Panel 4: Historicizing Emotions: Theories and Methodologies

Because the history of emotions is a relatively new field, its methodologies and theoretical basis are still in a state of developmental flux. One of the most fundamental questions actually concerns the subject of our study:

  • the internal feelings of individuals (which may be difficult to deduce accurately from historical records);
  • the outward and communal expressions of such feelings, including the "emotions work" they perform;
  • past theories and concepts of emotion (essentially an intellectual history);
  • social norms and regulation of emotion.

Recent attempts to conceive of emotions as social practices have been successful in overcoming the former distinction between inner and outer emotions. In the same vein, historians have drawn on earlier approaches to emphasize how outward display of emotions can affect ‘internal’ feeling. As much as traditional notions of subjectivity have been challenged, the internal/external dichotomy has been called into question, not the least by affect studies, which shed light on the complex constellations of bodies, objects, and spaces. In this context, interdisciplinary debates play an immense role. How can historians make use of insights from psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, or the histories of medicine? How can we calculate the impact of emotions as drivers of historical change on a more general level? It is one thing to point out the historicity of emotions and how they are influenced by changing institutions, world views, and moral codes and another to claim that emotions themselves shape history. Can, or should, there be a grand narrative of emotions history with contributions from various parts of the world? How might such a narrative differ from those (such as Norbert Elias's) that focus particularly on European histories of emotions? To conclude the day, a panel devoted particularly to such theories and methodologies of histories of emotion enabled some of these fundamental questions to be fruitfully reconsidered in the light of the discussions that arose from the earlier panels.


Tuomas Tepora
(University of Helsinki, Finland)
What Can the History of Emotions Learn from the Neurosciences, If Any?

Radmila Švaříčková Slabáková
(Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic)
Emotions and Memory in Ego-Documents: From Correspondence to Oral History