“Adults are just obsolete children,” declared Dr. Seuss, “and to hell with them!” Why, though, has our culture ignored the influence of children’s lives? Childhood is perhaps the most important stage of human development, and yet the contribution of children’s culture is curiously absent from the story of humankind. A new exhibit at Cambridge University is trying to correct that. Hide and Seek: Looking for Children in the Past, which has just opened at Cambridge University’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “examines why so little is known about the life of children when children have outnumbered adults for most of human history.”
Certain historical assumptions about children’s lives seem to be supported, but the exhibition also highlights the shadowy area between childhood and adulthood. “14th century illustrations from an illuminated manuscript show us that children in the 1300s enjoyed sledging and skating just as much as we do now,” explains curator Jody Joy. “But we also want to show that evidence for the lives of children can be found beyond the obvious … It was dangerous being a child in the past.” As well as clothes, toys and dolls, therefore, the collection also includes evidence of how children were often treated as chattel or criminals. An eighteenth century indenture document, for instance, binds ten-year-old Amey Basin to dairyman Thomas Wayman Sr, until she turned 21 or was married. Another artifact is a pair of children’s handcuffs from the Victorian era. The exhibition runs until January, 2017.