Space and Emotions

Recent debates in cultural studies have foregrounded the body, but without seeing it as universal, and instead insisting on the way that each body is marked and produced by historically contingent experiences - experiences which in turn are socially and culturally mediated. Emotions thus are not only expressed but also learned through the body. The body is not the opposite of culture, but the site where culture is played out.
This turn towards the body requires a new emphasis on space and spaces. Bodies are necessarily situated in space, and they bear the imprint of the spaces they are moving through and have moved through. Mediated by the body and its senses, different spaces evoke different emotions. This relation is neither random, nor is given once and for all: emotions linked to a particular space can change over time, and the same spaces can trigger off vastly divergent emotions in various people.

The Chandni Chowk from the top of the Lahore Gate of the Fort, the canal depicte
© The British Library Board, ADD. OR.4827

Any investigation into the relation between space and emotions has to draw not only on a plurality of disciplines – from memory studies to sociology and geography – but also on many different genres of sources. In addition to written texts that give information on how specific spaces were perceived, experienced and interpreted and on how these creations of meanings were translated into practices, this also involves using maps (and hence need to pull in cartographic knowledge) as well as visual sources, paintings and photographs (and the approaches to read them developed in art history and visual and media studies).
What makes the interpretation of these sources so challenging, is that they have to be read at several levels at the same time. Cultural studies have taught us to see maps and images as interpretations and as ways to create and enforce a vision of the world. Especially for the study of emotions, this approach opens up possibilities of accessing the way actors experienced and emotionally related to spaces. However, if we are interested in the materiality of space, we can't avoid delving into questions of source criticism, and ask whether the author of a map or a picture had access to the information he passed on, and hence whether a certain building or street "really" existed at this time and in this shape.
My project follows these questions through the example of Delhi from its founding in the 17th century to the 20th century, linking maps, visual material, the history of sound with textual sources and looking at their interrelation.


  • Pernau, M. (2013). Ashraf into Middle Class. Muslims in Nineteenth century Delhi. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Pernau, M. (2014). Space and emotion: Building to feel. History Compass, 12, 541-549.