Browse Primary Sources

Locate primary sources, including images, objects, media, and texts. Annotations by scholars contextualize sources.

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Gin Lane (1751)

This is one of the best-known prints by the famous artist, William Hogarth. He designed it to support the British government's attempt to regulate the price and popularity of drinking gin (known as Geneva) in the Gin Act of 1751. The print is accompanied by the following verse:

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London's Bill of Mortality

During the great outbreak of bubonic plague or black death in the hot summer of 1665 in London, special bills of mortality were issued that listed causes of death. By mid-July over a thousand deaths a week were reported on handbills that were stuck up in public places to warn people that the plague was growing. The rich fled the city but the poor did not have that option and died in droves.

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The Graham Children

This beautiful life-size painting of four children is by William Hogarth, who also specialized in engravings such as Gin Lane. It was commissioned by Daniel Graham, a rich apothecary (pharmacist) to the royal family and to Chelsea Hospital in London. It shows Daniel's three children by his second wife, Mary Crisp, and Mary's daughter, Henrietta, by her first marriage.

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An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae

Edward Jenner (1749-1823) was a physician in rural Gloucestershire. Like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu he learnt of a widely known folk remedy to protect against smallpox. Smallpox cases were increasing in the 18th century and had a mortality rate of 40%. At least 30% of those who survived were left horribly scarred. Smallpox was a disease of children and youth in particular.

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The Dance of the Dead

Children are not frequent subjects of medieval art, but the figure of the child does occur in a medieval artistic and literary form known as the Danse macabre or Dance of the Dead.

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Will-making among the general populace of Bologna during 1348

The graph displays the number of wills by gender made each month in the city and countryside of Bologna during 1348 that were copied into the city notarial registers, known as the Libri Memoriali. The graph shows that during the first half of the year there are more female than male testators, which is unusual for medieval Italy.

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The Dance of Death

Children are not frequent subjects of medieval art, but the figure of the child does occur in a medieval artistic and literary form known as the Danse macabre or Dance of the Dead.

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In Greek and Roman times children and adults often wrote on ostraca (that is, pieces of broken pottery and limestone flakes). They were costless and convenient writing materials. On this flat limestone piece a student practiced letters of the alphabet. S/He did not do so at random but tried to reproduce a nonsensical verse that contained all the letters.

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The Red Shoes

Folktales have been used for generations to teach moral tales to children. They have shifted over time depending upon the generation and location of the tale but remain part of the childhood experience for many young people. "The Red Shoes" published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845 is a quintessential European folktale.

Ivory Doll

This finely carved ivory doll with moveable arms and legs was found in the grave of a girl approximately five years of age in Tarragona, Spain, a port city south of Barcelona. It dates to the 3rd or 4th century CE. The girl's skeleton was adorned with a gold thread around the neck and along its length, probably a border on her burial dress.

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Madonna and Child, 1295–1300

This panel painting represents an innovation in the history of western European painting and a moment in religious iconography: depiction of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus in Byzantine icons was traditionally symbolic. In the past, the figures were not humanized, but represented the qualities of divine beings and episodes in sacred history.

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Pippi Graffiti Stencil

This image found on a wall around the University of Vienna and the Austrian Parliament, in 2008, is a graffiti stencil of Pippi Longstocking, the eponymous fictional character created by the Swedish children's book author, Astrid Lindgren, in 1945. Since then, Pippi Långstrump (in Swedish) has been translated into 90 languages and made into movies and TV series.

Thumbnail of a drawing of man cutting a boy with scissors

Der Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter)

Published in 1858, Der Struwwelpeter (Shaggy Peter) is a German children's book first published anonymously under a different title in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffman. Hoffman, a Frankfurt physician and father, wrote the book after realizing that there were none he wanted to buy for his 3-year-old son for Christmas. The first English translation was published in 1848.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s "Children's Games"

Flemish painter, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted "Children's Games" in 1560. While many of his other paintings also portray peasant folk culture, this summer townscape that is devoid of adults is rich in detail about Medieval children—especially at play.

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Max und Moritz

Written and illustrated by German painter and poet, Wilhelm Busch, Max und Moritz (1865) is a children's story written in doggerel verse and illustrated in a comic-like style about two unscrupulous boys who taunt adults with their sadistic pranks.

Portrait of Darleen, 2007

The photograph is from an exhibition entitled "Thirteen" by German professional photographer Janina Wick. It shows a young girl leaning slightly against a tree, against the background of a graffiti-covered wall, in an urban environment.

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Portrait of Isabelle, 2007

The photograph is from an exhibition entitled "Thirteen" by German professional photographer Janina Wick. It shows a young female ice skater leaning against the wall in a sports center. The elaborate costume, hairstyle, and makeup shows that she is not a casual skater, but one who trains for formal competition.

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Ancient Greek Adolescent Girls at Play

This small (5.5 inches high) terracotta sculpture was made in Greek southern Italy in the late fourth century BCE. It depicts two adolescent girls playing the game of "knucklebones" (astragaloi in Greek). The game was usually played like the modern game of "jacks": one threw the knucklebones in the air and attempted to catch as many as possible.

Ancient Greek Girl Athlete

This unusual bronze figurine of a female runner was possibly made in or near Sparta, Greece, between 520-500 BCE. Ancient Sparta was the only Greek city-state that provided girls with public schooling including physical education. Girls were praised for their swiftness and likened to prized racehorses in choral songs (called partheneia) sung by girls' choruses in Sparta and elsewhere.

Thumbnail of poster with boy flying toy plane

Traditional Soviet Values for Children

Soviet propaganda posters presented positive images of healthy, active people engaged in useful service to the state, including children. This Soviet poster from 1953 was typical of this image.