skip to Main Content

Educational Historians Interview Series: Dr Clarissa Carden

I’m a postdoctoral research fellow with the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, working on a project exploring the emergence of contemporary youth justice in Australia through an examination of two long-lived institutions in Queensland and New South Wales. I’m interested in the intersection between morality and social change and my research has covered a broad range of themes including secularisation, grief in virtual worlds, and the hit Netflix show Black Mirror.

Follow Clarissa on Twitter here.

What led you to study educational history?

I studied sociology in my BA and honours programs. I had no background in history or education and no intention of studying anything historical. However, when I began my PhD thesis (eventually intended to be a study of the lived experiences of the ‘discipline crisis’ discourse in Queensland schools), I decided to do a bit of background research in the Queensland State Archives. I fell into a bit of an archival rabbit hole and never really emerged. By the time I completed my PhD – which became a study of secularisation through the history of Queensland’s education system – I considered myself a historical sociologist.

What are you currently working on, or planning to do next?

I’m halfway through a two-year postdoctoral fellowship with the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research. My project,  ‘A century of Australian juvenile justice: understanding the intersection of discourse, policy, and experience through two long-lived institutions,’ examines the history of two Australian institutions for boys – one in Queensland and one in New South Wales – which began life as nineteenth-century reformatory and industrial schools and closed in the 1990s as modern youth detention centres. The project aims to improve our understanding of how contemporary youth justice developed and the conditions under which poor treatment or abuse became more likely. 

This is an interdisciplinary project which might not be immediately recognisable as educational history. However, the history of youth justice is deeply connected to the history of education – most clearly evident, perhaps, in the fact that the studied institutions began life as reformatory and industrial schools.

The pandemic has created significant challenges in relation to interviewing survivors of these institutions and accessing archives. I’ve had to become much more adept at using digital archives. Despite this, the project is progressing well. There are a few articles coming soon and I’m working on a book.

What is the biggest challenge facing the field of educational history today?

Educational history is rarely taught in universities in Australia and New Zealand as a stand-alone subject and there are no jobs explicitly designated for educational historians. This does not mean that the history of education has ceased to be relevant – far from it! But it does, I think, suggest that we need to adopt a more interdisciplinary focus and actively engage with scholars who are working in areas relevant to the history of education, but who may not see themselves as educational historians. 

If you could recommend one book or article on educational history, what would it be and why?

Sticking with the interdisciplinary theme of my responses, I’d love to recommend Children and the state: social control and the formation of Australian child welfare by sociologist Robert van Krieken. Like the history of youth justice, the history of child welfare is deeply connected to the history of education. Van Krieken’s text is a deeply valuable work which cuts across disciplinary boundaries and has been influential in my own thinking about the way in which it is possible to do historical sociology. 

Which person from history would you most like to meet and why?

If I had to pick one, I’d go with Mary Carpenter. Carpenter was a nineteenth-century British social – and educational – reformer who was influential in the development of reformatory and industrial schools. Her legacy is complex, but she was driven – I believe – by a real desire to improve the opportunities of marginalised children. I would love to have the opportunity to see what she thinks about the state of youth justice today.

Some links to Clarissa’s work:

Google Scholar

Check out Clarissa’s recent publications:

Carden C (2019) Living (in) cities of the past: time travel in Second Life. Rethinking History 23(3): 324–338. DOI: 10.1080/13642529.2019.1639319.

Free copies available at:

Carden C (2019) ‘A constant menace to British interests’: changing attitudes towards ‘German schools’ during World War I.History Australia 16(2): 324–337. DOI: 10.1080/14490854.2019.1590147.

Free copies available at:

Carden C (2019) From Reformatory to Farm Home: Developments in Twentieth-Century Juvenile Justice. Cultural and Social History: 1–16. DOI: 10.1080/14780038.2019.1594499.

Free copies available at:

Back To Top