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The History of Childhood

1. Philippe Ariès and the History of Childhood

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the crucial contributions to the history of childhood made by Philippe Ariès. We focus on: (i) his key work, Centuries of Childhood (1960), in terms of its historical scope and emphasis on changes in family structure and schooling to understand changes in childhood; (ii) Ariès’ arguments regarding the negative depiction of childhood in the Middle Ages; (iii) his focus on the development of schooling from the early modern period in conceptualising the transformation of childhood; (iv) the extent to which he followed a “progressive” narrative, wherein the lives of children were seen to be continually improving.


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).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Cunningham, H. (2021, November 03). The History of Childhood - Philippe Ariès and the History of Childhood [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Cunningham, Hugh. "The History of Childhood – Philippe Ariès and the History of Childhood." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 03 Nov 2021,

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