Past Feeling: History and the Emotions

Everyone feels emotions. Few people may talk about them openly, but they feel them, they are swayed by them and they are subject to them. Even if they are not the topic of discussion, emotions are hidden in the margins of historical documents – often considered unworthy of being recorded. As psychologists and cognitive scientists now assure us, people in different cultures –and thus people in the past– experience(d) emotions differently. It is the task of historians to reconstruct these emotional experiences, to locate shared emotional communities and explore how the historical experience of love, fear, anger, sadness, shame or guilt has changed history.

The theme for this year is inspired by the growing field of the history of emotions. It is a field in which historians must look beyond their own disciplinary boundaries and take elements from areas such as psychology, philosophy and sociology. It is a truly interdisciplinary area as is reflected in the recent institutions and periodicals devoted to this topic. New interdisciplinary research centres are being organized, such as the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University (London), the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the History of Emotions in Berlin, or the International Network for the Cultural History of Emotions in Pre-modernity. New journals, such as Passions In Context – International Journal for the History and Theory of Emotions, evince the growing field, and several major historical journals (e.g. Early Middle Ages, American Historical Review, History and Theory) have devoted special issues to the topic. It is even blogged about.

This year’s speakers come from across Canada and the United States and bring with them an expertise ranging from Medieval Iceland to Twentieth-Century Blues. We encourage all who have an interest in understanding emotions and their own emotions to come out to the talks. Titles and abstracts of the talks are listed here.