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Health of the Child

Lecturer: Andrew Burchell

Throughout this course, you have been considering how medicine is/was used within society to construct ‘norms’. One group which has been subjected to more standardisation efforts than others is the child/children. Medical attention, from the late-nineteenth century onwards, focused increasingly on the figure of the child. In an age of high infant mortality, parents were not only assailed with advice on the correct care and medical protection of their children, but the emotive power of the sick or poorly child itself acted as a rallying cry for increased state intervention in health. In this week’s lecture and readings, we will explore several questions around these themes through the case study of modern Britain. This takes in the history of children as a subject of medical knowledge and a target of medical intervention, both for bodily health and psychiatry. We will also consider how children and their families were represented in - and fought back against - these medical encounters and what this can tell us about shifting understandings of identity, health and disability, medicine, and (most important of all) what a ‘child’ actually was to begin with.

Seminar questions

  • Which agencies and individuals intervened in children’s health in modern Britain and what motivated them to do so?
  • What does Hendrick mean when he refers to the way in which ‘medicine gave children a physical and material identity’? Can this be applied to issues raised in the other readings, and what are its limitations?
  • How do histories of children’s minds relate to histories of their bodies within the field of medical history?
  • Was there a difference between the ‘health of the child’ and ‘children’s health’?
  • The health of which (or what kinds of) children was deemed most important for the state?
  • What use are visual representations of children’s health as sources in the history of medicine?

Image dossier

Please find attached a dossier of images offering a flavour of how mid-twentieth-century British medical culture represented (and sought to use) children.

Core reading

Jennifer Crane, Child Protection in England, 1960-2000: expertise, experience, and emotion (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), chapter 1, ‘The Battered Child Syndrome: parents and children as objects of medical study’, pp. 27-44 [TalisAspire does not seem to like this book, but the Library does have an e-copy. Either search the catalogue directly, or follow the quick link here.]

Harry Hendrick, ‘Child labour, medical capital, and the School Medical Service, c.1890-1918’, in Roger Cooter (ed.), In the Name of the Child: health and welfare, 1880-1940 (Abingdon: Routledge, 1992), pp. 45-71 [As above, the link does not appear to function in Talis. Please search the catalogue directly, or follow this link.]

Steven King and Steven J. Taylor, ‘“Imperfect children” in historical perspective’, Social History of Medicine, 30:4 (2017), pp. 718-726

Michal Shapira, The War Inside: psychoanalysis, total war, and the making of the democratic self in postwar Britain (Cambridge: CUP, 2013), chapter 7, ‘Hospitalized children, separation anxiety, and motherly love: psychoanalysis in postwar Britain’, pp. 198-238 [As the previous books. Please follow the quick link here.]

Further reading

Ana Antic, 'Politicising children: transcultural constructions of childhood and psychological trauma in the modern world', Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry (2022) [advanced access]

Clementine Beauvais, ‘Ages and ages: the multiplication of children’s “ages” in early twentieth-century child psychology’, History of Education, 45:3 (2016), pp. 304-318

Jennifer Beinart, ‘Darkly through a lens: changing perceptions of the African child in sickness and health, 1900-1945’, in Roger Cooter (ed.), In the Name of the Child: health and welfare, 1880-1940 (Abingdon: Routledge, 1992), pp. 220-237

Tony Birch, ‘“These children have been born in a slum”: slum photography in a Melbourne suburb’, Australian Historical Studies, 35 (2004), pp. 1-15

Nadja Durbach, '"They might as well brand us": working-class resistance to compulsory vaccination in Victorian England', Social History of Medicine, 13:1 (2000), pp. 45-63

Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Hilary Marland (eds), Cultures of Child Health in Britain and the Netherlands in the Twentieth Century (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003)

Patricia Holland, Picturing Childhood: the myth of the child in popular imagery (London, 2004)

Mike Mantin, ‘“His whole nature requires development”: education, school life and Deafness in Wales, 1850-1914’, Social History of Medicine, 30:4 (2017), pp. 727-747

Hilary Marland, Health and Girlhood in Britain, 1874-1920 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) [particularly the chapters, ‘Unstable Adolescence’, ‘Girls, Education and the School as a Site of Health’ and ‘The Health of the Factory Girl’]

Matthew Smith, Hyperactive: the controversial history of ADHD (London: Reaktion, 2012)

Carolyn Steedman, ‘Bodies, figures and physiology: Margaret McMillan and the late nineteenth-century remaking of working-class childhood’, in Roger Cooter (ed.), In the Name of the Child: health and welfare, 1880-1940 (Abingdon: Routledge, 1992), pp. 19-45

John Stewart, Child Guidance in Britain, 1918-1955: the dangerous age of childhood (London: Chatto & Windus, 2013)

Mathew Thomson, Psychological Subjects: identity, culture and health in twentieth-century Britain (Oxford: OUP, 2006)

Mathew Thomson, Lost Freedom: the landscape of the child and the post-war British settlement (Oxford: OUP, 2013)

David M. Turner, ‘Impaired children in eighteenth-century England’, Social History of Medicine, 30:4 (2017), pp. 788-806

Tania Woloshyn, Soaking Up the Rays: light therapy and visual culture in Britain, c.1890-1940 (Manchester: MUP, 2017) [Great for visual culture of light therapy and available as an e-book.]