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Children and Childhood in Britain and Empire, 1830-1990 - HIS00089C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Victoria Hoyle
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

What was life like for children in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? How did their experiences of education, work, play and family change over time? How did ideas about childhood in wider society impact on their daily lives? This module will explore these questions in relation to Britain and the British Empire, from the reign of Queen Victoria until the turn of the 21st century. This was a period of enormous change in the experiences, living conditions and rights of children. How children should behave and how they should be treated was widely debated in the media and in parliament, from the ethics of child labour and the right to education to the necessity of child protection. In the context of the empire white British children were perceived in new ways, as little imperialists, while those living in colonised societies were differently treated, impacted by racist and classist beliefs and policies. By the late 20th century, after the upheaval of two World Wars, childhood had arguably changed beyond all recognition with the emergence of new identities and a movement for international children's rights. At the same time, in the wake of independence and the global diaspora, children of colour faced new challenges in a post-colonial world.

Throughout the module we will consider how diverse experiences of childhood were shaped by social and cultural shifts, and affected by ideas about gender, class, race, ethnicity and religion. We will explore the thoughts and feelings of children themselves through diaries, testimonies and oral histories, and use a wide range of sources to access the perspectives of adults, governments and nations.

Content note: During the course of this module we will discuss some difficult themes and histories, including children’s experiences of neglect, racism, forced labour and abuse. We will approach these topics sensitively and thoughtfully, and I will give information in advance about what you will encounter in primary sources and readings.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;
  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Introductory session: Constructing childhood

  2. Innocent or deviant?: The “Victorian child”

  3. Education, work and poverty in late 19th century childhood

  4. Empire’s children, the children of Empire

  5. Play and leisure, 1900-1939

  6. Children during and after WWII

  7. After empire?: children in the diaspora

  8. Teen panic? Youth culture, 1950-1980

  9. A century of childhood?: Children Rights in the 20th century


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Open Exam - 24 hours
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present on a primary source. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
Open Exam - 24 hours
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Cunningham, Hugh. Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Routledge, 2014 (particularly Chapters 6 & 7).

Morrison, Heidi, ed. The Global History of Childhood Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2012

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.