Robert Martin Coles

An American child psychiatrist, prolific author, and professor at Harvard University, who developed the strategy of using oral histories as a means of studying children.

Child psychiatrist and author Robert Coles pioneered the use of oral history as a method of studying children. His work resulted in a five-volume series called Children in Crisis, published between 1967 and 1978. The series was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in recognition of its wide-ranging examination of children worldwide and its explication of how they cope with war, poverty, and other life crises. Coles was trained as a pediatrician as well as a child psychiatrist and became a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard University Medical School in 1978. His many passions, in addition to his career-long work with children, led to his authorship of more than 50 books, including numerous children's books, literary criticisms, social commentary, humor, poetry, biographies, reviews, as well an ongoing columns for The New Republic, American Poetry Review, and the New Oxford Review.

Child psychiatrist Robert Coles.

Child psychiatrist Robert Coles.
© Bettmann/Corbis

Coles traveled extensively from the Deep South to Appalachia, from New Mexico to Alaska, and eventually overseas to Europe, Africa, Central and South America, and the Middle East. His wife, Jane, and their three sons shared his interest and contributed to some of his research, talking to children of all races and social strata about religion, race, poverty, and war. During his career, Coles wrote for various medical, psychiatric, and psychoanalytic journals, in addition to seeing patients. He also gave vast numbers of hours to community service and volunteered as a tutor in a school for underprivileged children.

In addition to authoring Children in Crisis, Coles wrote The Moral Life of Children, The Political Life of Children, The Spiritual Life of Children, and Women of Crisis.

See also Child development ; Child psychology ; Childhood .



Coles, Robert. The Call of Service: A Witness to Idealism. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

Coles, Robert. The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.

Coles, Robert. Children of Crisis; A Study of Courage and Fear. Boston: Little, Brown, 1967.

Coles, Robert, et al. Conversations with Robert Coles. Jack son, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.

Coles, Robert. The Moral Life of Children. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

Coles, Robert. The Political Life of Children. Boston, MA: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986.

Coles, Robert. The South Goes North. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.

Coles, Robert. The Spiritual Life of Children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Coles, Robert, and George Ford. The Story of Ruby Bridges. New York: Scholastic, 1995.

Coles, Robert, and Jane Hallowell Coles. Women of Crisis: Lives of Struggle and Hope. New York: Delacorte Press/ S. Lawrence, 1978.


enotes. “Robert Coles Biography.” (accessed September 16, 2015).

Scott London. “A Way of Seeing: The Work of Robert Coles.” (accessed September 16, 2015).