A History of Childhood spans the period between Medieval and modern times. Heywood has set out to portray the changing experiences of children and how the world's perceptions of childhood have altered as a concept over time.
The book's introduction cites that the study of childhood is a `relatively recent phenomenon', but it is certainly one which is of growing importance in the world in which we live. Heywood states that in the early modern period, children were `largely absent' from English Literature, and the child `was, at most, a marginal figure in the adult world'. He also says that the shifting of history and perceptions of it, along with a `growing volume of monographs in historical literature... makes it possible now to grasp the diversity of experience among young people in the past'.
The book itself is comprised of three sections which detail childhood as a social construct, the `process of growing up in the past' and `aspects of children in the wider world', with particular emphasis upon their education, health and employment.
Perspectives of many writers - both of fiction and non-fiction - and researchers have been included throughout, which the author subsequently builds upon. These opinions range from writers as diverse as Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, to the accounts of childhood found in various Dickens novels. As well as this, several paintings, illustrations and tables have been used as an accompaniment to the text, serving to reinforce the points which Heywood makes. Extracts from a diverse array of diaries have also been included, ranging from exasperated mother Hester Thrale writing in the 1700s, to the fourteenth century account of Francesco de Barberino, detailing the appearance which he believes a successful wet nurse should have.
A History of Childhood is an incredibly well researched book. The `Select' bibliography spans eleven pages, and the notes which accompany the text and explain certain points in more detail are vast and in-depth. Each of the three sections opens with a short introduction, setting out the main points which the chapter aims to cover. The text is set out well with short sections and headings to explain the general gist of the paragraphs which follow. These headings include such elements as the nature versus nurture debate, the role of independence in shaping the life of a child, relationships between parents and their children, the use of birth control and traditional naming practices. Heywood has not just covered the happier aspects of childhood, but has included elements such as infanticide, abandonment and the strict enforcement of rules, as well as the use of child labour historically.
A History of Childhood is aimed at students of history, social science and cultural studies. The writing style works very well. It is not dense nor confusing, but explanatory. No point which is made is left as merely a statement. Instead, Heywood serves to explain it in a manner which his intended audience will fully understand. In consequence, A History of Childhood is a wonderful reference book for students. Its contents are fascinating and far-reaching, and the reader is sure to learn a lot from the book.
This book is ok if you want an overview of the history of children, their families and their living/working conditions. It was difficult to read and I found it quite boring but it does the job if you have an assignment to do.