“Speaking When Spoken To”: Re-integrating the experiences and perspectives of children into historical research

Workshop for early career and postgraduate researchers: Tuesday 6th June 2017, University of Edinburgh

Central to our study of childhoods in the past are children themselves. But this is methodologically problematic – can we really access children’s voices or actions, without the mediation of adult memory or sanitised through adult language? Even the sources which remain have been organised by adults, in archives which reflect differing levels of gendered, racialised and generational control. Do the limitations of the source material, and our own self-awareness as historians and researchers, limit what constitutes ‘the history of the child’ or what constitutes legitimate history? Are our imaginations limited by the production of material which will never be read by children? Does the search for ‘agency’ and ‘voice’ itself obscure children’s experiences from history?

This workshop hopes to provide a forum to discuss the methodological challenges faced in conducting the history of children, and consider the resolutions we have reached within our own research. Themes may include the lack of children’s presence within archives and/or government documents, issues encountered in studyingchildren’s experiences and agency within their own art, literature and diaries, and the challenges of accessing childhood memories through oral history testimonies. Looking widely across geographical space, across time and across varying constructions of childhood, this workshop hopes to provide a balance of both theory and practical research discussion. We are interested in hearing which historians have had most impact on your methodology, and how this is evidenced in your own research – at whatever that stage this is. How do you find the voices of children and integrate them into your conclusions in ways which are both stimulating and authentic? Are there other and better ways to understand children’s experiences? How do you deal with adult bias in writing, and your own adult bias as a researcher? We often become siloised in our research, and while these questions are not new, the aim of the workshop is to share new ideas from your own research and across disciplinary and thematic boundaries.

Suggested preliminary reading:

  •   The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth. In particular, Vol 1 (1), articles by J.M. Hawes and N.R. Hiner, P.N. Stearns, M.J. Maynes
  •   Jackson, L. 2006. Childhood and youth. In Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of SexualityPalgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 231-255
  •   Stargardt, N. 1998. German Childhoods: The Making of a Historiography. German History 16, pp.1-15
  •   Zahra, T. 2011. ‘A Human Treasure’: Europe’s Displaced Children between Nationalism and Internationalism. Past & Present, 210 (suppl 6), pp.332-350
  •   Moshenska, G. 2008. A Hard Rain: Children’s Shrapnel Collections in the Second World War. Journal of Material Culture 13, pp. 107-125
  •   Gleason, M. 2016. Avoiding the agency trap: caveats for historians of children, youth, and education.History of Education, 45:4, pp. 446-459

    The workshop will begin with a keynote by Professor Louise Jackson. There will be an opportunity for early career scholars and postgraduate students to share methodological observations and specific examples from their own research, which will form the basis of discussion and comparison. The workshop will end with a roundtable, allowing participants to reflect further on the challenges and opportunities presented by writing children’s histories. Please send in proposals of 200 words for discussion papers of 10-15 minutes, with a brief personal biography.

    Abstracts should be received by 9am on Wednesday 15th March 2017. Please direct these and any questions to speakingwhenspokento@gmail.com

    Dr Catriona Ellis, Dr Jane O’Neill, & Dr Chelsea Sambells.

    This event has been sponsored by the Economic and Social History Research Group at the University of Edinburgh.

Contact Info:
Dr Catriona Ellis, Dr Jane O’Neill, & Dr Chelsea Sambells
University of Edinburgh
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