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History & Policy Event

How historians can assist in historic child abuse inquiries

9 September 2019 - 18:00 pm - 19:30 pm

Anatomy Museum, King's College London, 6th floor, King's Building, Strand, London WC2R 2LS

Over the past twenty years, a growing number of countries have established national inquiries in relation to historic child abuse, encompassing investigations of abuse in residential institutions and foster-care, as well as abuse in the context of particular types of institution or specific child welfare programmes.

Historical researchers have engaged with these inquiries in a range of different roles – as members of inquiry secretariats, consultants, expert witnesses and, in at least one case, as the director of a national inquiry (Prof Pirjo Markkola in Finland).

This panel brings together speakers with a range of expertise across these different roles to explore what we can learn from a range of international examples about the relationship between historical research and child abuse enquiries.

Amongst the questions to be explored in this session are:

  • How important is historical knowledge for the setting of the remits and scope of inquiries?
  • What are the challenges and limitations of using different kinds of historical material in child avuse inquiries?
  • In what ways can inquiries succeed or fail as forms of public history in increasing public understanding of historic abuse?


Professor Pirjo Markkola (Tampere University and former director of the Finnish national child abuse inquiry) 

Professor Eoin O’Sullivan (Trinity College Dublin; his work with Mary Raftery on the history of abuse in Irish industrial schools led to the setting up of the Ryan Commission)

Professor Johanna Sköld (Linköping University and former member of the secretariat for the Swedish Inquiry into Child Abuse and Neglect in Institutions and Foster Homes)

Professor Shurlee Swain (Australian Catholic University and contributor of historical research to numerous abuse inquiries in Australia) 

See below for full biographies.

There will be time for Q&A with the panel members and drinks and nibbles will be served.

This event is funded through an AHRC Leadership Fellows award held by Professor Gordon Lynch (University of Kent) which is developing work both on the abuse of former British child migrants and on the role of historical research in redressing past abuse more generally.

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History & Policy

Pirjo Markkola is Professor of History at Tampere University was Director of the Finnish national child abuse inquiry – an inquiry process led by academic researchers. Her research focuses particularly on the history of welfare and childcare, and she is the project team leader for the ‘Lived Welfare State’ strand of a major new Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences funded by the Academy of Finland.

Eoin O’Sullivan is Professor in Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin. His research focuses on the history of social policy in Ireland, including institutions of containment. His collaborative work with the journalist Mary Raftery on the history of the Irish industrial school system played a key role in the creation of the Commission into Child Abuse (Ryan Commission) and he also undertook policy research which informed the Commission’s findings.

Johanna Sköld is Professor of Child Studies at Linköping University and previously worked as a member of the Secretariat of the Swedish Inquiry into Child Abuse and Neglect in Institutions and Foster Homes. Her research focuses particularly on the history of child-care and redress for historic child abuse and she chairs the International Network on Studies of Inquiries into Child Abuse, the Politics of Apology and Historical Representations of Children in State Care.

Shurlee Swain is Emeritus Professor in History at Australian Catholic University. Her research has focused particularly on children’s and women’s history, and her historical research has contributed to national inquiries in Australia on child migration, child sexual abuse, children in residential institutions and forced adoption. She was one of the lead investigators for the Australian Find and Connect project which was created to provide historical information about residential institutions and the care system in Australia.

Event organiser:

Gordon Lynch is Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent. He has undertaken a range of research and public history projects in relation to the history of UK child migration programmes, including a national museum exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood and the musical project, The Ballads of Child Migration. He has served as an expert witness for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and continues to serve in this capacity for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.


18:00 pm - 19:30 pm

Anatomy Museum, King's College London, 6th floor, King's Building, Strand, London WC2R 2LS
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