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Research project

Children and young people's telephone use and telephone cultures in Britain c. 1984-1999

  • Lead researcher:
  • Research funder:
    Arts & Humanities Research Council
  • Status:

Project overview

We are charting new histories of young people’s telephone use in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s and engaging publics to tell their own stories within this research.

The shift in young people’s use of telephones from one-to-one voice communication to written and visual communication through texting and social media represents a pivotal cultural shift.

Our research examines the experiences, imaginations and representations of young people aged between 5 and 19 as telephone users (and latterly, telephone owners) in the 1980s and 1990s. We are examining the significance of the telephone across diverse aspects of young people’s lives in this era. Our research is tracing how young people’s telephone use has been at the heart of debates over the meaning of privacy, the protection of young people, dependency and social inequality.

Our research mixes archival research in UK-based collections with research methods focused on memory collection. This includes oral history research (interviews) and online crowd-sourced research to map memories on our digital map, hosted on our project website.

We have also used creative and participatory research methods and public engagement activities to foreground new youth and family voices in our research. Two community exhibitions in the city of Southampton in 2022 showcased some of the results of these activities.

Our research aims to:
• explain the purposes for which children and young people used telephone technologies in the 1980s and 1990s
• Trace the spaces in which children and young people used telephones in this era
• Understand the impact on young people of the transition from fixed-line telephony to mobile and digital platforms
• Understand how telephone use has been linked to children and young people’s practices of identity formation

We partner with BT Heritage & Archives and John Hansard Gallery in this research. We are delighted that the research has been funded by a Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.


Lead researcher

Dr Eve Colpus BA, MSt, DPhil

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Histories of childhood and youth in late-twentieth century Britain
  • Histories of technology use
  • Gender history
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