A History of Children and Childhood in Modern Europe (HIH1022)

StaffDr Ana Antic - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module will introduce students to a large variety of historical sources such as legal decrees, government and international organization records, newspaper articles, medical journal articles and other scientific literature, medical and psychiatric records and patient case files (including psychoanalytic case studies), photographs and films, art, cartoons, fiction, police reports and trial records. It will also explore different ways in which historians can recover children's voices and perspectives, and will expose students to a broad range of children's writings, such memoirs, diaries and letters. Students will conduct their own research into these sources, evaluate their significance and limitations, and use them to explore particular themes in depth.

We will consider questions such as: Did childhood exist in the past, or is it a modern invention? Is childhood a biological or 'natural' and universal stage of human development, or is it the product of society, culture, and history? How do experiences of growing up vary depending on class, race, gender, and other social factors? Can we identify change in some areas and continuities in others, and why? In Europe’s recent history, children were often constructed as essential for the development, survival and prosperity of the nation; the module will explore the consequences of such potentially volatile coupling of children and nation-building. Moreover, the twentieth century saw many attempts to directly involve children in both democratic and authoritarian politics, which significantly affected both experiences and perceptions of childhood, and at times led to extreme violence committed both towards and by children. The module will also address the emergence of the figure of the child 'expert' – the paediatrician, psychologist, educator, social worker – and consider their role in shaping our views towards children and in defining 'normality' for them. At the same time, we will trace how the legal status of children changed over time, and how and why the concept of children's rights emerged. In considering these questions, we will address themes such as inequality, victimization, education, children's literature, parenting and different cultural representations of children.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Understand and assess the main developments in the history of children and childhood in modern Europe.
  • 2. Work critically with a range of written and visual sources relating to the topic.
  • 3. Assess the sources in relation to the historical debates, purposes for which different contemporary sources were produced, and analyse and evaluate their reliability and usefulness for the study of modern conceptualisations of children and childhood.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Identify the problems of using historical sources, e.g. utility, limitations, etc, and compare the validity of different types of sources.
  • 5. Answer a question briefly and concisely.
  • 6. Present work orally, respond to questions orally, and think quickly of questions to ask other students.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Conduct independent study and group work, including the presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Work with others in a team and to interact effectively with the tutor and the wider group.
  • 10. Write to a very tight word-length.

Syllabus plan

Weekly seminar topics may vary, but can include:


1. Modern childhood: Inventing innocence

2. The changing figure of an orphan: From Charles Dickens to post-WWII Europe

3. Childhood in a cross-cultural perspective

4. Childhood and inequality: Race, class and gender

5. Children and violence

6. Childhood and sciences: The emergence of a 'child expert'

7. Psychoanalysis: Constructing children's sexuality

8. Comrade Pavlik: Children as political actors

9. The notion of children's rights and the changing legal status of children

10. Parenting: The making of ideal mothers and fathers

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
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22 hour lecture: Introduction to module
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2010 x 2 hour seminars. At a meeting of the whole class generally a different group of 3-4 students will give a presentation to the whole class, followed by class discussion and working through the sources for that week carefully. Additional sources may be issued in the class and the lecturer will also use the time to set up issues for the following week.
Guided independent study128Students prepare for the session through reading and research; writing five source commentaries and an essay and preparing one group presentation in the course of the term.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation (3-4 students)10-15 minutes1-4, 6-7, 9Oral
Lowest mark from portfolio of 5 source commentaries500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments

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
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries602000 words (500 per commentary)1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments.
Essay on Sources401500 words1-5, 7-8, 10Mark and written comments.

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
4 highest marks from portfolio of 5 source commentaries4 highest marks of portfolio of 5 source commentaries1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.
1500-word essay1500-word essay1-5, 7-8, 10Referral/deferral period.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Higonnet, Anne. Pictures of Innocence: The History and Crisis of Ideal Childhood. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Mead, Margaret. Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1928.

Shapira, Michal. The war inside: Psychoanalysis, total war and the making of the democratic self in postwar Britain. Cambridge: CUP, 2013

Schumann, Dirk, ed. Raising Citizens in the 'Century of the Child'. New York: Berghahn Books, 2010

Kelly, Catriona. Children's World: Growing Up in Russia, 1890-1991. London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007

Kelly, Catriona. Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero. London: Granta Books, 2005.

Zahra, Tara. The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011

Hopkins, Eric. Childhood Transformed: Working-Class Children in Nineteenth-Century England. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994

Plotz, Judith. Romanticism and the Vocation of Childhood. New York: Palgrave, 2001

Winnicott, Donald. Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock, 1971

Toltoy, Leo. Childhood, boyhood, youth. 1856

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Key words search

Europe, modern, childhood, violence, ‘child expert’, education, parenting.