Our understanding of childhood is shaped by two narratives. The first describes how children underwent horrific experiences in the factories and mines of the Industrial Revolution, but were then rescued for an increasingly ‘healthy and happy’ childhood. The second, dominant since the 1970s, tells how childhood is getting worse, becoming ‘toxic’, the deaths of James Bulger, Victoria Climbié and Baby P evidence for it. How far do these narratives about childhood reflect the reality of the lives of children past and present?
Emeritus Professor of Social History, University of Kent. Professor Cunningham is the author of books including the following: The Children of the Poor: Representations of Childhood since the Seventeenth Century (Blackwell, 1991), Children and Childhood in Western Society since 1500 (Longman, 1995, revised edition, 2005), The Invention of Childhood (BBC Books, 2006) and Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine (HambledonContinuum, 2007).