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Rethinking History (Special Issue 2012)

Rethinking History | Rethinking History Cover

This themed issue opens up new vistas on the history of emotions. It does so by examining multiplicities of community-based or spatially defined emotional styles that were simultaneously performed within larger socio-cultural contexts.

Pursuing this agenda, Benno Gammerl’s editorial, firstly, discusses different understandings of ‘the subject’ and her or his potential for agency and choice on which analyses of emotional styles can be based. The editorial, furthermore, asks what role emotional styles play in historiographical practice and how historians can deal with their own emotions. Finally, it outlines the concept of ‘emotional styles’ as diverging modes of thinking about, handling, generating and expressing emotions. Following this approach Mark Seymour analyzes the diverging emotionalities clashing during an 1879 trial for murder in Rome and argues that the formation of the Italian nation was accompanied by the attempt to implement a certain emotional style. Emotional communities that crossed national and racial boundaries are, instead, identified by Tamara Loos in her examination of a trial for attempted murder in early twentieth-century Singapore that involved a Siamese husband and a British wife. Caroline Braunmühl, in turn, fundamentally disagrees with the idea of emotional communities as based on pre-existing identities in her analysis – applying performativity theory – of a 1990 criminal trial for the murder of a child against a China-born woman in the US. Other articles focus rather on the connections between emotional styles and spatial constellations which are, as Andreas Reckwitz argues, best grasped within a praxeological framework understanding both sides of the relation as dynamic dimensions that perpetually interact with each other. In this vein, Sally Newman explores the links between specific emotional patterns and practices – ‘the crush’ – that enabled and enhanced female-to-female intimacy on the one hand and a particular spatial and institutional setting – a women’s college in the United States around 1900 – on the other. This space was shaped by, and, at the same time, shaped ‘the crush’. Finally, Josef Chytry traces spatially defined emotional styles by scrutinizing Walt Disney’s career as a designer of environments aiming at the advancement of creativity and happiness. As the contributors to this issue demonstrate, capturing multiplicities of co-existing styles and analyzing their interactions enhances our understanding of the diachronic variability and synchronic diversity of emotional patterns and practices.