In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Memory and Childhood

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Child Development and Memory
  • Memories of Childhood
  • Children and the Politics of Memory
  • Memory, Methodology, and Methods
  • Digital Memory Practices

Childhood Studies Memory and Childhood
Kirrily Pells
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0278


The concepts of childhood and memory are interrelated. Memories of childhood are often deployed in popular discussions regarding understandings of what it means to be a child and the changing status of childhood in society. For example, both nostalgic and romanticized memories of the past and memories of trauma and abuse are evoked in assumptions of lost childhood innocence or the eroding of childhood as a time of freedom in contemporary society. Memories of childhood therefore not only shed light on the past, but also present individual and social preoccupations in terms of what is remembered (or forgotten) and how. While the study of adults’ memories of childhood, such as through memoirs and life history interviews, is well established, particularly in historical and cultural studies, it is only more recently that outside of developmental psychology, memory in childhood has emerged as a more significant research focus. Memory in childhood explores the role of children as memory-makers, holders, preservers, and translators, in relation to their own memories and also to the memories of others, whether intergenerational familial memories or wider public or collective memory, such as of conflict, colonialism, or environmental degradation. Here, the majority of research is interdisciplinary, situated at the intersection between memory studies and childhood studies with a focus on memory as an embodied, social, material, and political phenomenon and the ways in which memory shapes individual and collective actions, identities, and narratives. How the figure of the child is mobilized, by whom, and for what purposes are central questions in the politics of memory, particularly representations of children and childhood in memorials, narratives of nation-building, and educational initiatives. Studies of memory and childhood also raise ethical and methodological questions. Which children are remembered and how? Do adults’ memories of childhood have value in understanding childhood in the present? What methods can be used to explore the complexities, dynamics, and often intangible forms of memory in childhood, and what are the ethical implications involved? Considerations of memory and childhood are of interest not only to scholars in the fields of memory studies, childhood studies, and education, but also to practitioners in educational, museum, and cultural heritage sectors.

General Overviews

Given the relatively embryonic nature of the study of children, childhood, and memory (outside of the discipline of psychology), there is little in the way of general overviews. An exception is Fass 2010, which traces the evolving association between the concepts of childhood and memory over time. In contrast, Solís 2017 reveals the entanglements between childhood and memory through colonial violence. Pells 2018 explores reasons for the relative dearth of studies of memory in childhood, both of children’s own memories, and also of the ways in which children engage with the memories of others, such as family members, or with collective memories. This builds on the discussion in Hanson 2017 of the ontology (nature) of the child within childhood studies and the overriding focus on children’s present and future. Jones 2003 and Philo 2003 provide contrasting positions on a key debate in the study of childhood and memory, namely the extent to which adults’ memories can serve as a methodological tool for exploring children’s worlds. Wüstenberg 2022 introduces a series of case studies that bring the fields of childhood studies and memory studies into dialogue.

  • Fass, Paula S. “Childhood and Memory.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 3.2 (2010): 155–164.

    DOI: 10.1353/hcy.0.0096

    From an address to the Society for the History of Children and Youth that identifies a series of “significant junctures” where the construction of memory and of childhood are argued to have been intertwined (Western Enlightenment, early-20th-century psychoanalysis, and the rise of testimonies of mass atrocities and of child abuse). Makes a strong case for scholarly attention to children as historical witness, worthy of study in their own right, not only in relation to the adults they become.

  • Hanson, Karl. “Embracing the Past: ‘Been’, ‘Being’ and ‘Becoming’ Children.” Childhood 24.3 (2017): 281–285.

    DOI: 10.1177/0907568217715347

    Not explicitly about childhood and memory, but Hanson argues that there has been insufficient theorization of children’s and childhood’s past and suggests that considerations of the “been” child should be brought into discussion with those regarding children as “beings” in the present and “becomings” in the future.

  • Jones, Owain. “‘Endlessly Revisited and Forever Gone’: On Memory, Reverie and Emotional Imagination in Doing Children’s Geographies. An ‘Addendum’ to ‘“To Go Back up the Side Hill”: Memories, Imaginations and Reveries of Childhood’ by Chris Philo.” Children’s Geographies 1.1 (2003): 25–36.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733280302185

    A response to Philo 2003 in which Jones contests the extent to which adults can “re-enter” childhood through memories and imaginings of childhood due to adults’ different social position, the emotions which adults may embody toward the past (e.g., nostalgia), and the suggestion that children’s (internal) geographies are more “emotionally charged.”

  • Pells, Kirrily. “‘Connective Memories’: Reflections on Relations between Childhood, Memory and Temporality.” Entanglements 1.2 (2018): 97–101.

    Contrasts the study of memories of childhood with memories in childhood and considers how “connective” approaches to the study of memory may enrich childhood studies through attending to temporality, intergenerational engagements, and power relations.

  • Philo, Chris. “‘To Go Back up the Side Hill’: Memories, Imaginations and Reveries of Childhood.” Children’s Geographies 1.1 (2003): 7–23.

    DOI: 10.1080/14733280302188

    Offers a challenge to the oft-made warning that adults may claim an overfamiliarity with what it is to be a child on account of having been once children. Instead, the author suggests that adults’ memories of childhood can enable “fragments of connection” between adults’ and children’s imaginings, which enables an exploration of children’s (internal) worlds and spaces.

  • Solís, Silvia Patricia. “Letter to My Children from a Place Called Land.” Global Studies of Childhood 7.2 (2017): 196–206.

    DOI: 10.1177/2043610617703846

    Explores how colonial violence shapes the relationship between childhood, memory, and borders. It takes the form of a letter to the authors’ children from a place called Land, which is the embodiment of the knowledge of the author’s mother and grandmothers. Memory features, not only in the form of memories of colonial violence, but also as memory of alternative ways of knowing and being to counter the dehumanization of Black and Brown children and childhoods and to reimagine the world.

  • Wüstenberg, Jenny. “Introduction: Children in Public Memory.” In Special Issue: Children in Public Memory. Edited by Jenny Wüstenberg. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 13.2 (2022): 3–9.

    DOI: 10.3138/jeunesse.13.2.3

    Provides an overview of a special issue bridging memory studies and childhoods, identifying key themes from a series of empirical case studies from around the world on the representation and participation of children in public memory.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.