Agents of Future Promise

Partners and collaborators

History & Policy

A black and white photo of a young child drinking from a bottle while sat on the ground.


Since childhood was 'invented' in Britain, Europe and beyond, adults have made use of children at an individual and collective level to promote their own notions of the future. Children bear the burden of social expectations: they are 'agents of future promise'. While this research project seeks to examine children and ideology in the Western past, it also begins to think about how children are still being ideologically used in the contemporary world. Through our collaboration with external partners, we will start to examine how past insights can influence present practice.

The project is underpinned by three research questions:

1. How have children been ideologically used for political/cultural purposes?

2. Why have they been used like this?

3. How can we better understand the consequences of this instrumentalisation?

We will complete three case studies comparing societies, time and place, and using historical and archaeological methodologies. Using Britain and France in cross-national comparison reveals the sharp differences in the relationship between children, family and state in a monarchy and a republic, at key moments of nation-building, domestic and international conflict, and reconstruction.

Our three case studies are:

1.       how children were used in projections of new futures towards the end of the Second World War and into the postwar era in Britain (led by Laura King);

2.       how material cultures of childhood in Britain from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century mobilized ideologies of gender, empire and war (led by Vicky Crewe);

3.       the role assigned to French children (1940-1944) as mobile agents of national unity, tasked rhetorically and practically with healing national political divisions (led by Lindsey Dodd).

As well as our research, the project will involve working with History & Policy towards an end of project conference, for policy makers/shapers and professionals from NGOs and charities as well as academics.