Institute of Archaeology


Children and the Material Culture of Conflict

This project explores the relationships between children and the material world of Second World War Britain.  Warfare reshaped children's everyday social and material lives on the Home Front: gas masks were carried at all times, bomb and shell shrapnel was collected and exchanged, and air raid shelters and bombsites transformed familiar landscapes.

Gabriel Moshenska's research on this topic has drawn on a range of historical, oral historical and archaeological sources to examine the ways in which children encountered and responded to the world at war in their everyday lives.  This project provides a novel perspective on life on the Home Front, examining children's psychological, social and sensory responses to the militarization of their everyday world, and the impact of material culture on children's war trauma.  Gabriel has discussed this work in some depth with child psychologists with experience of working with children in conflict zones, and they have pointed out the broader applicability and uses of work that connects the material culture of conflict to children's experiences and memories.

The first phase of this project focused on portable material culture such as children's gas masks and the collecting of war souvenirs. The second phase, currently in progress, is focusing on children's appropriation and use of conflict sites including air raid shelters and bombed buildings. The third projected phase examines children's interactions with bodies in conflict, including bodies of the dead and injured, and their own embodied experiences of the world at war.

Related outputs

  • Moshenska, G. In prep. Playing in the ruins: bombsites as playgrounds in Second World War Britain.
  • Moshenska, G. 2011. Gas Mask: a cultural icon. Military Times.
  • Moshenska, G. 2010. Gas masks: material culture, memory and the senses. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16(3): 609-28.
  • Moshenska, G. 2010. Government gas vans and school gas chambers: preparedness and paranoia in Britain, 1936 - 1941. Medicine, Conflict & Survival 26(3): 193-204.
  • Moshenska, G. 2008. A Hard Rain: children's shrapnel collections in the Second World War. Journal of Material Culture 13(1): 107-25.