Civilizing Emotions

Erste Ausgabe Tahzib ul Akhlaq (1870) / First issue of Tahzib ul Akhlaq (1870)

At the beginning of the 21st century, the vocabulary of civility and civilization is very much at the forefront of political debate – be it in the exhortation for more civility in daily life or in the discussion on whether there is or should be a clash of civilizations, whether we are called to defend our civilizational values and how this defense should look like, whether civil society is a universal category whose development all over the world should be promoted. In early modern Europe, the Latin civilitas and its vernacular derivatives, was one of the central concepts for the discussion of values and virtues related to social behavior. It involved norms for interacting in a way so as to minimize social friction and hence focused on rules of deportment and bodily control. While the expression of correct emotions was held to be sufficient for the courtly society, advice literature during the Enlightenment and especially during the age of Sentimentalism placed the need for authenticity at the center of their attention: not only the outward signs, but the inner feelings themselves had to conform to certain norms. Emotions became the touchstone of whether a person was really civilized or only adhering to its outer appearances.
The 18th century also saw the expansion of civility into a concept for the creation of a new global order, premised on the distinction between the barbarous and the civilized, and the re-interpretation of differences between societies as stages of development, leading from savage origins to ever progressing levels of civilization.
My own research focuses on the concept of civility in Britain (and to a smaller extent in France) and in North India, from the late 18th century to the First World War. For the last three years I have been involved in co-organizing (with Helge Jordheim from Oslo University) a project on Civilizing Emotions. Concepts in Asia and Europe 1870-1920, which brought together 13 researchers from three continents investigating concepts of civility in four European and nine Asian languages



  • Pernau, M., Jordheim, H., Saada, E., Bailey, C., Wigen, E., Bashkin, O., Kia, M., Singh, M., Majumdar, R., Messner, A., Benesh, O., Park, M., Ifversen, J. (2015). Civilizing Emotions. Concepts in Asia and Europe, 1870-1920. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Pernau, M. (2014). Civility and barbarism: Emotion as criteria of difference. In U. Frevert, M. Scheer, A. Schmidt, P. Eitler, B. Hitzer, N. Verheyen, B. Gammerl, C. Bailey, & M. Pernau, Emotional lexicons: Continuity and change in the vocabulary of feeling 1700-2000 (pp. 230-259). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Pernau, M. (2012). India in the Victorian Age: Victorian India? In M. Hewitt (Ed.), The Victorian world (pp. 639-655). London: Routledge.
  • Pernau, M. (2011). Teaching emotions: The encounter between Victorian values and Indo-Persian concepts of civility in nineteenth-century Delhi. In I. Sengupta & D. Ali (Eds.), Knowledge production, pedagogy, and institutions in colonial India (pp. 227-247). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Pernau, M. (2011). Zivilität und Barbarei: Gefühle als Differenzkriterien. In U. Frevert, M. Scheer, A. Schmidt, P. Eitler, B. Hitzer, N. Verheyen, B. Gammerl, C. Bailey, & M. Pernau, Gefühlswissen: Eine lexikalische Spurensuche in der Moderne (pp. 233-262). Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.
  • Pernau, M. (2009). An ihren Gefühlen sollt Ihr sie erkennen: Eine Verflechtungsgeschichte des britischen Zivilitätsdiskurses (ca. 1750-1860) ["By their feelings you shall know them": An entangled history of the British discourse on civility (c.1750-1860)]. Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 35, 249-281.