Past and Present: Childhood and History (V1418)

30 credits, Level 6

Autumn teaching

What is childhood? How have the experiences of British children changed over the past two hundred years? What roles have parents, communities, schools and governments played in influencing children's formative years?

This module looks at the experience of childhood in Britain from 1800 onwards. We start by considering the concept of 'childhood' itself, and how definitions and representations of childhood have shifted across time. We explore themes such as:

  • the place of children within the family unit
  • children at school, work and play
  • the role of the state and other organisations in safeguarding children's welfare
  • children as both the victims and perpetrators of violence.

We refer to primary sources throughout, using the voices of children whenever possible. This emphasises children as agents in their own right, rather than passive recipients of a social world created by adults. 

We examine the ways current issues shape our historical interests. For example, we consider how similar the emotional relationships of children today are to those of their 19th- and 20th-century counterparts. Twenty-first century arguments over the nature and content of the school curriculum reprise the same debates that occupied politicians and educationalists when compulsory education was established in the mid-19th century. Contemporary angst over the state's responsibility for children such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie echoes similar outrage over the deprivation suggested by Dickens's workhouse. In 1993, two 10-year-old boys murdered toddler James Bulger, but other children have also gained notoriety in the press, whether as 'juvenile delinquents' or for sexual precocity. In relating contemporary problems to their historical roots, this module will foster a deeper understanding of the relationship between history and the present.

Teaching and assessment

We’re currently reviewing teaching and assessment of our modules in light of the COVID-19 situation. We’ll publish the latest information as soon as possible.

This module is running in the academic year 2021/22. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. However, we are constantly looking to improve and enhance our courses. There may be changes to modules in response to student demand or feedback, changes to staff expertise or updates to our curriculum. We may also need to make changes in response to COVID-19. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: