About the Project

Since the idea of ‘childhood’ was created in Britain, Europe and beyond, adults have made use of children, both individually and collectively, to promote their notions of the future. Children are ‘agents of future promise’ – they bear the burden of adults’ expectations. What does that mean and what have been the consequences, in the past and for children today?

This project explores how children have been used to represent political and cultural futures by examining British and French history, from the late 19th century to the post-war era. With research by Dr Laura King, Dr Vicky Crewe and Dr Lindsey Dodd, we are comparing Britain and France to reveal differences in the relationship between children, family and state in a monarchy and a republic, at key moments of nation-building, domestic and international conflict, and post-war reconstruction.

Agents of Future Promise comprises three case studies:

  1. how children were used in adults’ ideas about the future towards the end of the Second World War and into the postwar era in Britain (led by Laura King);
  2. how material cultures of childhood in Britain from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century mobilized ideologies of gender, empire and war (led by Vicky Crewe);
  3. how French children (1940-1944) were given an important national role as carriers of the Vichy regime’s ideological aims and ideals (led by Lindsey Dodd).

We’re writing up this research in academic publications and as a History & Policy paper. We are also working with our partners, including Save the Children and War Child, to consider the consequences of this research for children around the world today and the organisations that work with them. In September 2015, we hosted a workshop to discuss the project’s findings and implications for policy makers and shapers.