"The Children Should Be Taught in Most Cases to Forget Their Past Histories": Emotions and Experiences in the Children's Residential Institution, Britain, Australia, and Canada, 1850-1914

Claudia Soares, Queen Mary University of London

Emotional dislocation and disruption were common features in the lives of some of the poorest children who moved in and out of residential care in Britain, Australia, and Canada each year during the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. As other historians have demonstrated, institutional regimes centred on children’s reformation and child rescue discourses focused on institutional successes of transforming children from 'undomesticated savages' into 'industrious, moral citizens'. While recent research has demonstrated how space, material culture and architecture played vital roles in the emotional construction of childhood in different settings, scholarship has yet to explore the emotional education and experiences of children growing up in institutional care. Indeed, institutional environments and interpersonal relationships encouraged the formation of new emotional regimes and emotional communities, which might alter the ways in which children understood and derived meaning from their experiences. This paper draws on British Academy funded research that brings a ‘history of emotions’ perspective to histories of children’s residential care. First, the paper explores the emotional construction of childhood in the institution, by considering how institutions sought to cultivate ideal emotions, feelings, and behaviours in their inmates. Here, the paper looks at a range of institutional practices and educational material, including institutionally-produced juvenile literature. Secondly, the paper examines the ways in which emotional education shaped individual childhood experiences of and responses to care. The paper privileges the voices and subjectivities of children, using personal correspondence to shed light on their experiences and attitudes as they navigated new encounters in the institution and in the wider world. By placing children’s individual journeys through the care system and their emotional responses at the centre of this research, this paper highlights how attending to different elements of institutional experience, and using different approaches to institutional sources can generate new understandings of childhood experience more broadly.

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 Presented in Session 89. Children’s Navigation of Institutions and Institutionalization