State of the Field: The History of Emotions

Katie Barclay
2021 History: The Journal of the Historical Association  
Emotions have appeared in histories, and associated writings, for centuries. History writing has sometimes valued the emotional; in eighteenth-century Europe, the centrality of the idea of sympathetic exchange to communication ensured that many historians of the period sought to produce feelings in their readers. 1 The emotions of historical subjects too have long been of interest. For some early twentieth-century theorists, often building on the stadial histories of human development of the
more » ... hteenth century, human emotions became more refined over time, evidencing the 'civilisation' of different nations. 2 Others resisted such Whiggish accounts of progress for histories of private life and mentalities. The latter was most notably developed by the Annales school, where a study of emotion contributed to debates about human behaviour, motivation and cultural variety. 3 These ideas were returned to in the 1980s by Carol Stearns and Peter Stearns, building upon the new social history of the previous decades but attending to emotional life as a significant dimension of society and culture. Their work was especially significant in theorising emotion as historically and culturally contingent, and as a sociological process. 4 Historians' own feelings have also been subject to analysis. In the mid-twentieth century, the emotions of historians were often suspicious, interfering with an 'objective' study of the past. More recently, scholars have sought to explore emotion as a productive lens of analysis, a dimension of cognition and decision-making, and something to be embraced, rather than avoided. 5 The history of emotions, as it has emerged in the last twenty years, therefore has plenty of precedent. This article explores the shape that the history of emotions has taken in recent decades, particularly as it has emerged as a distinct field with
doi:10.1111/1468-229x.13171 fatcat:mnbief6dyzbyzgupychutqygdm