A new toolkit has been published by researchers from the University of Oxford’s Centre for the History of Childhood.

Designed for heritage professionals and academics, ‘Histories of Childhood: Uncovering New Heritage Narratives’ provides eleven case studies and practical tips for interpreting children’s histories.

Contributions from heritage professionals and researchers include staff from The Foundling Museum, Warkworth Castle, and Kenwood House.

The University of Oxford’s Centre for the History of Childhood said: “Our research reveals that over the last twenty years both heritage professionals and academics have substantially developed expertise in researching, understanding, and communicating histories of children’s experiences.

“This has both changed our understanding of the past and engaged visitors in new ways. We hope that this toolkit offers a space to reflect on and share these insights, as well as to inspire more people and organisations to explore these histories within historic collections and places.”

The toolkit has six recommendations:

  •  Children are essential to understanding the past. Children were at the heart of historic landscapes across Britain and their narratives need to be included in accurate accounts of past societies.
  • These histories are most powerful when told through the lives of real children. Individual stories invite people to engage with the complexity of the past, to listen to other people’s experiences, and to challenge today’s assumptions.
  • Weaving children’s histories throughout heritage sites helps to reflect the way that children themselves moved through and used these spaces.
  • Histories of childhood enable more diverse stories to be told. Youth made children relatively powerless in all societies, but not all children were equally marginalised. As the wayward objects of adult efforts to mould the future, the lives of the young offer unique insights into power relations and intersectional inequalities.
  • Creative and collaborative work helps to uncover and communicate marginalised and diverse stories. But it is essential to acknowledge how much we do not – and will never – know about children’s lives in the past. This offers valuable scope to engage visitors in the practice and ethics of research and story-telling.
  • Histories of childhood help to make heritage relevant and appealing for young visitors. But childhood is a shared experience. Vivid stories of children’s lives speak to visitors of any age. By inspiring thought and engaging our emotions, histories of childhood connect us to a complex and memorable past.

The toolkit is part of an on-going collaborative project supported by the Oxford National Trust Partnership and funded by a Knowledge Exchange Innovation Fund Award awarded to Dr Siân Pooley by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) in 2022-23.

The toolkit can be downloaded here.

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