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The History of Childhood

2. Early Modern Childhood

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About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about the development of childhood in the early modern period (c. 1500-1800), focusing in particular on: (i) the high infant mortality rate in this period and the ways this shaped experiences of childhood; (ii) the impact of Protestant theology, particularly the notion of original sin, on how children were treated and thought about; (iii) the development of a secular conceptualisation of childhood from the seventeenth century, and the role of philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in shaping it; (iv) the emergence of a much more positive understanding of children as happy and innocent in the late-eighteenth century.


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 lecture, we consider Philippe Ariès’ hugely influential insights regarding the historical construction of childhood since the Middle Ages. In the second lecture, 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. In the third lecture, we discuss the impact of industrialisation and urbanisation on childhood in the nineteenth century. Next, we look at whether the twentieth century should be considered the “century of the child”. In the fifth and final lecture, we ask 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).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Cunningham, H. (2021, November 03). The History of Childhood - Early Modern Childhood [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cunningham, H. "The History of Childhood – Early Modern Childhood." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 03 Nov 2021,

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