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The History of Childhood

5. Childhood Under Threat?

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In this module, we think about the argument that childhood is “under threat”. We focus on: (i) the progressive narrative which predominated in the early-twentieth century, and the challenge to this from the 1970s, notably in Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood (1982); (ii) the negative narrative about childhood which has become dominant in Britain since this time, and which emphasises a decline in children’s sense of wellbeing; (iii) the extent to which reports of this decline should be considered trustworthy; (iv) the lengthening of the period in which young people live in their parental home and “helicopter parenting”.


In this course, Professor Hugh Cunningham (University of Kent) explores the historical development of childhood from the early modern period to the present. In the first module, we consider Philippe Ariès’ hugely influential insights regarding the historical construction of childhood since the Middle Ages. In the second, we think about the shift in the early modern period from a negative perception of childhood linked to Protestant theology to a positive, secular vision. The third module discusses the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation on childhood in the nineteenth century. In the fourth and fifth modules, we ask, firstly, whether the twentieth century should be considered the “century of the child”, and secondly whether childhood is under threat.


Professor Hugh Cunningham is Emeritus Professor of Social History at the University of Kent. He specialises in the history of childhood, youth and charity in modern Britain. His recent publications include The Reputation of Philanthropy Since 1750 (2020), Time, Work and Leisure: Life Changes in England Since 1700 (2014), and The Invention of Childhood (2006).

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APA style

Cunningham, H. (2021, November 03). The History of Childhood - Childhood Under Threat? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cunningham, H. "The History of Childhood – Childhood Under Threat?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 03 Nov 2021,

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