Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood
The Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood is a delightful place on the web that encourages viewers to explore the themes of childhood past and present, and invites children, adults, and whole communities to participate in childlike play and creativity. From serious studies of childhood mortality and slavery to the development of toys and games, the V & A Museum highlights English childhood, as well as some aspects of European and, to a lesser extent, world childhood. The museum has successfully captured contemporary childhood as well as historical aspects.
The site combines serious archival functions related to an important topic in social history with an invitation to interact and play. It also allows viewers to experience the permanent exhibit halls through an interactive 360-degree virtual tour. Exploring this feature is disappointing only in that the zoom feature doesn't take the viewer into close-ups of the display cases or objects.
The museum as a whole presents its collections in text and image for researchers. The images are too small for highly detailed objects like an apprenticeship contract, but are serviceable for most artifacts. The moving toys page is an example of a more in-depth presentation, with short video clips demonstrating how various toys work. The video clips could also be used to teach physics or mechanics in science class.
There are several efforts to involve the public such as "Share a Story" or the Life in the East End flickr group. "What I Wore," presents an archive of children's fashions, favorites, and mishaps illustrated in family photographs, especially the East End London community. The intended audience shifts, however, sometimes asking 21st-century children to share and other times asking adults to reflect on their childhood.
Two main areas of the site are most attractive for web users who can't visit: Collections and Children's Lives. The Collections menu leads to the museum's material culture archive: dolls, toys, clothing, childcare items, games, and the history of toy manufacturing. Each collection is divided into subsections with additional web resources and bibliographies; some also have interactive features. Browsing is a helpful way to explore the range of materials and the search box allows easy keyword access.
Children's Lives consists of seven sections covering aspects of the history of childhood and contemporary childhood: East End Lives celebrates the history and present of London's East End and the immigrant groups who live there. "My East End Childhood" presents content created by user contributors and local groups.
Edwardian Lives is about childhood and material culture at the turn of the 20th century. "Education and Creativity" covers childhood educational philosophies and the importance of play. Holidays & Entertainment includes a remarkable mural interactive with international playground songs called "The Singing Playground". Parlour Games includes instructions on how to play and Health & Work, covers child labor and offers a section on children in slavery assembled by a class of London middle school students.
Among the hidden treasures on the site are those buried under the "What's On" menu. Many of the exhibition pages have only a short description with one image—interesting for museum-goers, but too little for web users. Some of the "Past Exhibitions" pages, however, have more extensive content. For example, "Must-Have Toys" provides an entire book in (pdf) from a traveling exhibit and the fashion exhibit has many fascinating features.
The site is both about and for children. It is linked to topics in the National Curriculum, many of which are common modern history topics, to help teachers incorporate the material. Elementary level teachers will be able to find uses for it across the curriculum, and secondary level teachers as well as researchers will be rewarded for the time spent exploring this resource.
How to Cite This Source
Susan Douglass, "Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood," in Children and Youth in History, Item #247, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/website-reviews/247 (accessed November 22, 2014).