History events at the IHR

'Little Treasures': the consumer culture of child's play in the late-Victorian public park

29 October 2013, 17:15 - 19:15

Event Type: Seminar


Ruth Colton (University of Manchester)


This paper explores the way in which the late-Victorian and Edwardian child was shaped by practices of consumption. The discussion will focus upon the landscape and materiality of the public park, a unique and ideological space, bound up in the performance and production of idealised childhoods. In particular, the paper will draw upon the material culture of children’s play in parks.  It will highlight examples from ongoing historical research, in addition to artefacts revealed through recent archaeological excavations at Whitworth Park in Manchester. Parks represent spaces in which children could play publically with others, often from a variety of different backgrounds. Frequently, this would involve the use of manufactured and homemade toys, which could be traded, won, lost and exhibited.  Although many games in the park would have taken place without the use of specialist equipment, the variety of toys brought into these environments, some of which were potentially smuggled in, suggests a developed sense of awareness as to the value of commodities and offers insight into processes involved in the negotiation of identities. Therefore, analysis of this production, consumption and repurposing of toys as value laden objects, reveals details about the way in which children were themselves constructing their own identities. It will be argued that this sometimes conformed to and sometimes challenged the often idealised, adult imposed visions of childhood. During this period, the child in the park also performed an important role as product and producer of the very notion of childhood. As a consequence, this paper will also illustrate the way in which adults consumed and engaged with the idea of childhood - as an innocent, asexual and fetishised imaginary.

Venue: Room 103 (Senate House, first floor)

Senate House
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU 

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Related Events: Life-Cycles History