Approaching war: Australian and Canadian children’s culture and the first world war

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Journal Article
Childhood in the Past, 2014, 7 (1), pp. 3 - 13
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© Oxbow Books Ltd and the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past 2014. In 2010, the Leverhulme Trust partially funded three ‘Approaching War’ international conferences (Australia in 2011, Canada in 2012 and the UK in 2013) to explore the impact of the First World War on children and childhood culture from three different geographical and cultural perspectives: the Global South, the Americas and Europe. As our article provides the first analysis of the perspectives gathered from those conferences, we address the seismic historical reinterpretation of the war over the century. In the immediate aftermath, Australia and Canada both cited the First World War as the moment when they emerged from their colonial status into independent countries with distinct national myths characterised by courage and sacrifice. The children’s books of the period, particularly Ethel Turner’s (1915) The Cub in Australia and L. M. Montgomery’s (1921) Rilla of Ingleside in Canada, defined national identities, and marked Germans as the enemy. As the political landscape changed dramatically over the century, so has children’s literature, focusing on the personal tragedies across border lines, as in Michael Morpurgo’s (1982) War Horse. A century on, archival research has also turned up the actual words and images of children – on both sides of the conflict. We track the changes.
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