- The history of childhood, youth and ageing
- Oral history and self-narratives
- The history of psychology and psycho-analysis
I am currently writing a monograph that considers two key historical questions. Firstly, what is meant by a ‘progressive’ education, and how did it influence practice in British schools? Secondly, how did childhood and adolescence change in Britain after the Second World War, and how did new ideas about education influence this shift? In this monograph, I will argue that children and adolescents were fundamentally redefined in this period as limited by their chronological age, marking a much sharper dividing line between childhood and adulthood. This research has raised two key questions: how did teenage pupils respond to this major shift in conceptions of adolescence, and how far did this rethinking of childhood and youth entail, or reflect, a reconceptualisation of adulthood?
My two current research projects address these questions. The first is concerned with teachers’ ideas of age and ageing in England from c.1970 to the present day. While teachers themselves age, each year's new cohort of pupils will never grow old. This study will allow me to explore how ideas of what it is to be a ‘child’ or an ‘adult’ develop in relation to each other; as teachers move through the life-cycle, do their expectations of their pupils, and of themselves, change? I recently undertook an oral history study for this project, in which I interviewed teachers who started teaching in Oxfordshire in the 1970s.
Conversely, my second project will consider how adolescents’ conceptions of adulthood have changed since the Second World War. It will explore the tension between the 'ideal adult' – the psychologically mature independent actor who can, for example, give informed consent to medical procedures – and the real adult who often doesn't live up to these prescriptions. It also responds to recent concerns in the history of childhood and youth about locating the child or adolescent voice by both identifying, and, via oral history interviews, creating, a series of major source sets where young people narrate an imagined adulthood. Overall, it will consider how both adolescence and adulthood were constructed in relation to each other in post-war Britain, and how this conditioned adolescents' own identities.