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Week 18: Children’s Minds, Bodies, and Emotions in Twentieth Century Britain

Lecturer: Jennifer Crane

In 2007, a landmark UNICEF report ranked the UK lowest among industrial nations in terms of child well-being. This session discusses the formation and realisation of long-standing concerns about the bodies, minds, and emotions of children in twentieth century Britain. It examines how World War Two, and particularly the evacuation programme, brought new attention to the physical health of Britain’s children and how, in the following decades, changes in education, psychology, and media further linked physical, mental, and emotional issues in children’s ‘health’. Charting changing notions of child health throughout this period, the seminar aims to unpick how, at times, children and families themselves were empowered in challenging definitions of their health, often through voluntary action, and also to broaden our thinking about ‘health’ as a network of relationships between mind, body, and society

Discussion/Essay Questions:

1. How has war changed public and political debates about child health?
2. In late twentieth century, did public policy focus shift from the physical to the mental to the emotional health of children?
3. Who has controlled public and political definitions of ‘child health’? To what extent have children and families themselves played a role in shifting debate?

Required Readings:

Harry Hendrick, Child welfare: Historical Dimensions, Contemporary Debates (Bristol: Policy Press, 2003), Chapter 3: Child welfare in a period of economic and political crises, 1918-45

Malcolm Hill and Kay Tisdall, Children and Society (London: Longman, 1997), Chapter 7: Children and health

Further Reading:

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

Cooter, Roger (ed.), In the Name of the Child: Health and Welfare, 1880-1940 (London: Routledge, 1992).

King, Laura, ‘Future Citizens: Cultural and Political Conceptions of Children in Britain, 1930s-1950s’, Twentieth Century British History, 27 (3) (2016), 389-411.

Lewis, Jane (ed.), Children, Changing Families and Welfare States (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2006).

Pooley, Sian, ‘All we parents want is that our children’s health and lives should be regarded’: Child Health and Parental Concern in England, c. 1860-1910’, Social History of Medicine, 23 (3) (201), 528-48.

Scarre, Geoffrey (ed.), Children, parents and politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

Stewart, John, Child Guidance in Britain, 1918-1955: The Dangerous Age of Childhood (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013).

Thomson, Mathew, Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Wheatcroft, Sue, Worth Saving: Disabled Children During the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013).