Eileen M. Murphy
Welcome to Part 2 of Volume 9 of Childhood in the Past, the journal of the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past (SSCIP). This issue comprises three research papers and five book reviews.
In the first of the research papers Janet E. Kay explores the nature of the material culture recovered from children’s burials in Britain’s long fifth century (AD 350-550). Her study of the age-related use of Roman objects as grave goods during this time is highly informative, providing insights both in relation as to why these objects were included in burials and, more broadly, how children were viewed by their communities. She observes that, while adults were buried with both contemporary early medieval and Roman items, child burials usually only contained the latter. She proposes that, as the chronological distance with the Roman past lengthened, the graves of children were used to commemorate or construct connections to this past.
The paper of Simon Mays investigates the extent to which children feature, and the nature of their roles, in medieval ghost stories. He reviews sixty stories dating from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries AD derived from north-western Europe, the majority of which were recorded by ecclesiastical writers for use as exempla – short stories used to warn against the dangers of sin. He found that only three stories made reference to ghostly children, whereas the tales about revenants (more malevolent beings) only focused on adults. He concludes that the role of children in the ghost stories differs to that of adults. Their use to illustrate the consequences of minor sin or the major sin of an associated adult, such as a failure to baptise an infant, was still compatible with the idealised medieval concept of childhood innocence and piety.
Jonny Geber’s study serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Great Famine of mid-nineteenth century Ireland. He starts with the astute observation that relatively little research has been undertaken on the experiences of children during the famine – even though they comprised the majority of those who died. His biocultural study of a famine population recovered from a mass burial at Kilkenny Workhouse combines skeletal evidence with data derived from the historical records of the institution. He discusses the evidence for physiological stress and reminds us that victims of such a disaster would undoubtedly also have suffered from major psychological stress. The workhouse system was intended as a vehicle of social reform but the historical records are suggestive that workhouse Guardians felt a moral responsibility for the children in their care. Geber observes that, while many children died as a result of the Famine, a large number would have been saved because of the workhouse.
The journal ends with a collection of book reviews edited by Simon Mays. In addition to a review of the fourth SSCIP monograph – Children, Spaces and Identity, edited by Margarita Sánchez Romero, Alarcón García and Gonzalo Aranda Jiménez – the reviews cover books on the topics of childhood in ancient Attica; childhood and nineteenth-century American theatre; mid-nineteenth- to early twentieth-century fatherhood and the British working class, and ethics and children’s literature. As always, sincere thanks are due to all of the contributors and reviewers whose support has enabled our journal to move successfully towards its tenth birthday.