What is the history of emotions? Part I

A year on from the launch of this blog, interest continues to grow apace in the field of history of emotions. I recently posted a list of our Top 10 blog posts during our first twelve months. This follow-up anniversary post surveys developments more broadly and directs readers to the most useful online resources in the field.

The international Hist-Emotion email list now has over 1,000 subscribers, and this blog has thousands of readers each month. There are several centres for the study of the history of the emotions internationally, including the MPIB History of Emotions Research Center in Berlin, directed by Professor Ute Frevert, and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800), as well our own Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, whose activities have recently been summarised by Colin Jones and showcased in Wellcome History magazine.

Among several other groups working in this area are Les émotions et leurs langages: histoires/ territoires (Provence);  CHEP: Cultural History of Emotions in Premodernity, which ran a major conference in 2011; and EMMA: Les émotions au moyen âge.

But where should people start who want to know what all this activity is about, and why it is happening? I thought it would be useful to put together a quick guide to what the history of emotions is, and why it matters, bringing together in one place some of the most useful resources for people new to the field.

One good place to start would be a series of short interviews conducted in 2009 with Barbara RosenweinKeith Oatley and myself for a blog on history of emotions by ‘A Scot in Exile’, asking some fundamental questions about the nature of emotions and their history.  Another excellent, freely available, starting point is Barbara Rosenwein’s seminal 2002 article ‘Worrying About Emotions in History‘, first published in the American Historical Review. A lecture I gave in the Netherlands in 2011, entitled ‘History in British Tears: The Anatomy of Modern Emotions‘, includes some introductory reflections on the nature of the history of emotions, and also a bibliography of some of the most important classic, and more recent, works in the field.

Other pieces (not freely available) that I often recommend to newcomers to the history of emotions are a 2009 article by William Reddy in Emotion Review on ‘Historical Research on the Self and Emotions‘; a series of interviews with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein,  and Peter Stearns by Jan Plamper in History and Theory published in 2010; a forum convened by Frank Biess in German History in 2010; and a survey of the field by Susan J. Matt in Emotion Review in January 2011.

For an alternative angle on the histories of emotion and expression, especially as they have featured on television, see documentary-maker Adam Curtis’s original and thought-provoking work on ‘Learning to Hug‘.

The history of emotions is now also making its way into the syllabuses of undergraduate and postgraduate courses. The University of Cambridge offers an undergraduate ‘Themes and Sources’ paper on the history of emotions; and history undergraduates at York will be offered a ‘Comparative Histories’ module on emotions from 2012-13. At Warwick, English literature undergraduates can take a course on the idea and expression of emotion in nineteenth and twentieth-century poetry. At MA level, there are new modules on the history of emotions being offered from 2012-13 at Goldsmiths and here at QMUL.

And just in case all of this isn’t enough to whet your appetite, I have asked members and associates of the QMUL Centre for the History of Emotions to write a paragraph or two about why they think the history of emotions matters and for some of their favourite publications in the field. Those will be included in the next post.


3 thoughts on “What is the history of emotions? Part I

  1. Pingback: What is the history of emotions? Part III | The History of Emotions Blog

  2. Pingback: What is the history of emotions? | ACCESS

  3. Pingback: The uses of a history of emotions « Serendipities

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