History of Emotions

Do emotions have a history? And do they make history? These are the questions that the new Research Center “History of Emotions” seeks to answer. To explore the emotional orders of the past, historians work closely with psychologists and education specialists. In addition, they draw on the expertise of anthropologists, sociologists, musicologists and scholars working on literature and art. Our research rests on the assumption that emotions – feelings and their expressions – are shaped by culture and learnt/acquired in social contexts. What somebody can and may feel (and show) in a given situation, towards certain people or things, depends on social norms and rules. It is thus historically variable and open to change.

A central objective of the Research Center is to trace and analyse the changing norms and rules of feeling. We therefore look at different societies and see how they develop and organise their emotional regimes, codes, and lexicons. Research concentrates on the modern period (18th to 20th centuries).
Geographically, it includes both western and eastern societies (Europe, North America and South Asia).

Special attention is paid to institutions that have a strong impact on human behaviour and its emotional underpinnings, such as the family, law, religion, the military, the state.
Equally important to the Center´s research programme is the historical significance of emotions. Emotions are said to motivate human action and thus influence social, political, economic developments.

In this capacity, they are and have been a privileged object of manipulation and instrumentalisation. Who appealed to what kind of emotions for what reasons? To what degree did emotions play a part in/contribute to the formation and dissolution of social groups, communities and movements? These and other questions open doors to a new field of research, one which aims to thoroughly historicise a crucial element of human development.

Series of Public Panel Discussion on Politics and Emotions (in German)

Demokratie im Dialog: Reden oder Schweigen

The series is conceptualised and organised by Kerstin Maria Pahl and Philip Nielsen (Sarah Lawrence College, New York). Discussion language is German.


Talk or Silence

Often heard after votes: we talk to everyone. Means: coalitions are tested, principles of power positions are up for negotiation. On the rise: we talk to everyone, except… Is this useful? When should one talk to the political opposition, perhaps even enemies; when should one maintain a silence? Other opinions can be vetoed, it is sometimes vital that they are. But discussion can also unintentionally legitimize positions. What do silence, consent or refusal mean for democracy?


  • Robert Habeck, chairman of BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN
  • Ferda Ataman, journalist
  • Karsten Lichau, historian, MPIB


12 June 2019, 7 pm

Venue: Harnack-Haus
Ihnestrasse 16-20
1495 Berlin

Please register by email: berkes [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de

New Publication

Cover des Buches "Kapitalismus, Märkte und Moral"
© Residenz Verlag

Ute Frevert (2019). Kapitalismus, Märkte und Moral (Wien: Residenzverlag).
link to the publisher


Webportal "History of Emotions--Insights into Research" | ePublishing

Short essays with the use of concrete sources as examples demonstrate the sources and methods as well as the questions and perspectives through which the history of emotions can be explored and its range and knowledge potential can be specified.

Link to the Website


Ute Frevert
Ute Frevert Porträt
© Arne Sattler
sekfrevert [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de


© MPI for Human Development


with Ute Frevert December 2014

Media Coverage



The IMPRS Moral Economies explores the values, emotions, and habits that have inspired new social formations and their moral underpinnings in Europe, North America, and South Asia since the eighteenth century.