Researchers explore ACU’s unique Historical Children’s Book Collection

Leading historians from across the country have delved into ACU’s renowned Historical Children’s Book Collection as part of a new fellowship program.

Scholars are using the collection to research a host of topics including motherhood in Australia, charity in the 19th century and the life of school children. 

As part of her fellowship, Dr Miranda Francis explored constructions of motherhood in Australian children’s literature.

“I was especially interested to look at images of mothers in children’s books to understand more about historical family arrangements and gender roles,” she said.

“Children’s books offer historians an insight into ideas and expectations of parenthood and beliefs about childhood. They can tell historians what adults thought children should read and indicate contemporary ideals and expectations surrounding families.”

Dr Francis said the fellowship allowed her time and space to undertake further research after recently completing her PhD.

“Time is the greatest gift for a researcher. It is an enormous luxury to be given the opportunity to be fully immersed in research materials without everyday work and life distractions.

“This generous fellowship gave me the opportunity to open the locked glass cabinets and to escape into the magical world of children's literature.” 

Associate Professor Kristine Moruzi used the collection to continue her research into charity in 19th century children’s fiction.

“I was curious about how children’s periodicals encouraged young readers to see themselves as people who could and should help others,” she said.

“In my research at ACU, I turned my attention to children’s fiction published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to examine how this literature educated children to think charitably and to encourage charitable behaviours.

“This project considers how children were encouraged to sympathise with the suffering of others, under what circumstances this sympathy should be transformed into action, and what forms that action could take. It also aims to examine the role of gender in charitable activities.”

Associate Professor Moruzi said the fellowship offered her an opportunity to dig deep into the wide-ranging historical children’s literature collection at ACU.

“The availability of a research space and unfettered access to the collections was a real delight,” she said.

“It enabled me to follow research leads and the library’s support was outstanding. I’m looking forward to a return visit to the ACU special collections later this year to continue my research in this area.”

Final-year PhD candidate Kayla Mildren used the collection to add to her research on the politics of uniform policy and practice in Australian high schools.

“My fellowship focused on the ways school children were ‘imagined’, or visualised, in terms of appearance and agency,” she said.

“As the uniform delineates appropriate behaviour and appearance for children in reality, I was interested to the extent that it did so for children in fiction – how could they negotiate the idea of looking and acting like a student?

“The fellowship is such a unique opportunity. The collection at ACU is considerable and contains books I would otherwise never have access to. The opportunity to meet and work with members of ACU and other visiting scholars really enhanced my experience.”

Associate Director of Library Collections Karen Campbell said the fellowship program was a valuable opportunity for scholars to further their research through the lens of children’s literature.

“The fellowship awards provide researchers with the time and opportunity to study themes within the collection and gain an insight into historical attitudes and social constructions through the lens of children's literature.”

ACU is home to more than 5,500 children’s books, dating from the 1800s to the late 20th Century.

The Nolan Historical Children’s Literature Collection contains 4,000 books collected by former ACU teaching students John and Grace Nolan and includes literature, picture books and religious books. The remaining books form the Culican Children’s Book Collection collected by former children’s literature lecturer, Mrs Elisabeth Culican.

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