Growing up urban: Children's literature and the city in Dutch-speaking Belgium, 1900-1940. 01/10/2023 - 30/09/2027


Growing Up Urban is the first in-depth research project devoted to literary constructions of the city in Dutch-language children's books published in Belgium in the early decades of the 20th century, as well as to the contextual, cultural historical factors that informed such constructions. The project analyses 40 urban children's novels, i.e. children's books set in cities that engage with city life, published by the leading, Antwerp-based firm L. Opdebeek in the period 1900-1940. This is a time when European cities were developing and modernizing rapidly and the urban child became a prime focus of societal and cultural engineering for various ideological movements. Inspired by the state of the art, foreign examples and preliminary findings, the project hypothesizes that L. Opdebeek's children's books actively engaged with the city and urban life in Flanders in positive, though complex, ways, and that they used the city to explore discourses of belonging, including questions of Belgian and Flemish identity. It investigates this hypothesis and related research questions through close reading the primary works and contextualizing them in archival material that sheds light on their creators, production, marketing and reception. Growing Up Urban thus sheds light on the entanglement of children's literature with urban discourses and transformative processes of urban modernity in early 20th-century Belgium. It uncovers a body of understudied Flemish books, authors and illustrators and contributes to a better understanding of the role that children's literature played in the Flemish movement. In answering to these research goals, the project calls into question the supposed anti-urbanism among contemporaneous Dutch-speaking Belgians and reassesses the Flemish movement's complex relationship with the nation state of Belgium, modernity and the city, as well as with childhood. Growing Up Urban strengthens existing interdisciplinary research between three research groups at the Faculty of Arts, as well as with prominent external partners in heritage and literature.


Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project