Agents of future promise: the ideological use of children in culture and politics (Britain and France, c.1880-c.1950)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of History

Abstract

How active are children in politics? They don't vote. They rarely support political parties. They seem untainted by political mudslinging, unsullied by the warmongers' guilt. Rather, they appear innocent, vulnerable and passive. Yet they are political. They carry upon their shoulders the hopes of nation, region, religion, society, family. In this latent potentiality, they sit at the heart of adults' projections of new futures, whether at moments of violence and revolution or within the quest for peace and stability.

Since childhood was 'invented' in Britain, Europe and beyond, adults have made use of children at an individual and collective level to promote their own notions of the future. Children bear the burden of social expectations: they are 'agents of future promise'. While this research project seeks to examine children and ideology in the Western past, it also begins to think about how children are still being ideologically used in the contemporary world. Through our collaboration with external partners, we will start to examine how past insights can influence present practice.

The project is underpinned by three research questions:
1. How have children been ideologically used for political/cultural purposes?
2. Why have they been used like this?
3. How can we better understand the consequences of this instrumentalisation?

We will complete three case studies comparing societies, time and place, and using historical and archaeological methodologies. Using Britain and France in cross-national comparison reveals the sharp differences in the relationship between children, family and state in a monarchy and a republic, at key moments of nation-building, domestic and international conflict, and reconstruction. King will analyse the way that children featured in projections of new futures towards the end of the Second World War and into the postwar era in Britain. Two further case studies will emerge in direct comparison to the PI's research. Crewe will examine children's material culture in Britain from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century and the way that it mobilized ideologies of gender, empire and war. Dodd's work focuses on the role assigned to French children (1940-1944) as mobile agents of national unity, tasked rhetorically and practically with healing national political divisions. The conclusions drawn from the three case studies will be compared and disseminated, and then written into a History & Policy paper in order to bring the question of the ideological instrumentalisation of children to the attention of policy makers.

A key objective of the project is the cross-sector conference, held towards the end of the project. The conference seeks to assemble a network of academic researchers and policymakers, NGO, education and museum practitioners, all concerned with childhood whether in terms of education, health, welfare or culture. Through the presentation of research and practice, roundtable discussions and ideas generation, we will prepare the ground for future projects that put research on the past into the service of practice in the present.

The project contributes to the burgeoning historical debate on childhood and youth in the past. It also seeks to raise awareness of the ideological use of children (gendered, political, religious, commercial). By establishing ways in which we can work better with practitioners who can make good use of our insights from the past, the research will have benefits for children's wellbeing in the future.

Planned Impact

The potential impact of the research is substantial and significant. In investigating historical patterns of the use of children to represent notions of the future and the implications for children themselves, the project will be of interest to groups concerned with the welfare of children. The project team are in conversation with a number of such bodies, including our partners, Save the Children and War Child, as well as Barnardo's, Action for Children, the Imperial War Museum, V&A Museum of Childhood and the National Trust Museum of Childhood. We are working with History & Policy, and in particular their Forum on Parenting, to help initiate conversations with policy makers and shapers. The support of History & Policy, which has long-standing expertise in generating effective exchange between policy professionals, journalists and those involved in historical research, will ensure the potential impact of this research is maximised in policy circles.

Two key outputs will be crucial to maximising the impact of this project, a cross-sector conference and a policy paper for History & Policy, co-written by the project team. Our conference, bringing together researchers and representatives of charities, NGOs and policymakers within government with academic researchers, will open up new spaces for impact. In particular, half a day of the conference will be dedicated to reviewing our draft H&P paper and eliciting responses from participants, allowing for a deep dialogue about our findings. The expertise of our non-academic participants will allow us to redraft and further develop our policy paper to maximise its potential impact amongst NGO and government bodies, and amongst other practitioners in this field. The conference will be hosted by History & Policy at King's College London. By using their expertise and extensive network of contacts within the media and in Whitehall and Westminster, we will maximise the involvement of professionals from sectors other than academia. The London venue will also help ensure this, as it is a core location for policy organisations within and outside government, and has easy access to Paris for French counterparts who we will invite to the conference. The responses from participants will feed into the final policy paper, which will be published by H&P soon after the conference and also disseminated widely via our partners and stakeholders.

Our partner Save the Children brings important expertise as an international leader in campaigning on children's issues. It will help shape our thinking around the project's potential impact, and will benefit from a deeper understanding of the use of children in imagining futures, and the consequences for children. Save the Children will connect us to networks and contacts, and disseminate our findings. Our second partner War Child UK also has an international reach, and a specific remit to aid children in conflict/post-conflict zones. Its practical expertise on the ground where children are being instrumentalised will give insight into the practical application of our research. War Child will benefit from linking in to broader policy-related networks through this project, and through the prospect of future research collaborations. Both organisations instrumentalise children within their advocacy and activity; this project will provide opportunities to reflect constructively on their own deployment of children as 'agents of future promise'.

The research team has a great deal of experience of working with external collaborators and audiences, and this will help ensure the potential of this aspect of the project. Furthermore, our Policy Adviser will be employed to take on the administrative role in building up relationships in this area, and to bring expertise and contacts from their work at History & Policy.The time of the Policy Adviser will also be used to evaluate the impact of the project.

Publications

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Dodd L (2017) Children's citizenly participation in the National Revolution: the instrumentalization of children in Vichy France in European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire

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Dodd L (2017) Mon petit papa chéri: children, fathers and family separation in Vichy France in Essays in French Literature and Culture

 
Description Through three linked case studies of Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, Britain during and after the Second World War, and Vichy France during the Second World War, this project has illuminated how children have been used to represent particular visions of the future, and how this has changed over time.

In particular, the research has demonstrated that children have since the late nineteenth century been valued more often for their future potential than as children in the present. In the case of Britain at the turn of the century, the Second Boer War (1899-1902) brought to a head concerns about the 'quality' of the British people, particularly male citizens; the result was an increased focus on teaching children about their future roles in and duties to the British Empire. While this imperial fervour has previously been traced in education and children's periodicals, the present study has revealed that toys and games were another - highly immersive - way in which children were socialised and educated about their future as active British citizens. By the Second World War, children's symbolic role in political debate was of crucial importance: by focusing on their future value to the nation, spending on and legislation to affect children's lives was justified - and this focus on the future provided a means of political consensus across ideological boundaries. In wartime France, the Vichy regime also placed a high value on children, but it was not just symbolic. Sometimes it suited the regime to characterize children as the passive objects of adult concern, or as future human capital (future parents), but this research has shown that they were also valued for the active contributions they, as citizens, could make in the present.

This project has found that children are crucial in constructions of national identity, and that their use is highly gendered. Whilst in Britain at the turn of the century, boys' potential as future soldiers was paramount, in the context of fears about Britain's imperial position, by the Second World War, girls became of more relative importance, as future mothers. Britain's future as a 'great' nation was as much about the family as an institution than military might. In France, in a very different context, boys' potential role in the military was equalled by a focus on them as potential fathers as the state sought to cultivate a very direct relationship with its children through the personality cult of Marshal Petain.

The research has also considered the varied ways in which adults shape children's worlds; through policy and popular culture, through their material culture of toys and games, and through their direct interactions with political figures and the state (particularly in France, such as children's letters to Petain).

This research has been written up into articles. Three articles (two by Lindsey Dodd and one by Laura King) are forthcoming or published. One further article by all three investigators has been revised and is about to be submitted to Children in the Past journal.
Exploitation Route Our research focuses on how adults have, for commercial and political reasons, instrumentalised children. The growing focus on children's futures, rather than their wellbeing in the present, has long roots in Western culture. Our research problematises this use of children as symbols of a future, demonstrating it was more for adults' (politicians, businesses etc) gains than for children themselves. This is of importance to children's organisations today, and particularly those interested in children's rights (see also Narrative Impact).

In academic terms, our research opens up a new focus on the relationship between children and the future in a range of different contexts and further adds to the case for more detailed research into the history of children and childhood.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk
 
Description Our research has been used in a small-scale way by our collaborators on the project: War Child, Plan UK and Let Toys Be Toys. All three took part in a collaborative workshop on this topic in September 2015, and found the research useful in learning more about the history of children's positioning and rights. This impact may develop as our work is published.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Other
Impact Types Societal

 
Description History & Policy 
Organisation History and Policy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Our research team worked with History & Policy to consider how our historical research would be of benefit to organisations working with and for children today.
Collaborator Contribution History & Policy supported our engagement work by co-organising our project workshop, promoting the research, and publishing an opinion piece.
Impact Hosting of a workshop and publication of opinion piece based on the research. This collaboration involved researchers from history and archaeology.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Let Toys Be Toys 
Organisation Let Toys Be Toys
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We discussed our research with this organisation, and are thinking through its practical applications.
Collaborator Contribution A member of Let Toys Be Toys took part in our project workshop through a presentation and contribution to roundtable discussion.
Impact Produced short film of workshop presentation on project website. This collaboration involved researchers from history and archaeology.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Plan UK 
Organisation Plan UK
Country Unknown 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have discussed the research findings with this organisation and considered the practical implications of this research.
Collaborator Contribution The head of Plan policy and advocacy took part in our project workshop through a presentation and contribution to roundtable discussion.
Impact Production of short film of presentation at workshop. This collaboration involved researchers from history and archaeology.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Save the Children 
Organisation Save the Children
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research team have had discussions with Save the Children about this research and its implications for their organisation.
Collaborator Contribution Save the Children gave some initial advice and ideas about the practical application of the research.
Impact None as yet. This collaboration involved researchers from history and archaeology.
Start Year 2014
 
Description War Child 
Organisation War Child
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have worked with an individual at War Child to let them know about our research and think through the practical application of the research.
Collaborator Contribution A representative at War Child took part in our project workshop through a presentation and contribution to roundtable discussion, speaking about War Child's approach to representing children.
Impact Production of short film based on workshop presentation. This collaboration involved researchers from history and archaeology.
Start Year 2014
 
Description A talk at Agents of Future Promise workshop: How were children mobilised to represent the future during the Second World War in Britain? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Talk to diverse audience about children in the Second World War and their use as political symbols for the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk/2015/09/23/how-were-children-mobilised-to-represent-the-futur...
 
Description Agents of Future Blog Posts (4 x 1000 words) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Vicky Crewe wrote 4 blog posts for the project website (total of 639 views) 1.Training Children with Toys c.1890-1914 - viewed 83 times 2. Why do we give toys to children? Part 1 - viewed 140 times 3. Why do we give toys to children? Part 2 - viewed 57 times 4. How were British children affected by the Second Boer War? - viewed 359 times. The much larger number of views for the last post demonstrates the increasing impact of the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk/author/vcrewe/
 
Description Agents of Future Blog Posts (5 x 1000 word posts) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote 5 blog posts for the project website (total of 382 views) 1. Children and the future in Britain during and after the Second World War - viewed 30 times. 2. Children and Churchill: 'We have to win that world for our children' - viewed 42 times. 3. For whose benefit? Children's welfare and the future - viewed 46 times. 4. Tomorrow's Leaders: The perspective of children in mid-twentieth-century Britain - viewed 102 times 5. Children and childhood in history - does it matter today? - viewed 162 times. The steady increase in views demonstrates the increasing influence of this research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk/blog/
 
Description Agents of Future Promise Blog Posts (5 x 1000 words) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote 5 blog posts for the project website (total of 434 views)
1. Children in Vichy France, 1940-1944 - viewed 104 times
2. Children's role in the National Revolution - viewed 79 times
3. Pictures for Pétain: the use and abuse of colouring pencils - viewed 89 times
4. Children and charity in Vichy France - viewed 77 times
5. Children, history and archives - viewed 285 times

The large number of views on the 5th post reflects the increased interest in innovative archival approaches to studying children in the past which my work has contributed to.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk/tag/france/
 
Description Children and Politics workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact I spoke at an interdiciplinary workshop (history, politics, childhood studies, film, psychoanalysis etc) at the University of Exeter at an iNo, you won't fool the children of the National Revolution' (France, 1940-44): Vichy, agency and children's history'. There was significant discussion afterwards and contacts formed with colleagues in other institutions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Films from project workshop / project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Website including blog posts about the research including seven films from our project workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk
 
Description Future Citizens and Future Leaders: The Political Positioning of Children in Britain, during and after the Second World War 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Talk based on research for my case study for Agents of Future Promise. An audience of around 40, primarily students and academics, engaged with the paper which led to an interesting and valuable discussion afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description History & Policy Opinion Piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The research team wrote a short opinion piece for History & Policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.historyandpolicy.org/opinion-articles/articles/children-and-notions-of-the-future
 
Description Panel presentation at 'Reimagining childhoods' conference (Greenwich, May 2015) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact King, Dodd & Crewe gave a joint panel presentation on the 'Agents of Future Promise' project and its progress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Panel/paper at Children's History Society Conference (June 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Put together panel session 'Archival approaches for retrieving children's agency'.
Gave paper as part of that panel 'Blameless little Pétainists? Or, what to do with children's agency once you've found it'.
This came directly from the research done in the Archives nationales, funded by this grant.
Along with the audience directly in the room, a recording of the session has been made available online, and tweeted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://soundcloud.com/kings-college-london/archival-approaches-for-retrieving-childrens-agency
 
Description Project website and blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Project website giving an overview of the project aims, project team, and research findings through a series of blog posts by team members and invited contributors. Total views of website as of 22 Feb 2016 = 4911.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk
 
Description Project workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Speakers and delegates from charity and campaign groups took part in our project workshop on children and the future. The day long workshop, in partnership with History & Policy, received very positive feedback, and participants from the charity/campaign group sector reported they valued the knowledge gained from the workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.historyandpolicy.org/news/article/childrens-benefit-or-burden-a-workshop-about-young-peop...
 
Description Talk at Agents of Future Promise workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a talk at the Agents of Future Promise workshop we ran in London as part of the project. My talk intended to generate discussion at the workshop and beyond about how children are instrumentalised by politicians and political regimes. After each talk at the workshop, there was discussion space for the participants (policymakers, third sector, professional and academics) to think through the ideas raised. The talk was also put onto the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk/2015/09/29/how-did-the-vichy-regime-of-wartime-france-use-chi...
 
Description Thinking about time: Children's engagement with the past, the future and family identity in twentieth-century Britain 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Keynote conference paper at 'Seen But Not Heard' conference at the University of Sussex, January 2017. The keynote focused on research for a number of different research projects, and sparked much discussion as well as influencing the debate of the rest of the conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://seenbutnotheard2017.wordpress.com
 
Description What do toys tell us about children's roles in the British empire? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Talk at Agents of Future Promise workshop on children's gendered relationship with the British empire, through the medium of toys.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://childrenofthefuture.leeds.ac.uk/2015/10/08/what-do-toys-tell-us-about-childrens-roles-in-the-...