Histories of Emotion: From Medieval Europe to Contemporary Australia

Dr Stephanie Downes is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Melbourne, where she is part of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Here she introduces the ARC Centre’s new blog.

William Strutt, ‘Bushrangers, Victoria, Australia 1852’ (1887). Reproduced courtesy of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne.

What is the history of emotions in Australia, and how do we write it?

In December 2012, the ARC Australian Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions’ new blog launched with the following explanation:

This blog documents the process of researching emotions, then and now, from the perspective of the Australian humanities. It tells the unfolding story of our research into the histories of emotion across time and place, and the stories of our own emotional lives in that process. 

I didn’t ask the above question there, but I might have. How to write the history of emotion and all the various histories that make up that history is at the centre of what the blog aims to explore.

Managed and with most of its content supplied by the Centre’s early career researchers, the blog wasn’t conceived of as a space for finished research, but for work-in-progress: the thoughts, impressions, and ideas of humanities researchers into the vast realm of the emotions; half-formed, hazy, and as yet unsubstantiated; but exciting, innovative, and full of possibility.

As one of a number of research fellows and associates in the Australian Centre of Excellence, I’m in excellent company. But the job of the researcher is often a lonely one, and for early career researchers especially the task at hand can be highly pressurized.

The blog was conceived to articulate some of the highs and lows of the job, from office to archive.

We wanted an accessible, informative, and stimulating public blog space. In breaking from the ‘usual’ mode of published academic research – refereed and completed – the blog would show something of what it’s like to contemplate publishing. Selfishly, I hoped that the act of committing to words in the online community would help me commit them to print faster. In showing an interest in the process of researching the history of emotions, I wondered if the blog might even chart some of our own emotional responses to research along the way. When Dr Una McIlvenna describes the ‘tough work’ of her research into early modern ballads, I think I am right in sensing that she is only half joking. Conversely, Dr Raphaele Garrod blogs about the ‘pleasure’ of the past in her linguistic forays into seventeenth-century France. What are the emotions of the historian? Would any of us keep writing if it weren’t for the pleasure?

We’ve been inspired immeasurably and continuously by Queen Mary’s own unfurling Conversations about the history of feeling; but we hope that you’ll keep reading the Histories of Emotion blog too for more conversations on emotions in history from an Antipodean angle: the ‘emotional turn’ here is as down under as it is inside out. A tab at the bottom of the page will allow you to ‘follow’ updates. And please, don’t hesitate to share with us what you’ve been thinking about feeling, and feeling about doing the history of emotions.