By Laura King, Principal Investigator, School of History, University of Leeds
‘Have mothers and parenthood been sufficiently recognised in their contribution towards the community? More attention should be paid to this question of the future generation as well as under what conditions children are to be brought into the world and reared. Otherwise, in a few years’ time the part which the British race will be taking in the future will be a dwindling part because we shall be a dwindling race.’
In 1942, MP and feminist campaigner Eleanor Rathbone addressed the House of Commons with these words, as it debated the question of woman-power during the Second World War. She highlighted the importance of children as future citizens and their role in ensuring the success of the British nation, race and empire in the future. And in this, she argued for a better recognition of women’s role in helping ensure the success of that future generation.
This example demonstrates some of the key themes of the ‘Agents of Future Promise’ project, and some issues to be discussed in our 3rd September workshop. Using historical research, we’re examining how children have been used to represent the future in the past. Does this matter at all today?
We think it does. Our research is opening up at least three important questions about children and the future. These are as relevant today as they were a hundred or fifty years ago, and these are important issues for those who work with or for children.
Firstly, if children are the future, can this help campaign groups mobilise support and funding to tackle child poverty, ensure better education programmes, attract resources for improving child health? Does it mean that children and young people themselves can use this idea in their own lobbying – if children are the future, shouldn’t they have a say in contemporary politics?
Secondly, if boys and girls are future citizens, are we moulding them into particular stereotypical gendered roles? Does this put too great an emphasis on girls’ roles as future mothers, and boys’ duty as future workers or soldiers – to protect the future of the nation?
Thirdly, does using children to represent ideas of the future for the interest of a political grouping actually harm children in some way? By using children’s potential and innocence to represent a political ideology, do we encourage the idea that children can be used for someone else’s ends?
The use of children to represent the future is an important and present concern – a potential benefit and burden for young people.
On 3 September 2015, our workshop at King’s College London will bring together NGO expertise and new historical and archaeological research to investigate the representation of children and its consequences.
Short presentations by historians, civil society practitioners and policy makers will be followed by small group discussions to reflect on historical research and contemporary policy and practice. The workshop is aimed at researchers, NGOs, policy makers and others working with and for children.
By taking part in this event, participants can:
- Understand how and why children were mobilised and portrayed in the past for various reasons
- Reflect on the implications of this history for policy and practice today
- Share expert knowledge about children’s agency in their portrayals and mobilisation, past and present
- Understand the policies and practices of NGOs working with and for children, past and present
- Learn about how historical research can inform contemporary practices
Find out more by looking at the workshop programme.