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Children

Roman civilization, relief portraying woman and child at feast, servant bringing plate laden with food.

Affection or Indifference?

The “family” was central to ancient Greek and Roman societies. It was also understood to include slaves, property and land as well as parents and children and the extended kin group. Within such a large social unit and in circumstances where infant mortality was commonplace, was there a space for parents to love their children? Read the arguments for and against in this long-running historiographical debate.

An image showing schoolchildren at their books, UK, AD 1338-1344.

Preparing for a life of work in the Middle Ages

Imagine a young girl seated on the floor of a house in fourteenth-century London. With miniature pewter jugs, cups, and plates, she serves an imaginary meal for her younger siblings. Is she playing, learning, or working? In the eyes of her mother, she may be doing all three. Discover how parents in the medieval period regarded child education and how they saw learning and helping as interchangeable activities.

Portrait of Chiara Albini Petrozzani with their children in prayer

Gender roles and expectations

How were girls and boys treated differently in Renaissance society? The French physician Laurent Joubert argued that strictness of discipline should be the only experience that was common to all children: “the boy ought to be well fed, well beaten and poorly dressed; and the girl, well dressed, well beaten and poorly fed.” Karen Raber and Stephanie Tarbin plot how attitudes around gender shaped the lives of children from baptism onwards.

An image of an engraving showing Children working in a rope factory

Working children

We associate child labor with the factories and mines that sprang up with the Industrial Revolution but in earlier periods children from the age of six years onwards were expected to make a contribution to the family economy. Learn how their work was deemed both essential to the success of the household and central to their moral education in the years of the Enlightenment.

A painting sshowing children playing with a giant snowball.

Creating the modern family

For centuries, Christian teaching emphasized the innate sinfulness of children. But from the early nineteenth century, this attitude gave way to Romantic ideas of the child as an exemplar of innocence, virtue and hope. Explore how conceptions of childhood were reshaped in the Victorian era and how child-rearing then came to be regarded as the most important function of the family.

A black and white photograph showing teenage girls walking in beat-style outfits.

Youth culture and consumption

The term ‘teenager’ was coined by American market researchers in the 1940s and was linked from the beginning to the expansion of consumer culture and the creation of a youth market. Bill Osgerby explains how ideas of ‘teenagers’ and ‘youth’ came to carry other meanings, reflecting broader social and culture shifts in post-war Britain.