UP, 2004) 
Levander, Caroline, Cradle of Liberty: Race, the Child, and National Belonging (Duke UP: 2006).
Mintz, Stephen, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (Belknap/Harvard Press, 2004)
Rose, Jacqueline, The Case of Peter Pan: or The Impossibility of Children’s Lteraerature (Palgrave, 1984)
Zornado, Joseph L. Inventing the Child: Culture, ideology, and the story of childhood (Routledge, 2006.)

Indicative Suggested Texts for Interdisciplinary Project: 

Baum, L Frank, The Wizard of Oz (1900) 
Douglas Wiggins Kate, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903)
Hodgson Burnett, Frances, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885) and/ or The Secret Garden (1911) 
James, Henry, The Turn of the Screw (1898) and/or The Awkward Age (1899) 
London, Jack, Call of The Wild ( 1903) and/or White Fang (1906) 
Stevenson, Robert Louis, A Child’s Garden of Verse (1885) 
Twain, Mark Huckleberry Finn (1885) 

Reading for week 1 [All on ELE] 
Blackford, Holly Blackford "Apertures in the House of Fiction" CLAQ 
Mintz, Steven Mints "Children Under the Magnifying Glass" from Huck's Raft 
Shuttleworth, Sally from The Mind of the Child

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

All further primary source material and selected secondary readings are supplied on ELE.

Available as distance learning?


Last revision date