Academically, the conference brings together historians across areas of specialisation regarding time period, geographic area, and approach to explore multiple, changing, and at times contradictory perceptions of childhood against the backdrop of conflict. Here, conflict may be understood as conventional warfare, genocide, civil war, religious strife, but also other violent episodes that put societies under stress such as witchcraft eradication movements and sectarian violence. This deeply historical conversation will be crosscut by discussants from other disciplines. Hence, the purpose of the conference is to gain new insights into the study of conflict through questioning the concepts child and childhood in comparative debate from a historical perspective.
More broadly, the conference recognizes that childhood and conflict is an emerging topic both in the media and popular culture as well as academic exploration. The latter almost inevitably takes the present with the prevalence of child soldiers in the so-called ‘new’ wars and child victims in insurgency and counter-insurgency campaigns and strife such as in Gaza, Syria, Honduras, and Nigeria as its starting point. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from 1989 determines that a child is younger than eighteen years of age and the Cape Town Principles from 1997 define a child soldier beyond the direct involvement in combat extending to support roles, including those of sex slaves. Children are most often seen as victims of their circumstances, helplessly exposed to the horrors of conflict created by adults. The purpose of the conference is to question the usefulness of modern scientific definitions that are understood to be and practised as universal as well as to interrogate critically current social science understandings of the issue.
Speakers include Martin Parsons on evacuation, Colin Heywood on modern conceptions of childhood, Helen Parish on children and witchcraft in early modern Europe, Mara Oliva on Korean war orphans, and Dina Rezk on ISIL cubs.