The Invention of Childhood by Hugh Cunningham Essay

The Invention of Childhood by Hugh Cunningham Essay

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Contemporary anxieties about childhood have often fuelled the incentive into historical research on the subject, with childhood enjoying a high status in our social, political and cultural debates. This has been reflected in what can be described as a ‘lively field’ of historical investigation , aiming to give us a wider perspective on the changing conceptions of childhood, and an understanding of the experiences of children through time. The publication of Philippe Ariès’ L’enfant et la vie familiale sous l’ancien regime in 1960 helped to stimulate an upsurge of interest in the field, with Ariès managing to convince most of his readers that childhood had a history, and that ideas about childhood and the experience of being a child had changed over time and in different cultures.
In this area of study, there has often been a belief that the ‘true nature’ of childhood emerged in the eighteenth century, and has since been established as a norm in Western European societies . Many of our modern ideas about childhood are indebted to eighteenth century thinkers, such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many of our modern perceptions of childish ‘nature’ can be embodied in art of the time, such as that of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Jean-Baptiste Greuze. It is therefore unsurprising that we often locate the discovery of childhood in this century, as it seems to symbolise the origin of our contemporary beliefs. Many historians repudiate this ‘true nature’ approach; Colin Heywood considers childhood not as ‘a timeless category waiting in the wings of history to be discovered’ , but as a cultural construct which is deeply determined by its historical, social and economic context. Distinctions are also drawn between the history of ch...

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Anja Muller ‘Fashioning Childhood in the Eighteenth Century’ (2006) pp.5
Hugh Cunningham ‘Children and Childhood in Western Society Since 1500’ (2005) pp.17
Gerrard Winstanley ‘Education of mankind, in Schools and Trades’ Chapter 5 (1652)
Anthony Flectcher ‘Gender, Sex and Subordination in England, 1500-1800’ (1999) pp. 217
Hugh Cunninham ‘The Invention of Childhood’ (2006) pp.66
William Sloane ‘Children’s Books in England and America in the Seventeenth Century’ (New York, 1955)
Clifford Orwin and Nathan Tarcov ‘The Legacy of Rousseau’ (1997) pp.xiv
Christoph Houswitschka ‘Locke’s Education or Rousseau’s Freedom’, Essay published in ‘Fashioning Childhood in the Eighteenth Century’ (2006), pp.82
Locke, 1690/1947, bk. II, chap. 1, p.26
Desiderius Erasmus ‘Collected works of Erasmus’ 1531 Edited and translated by Clarence H. Miller (2012) pp.305

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