Agents of Future Promise

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Agents of Future Promise: Children’s Burden or Benefit?

Our final film gives an overview of our 3rd September workshop and some responses to it. Any more thoughts are welcome below or on Twitter, using the hashtag #children2015.…

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“What will the child say when he has grown up? For his good we do this; will he live to thank us?”[1]: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Concerns about Adult Only Children

Guest Post, by Alice Violett, PhD Candidate, University of Essex


Henry Maudsley, 1835-1918

Most people are aware of persistent stereotypes of only children: that they are spoilt, selfish, precocious, and socially inept.  My doctoral research into the public perceptions and personal experiences of only children between 1850 and 1950 shows that such attitudes date back to at least the mid-nineteenth century, possibly as a result of increasing concerns about declining middle-class family sizes and the role of nurture, as opposed to nature, in determining how children turned out.  However, British and American child guidance writers and psychologists who wrote on the subject during this period did not confine the effects of only-childness to childhood, and claimed that one’s upbringing as an only child had a direct effect on adulthood, fitting nicely with the ‘Agents of Future Promise’ agenda.  According to these writers, only children were at risk of becoming mad, immoral, lonely, and anti-social adults.

Madness was a particular concern of nineteenth-century writers about only children.  Child guidance writer John S. C. Abbott, and physician Henry Maudsley, both provided examples to illustrate the harm that could result from an only child being brought up without due care and attention.  Abbott …

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Let Toys Be Toys

In this film, Jess Day, of Let Toys Be Toys, discusses the work of the organisation in campaigning around gender and children’s toys. She discusses how the explicit gendering of toys limits the choices children have and their futures.…

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What do toys tell us about children’s roles in the British empire?

This film features a presentation from Vicky Crewe (University of Cardiff) discussing her research into children’s toys during and after the Second Boer War (1899-1902). This presentation was given at the project workshop on 3rd September 2015.…

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Girls’ Rights Campaigning in the UK and Beyond – Plan UK

In this film, Kerry Smith, Head of Advocacy, Campaigns and Research at Plan UK describes their advocacy work with children, which aims to bring about policy change in the area of girls’ rights. Her talk features the prize-winning film Because I am A Girl: I’ll take it from here.…

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Their Rights, Their Story – War Child campaigning

This film features a presentation from Matt Ruuska of War Child, discussing their approach to portraying children in their campaigning. It features highly emotive clips from their recent campaigns, including their animation of experience of a Juvenile Detention Centre in Afghanistan and the powerful film Duty of Care: Protecting Children in War.…

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How did the Vichy regime of wartime France use children to further its goals?

In this film, Lindsey Dodd (University of Huddersfield) talks about her research into the mobilisation of children in Vichy France, 1940-44. This presentation was given at the project workshop on 3rd September 2015.…

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How were children mobilised to represent the future during the Second World War in Britain?

In this film, Principal Investigator Laura King (University of Leeds) talks about her research into the use of children in envisaging the future in Britain, during and after the Second World War. This presentation was given at the project workshop on 3rd September 2015.…

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Workshop Report: Children’s Benefit or Burden, by Helen Roche

On 3rd September 2015, we held a workshop about the use of children to represent the future at King’s College London. Here, Helen Roche gives a full report on the event.

By Helen Roche, Research Fellow, University of Cambridge


Does it matter if adults use children for their own ends – especially in politics?

Is the instrumentalisation of children by grownups (past, present and future) always fundamentally exploitative?

Should we care? And if so, how might we help?

These were some of the questions which a workshop held recently at King’s College London, entitled ‘Children’s Burden or Benefit: Using young people to promote ideas of the future’ set out to answer.

Wellcome Library, London

Wellcome Library, London

Given that I’m currently writing a history of the most prominent Nazi elite schools, the Napolas, the title of the workshop caught my eye as soon as it was advertised. For the former Napola-pupils with whom I have been working and conducting interviews over the past few years, the pressure and responsibility of living up to the ideals of the National Socialist regime, and of proving oneself worthy of having been selected as a putative future leader of the Third Reich, have often been immense. …

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Children’s Benefit or Burden? Reflections from Laura Tisdall, University of Oxford

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