Feeling Dis/ease – New Perspectives on Contemporary History
Concluding Conference of the Minerva Research Focus
29 - 31 January 2020
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin
Organiser: PD Dr. Bettina Hitzer
The Minerva Research Focus on “Emotions and Illness: Histories of an Intricate Relation” conducted in-depth studies on the emotional history of illness. It had two main topics: the history of cancer and the history of psychosomatics. Cancer has historically been one of the most feared diseases, one that exceeds human imagination and the limits of medical science, while psychosomatics has long debated the power, therapeutic significance, curability, and meaning of emotions.
The concluding conference will take stock of the research focus and offer some ideas for future work in the history of emotions and related fields. It will tackle some methodological issues encountered over the run of the Minerva project, including the question as to how scholars studying the history of illness can gain insights into the experience and significance of emotions, touch, sounds, and smells. For instance, what did x-rays smell like in the 1920s? What kinds of sounds did radiation machines and ventilation systems make? What did lead vests and other protective coverings feel like on the skin? And how did these sensory experiences coagulate into an emotional experience? Though one might consider the study of these phenomena to be a matter for the history of the senses, it is also possible to see them as integral aspects of a history of the emotions that probes the effects that sensory experiences have on how people feel about illness. What theoretical assumptions inform this view, and what methods can historians draw on to address the relation between the senses and emotions?
Contributions will grapple with how these and similar questions can be made fruitful for empirical research on the emotional history of illness and health and for the development of methods adequate to this task. In doing so, they will discuss approaches from other branches of historiography and related disciplines like the sociology of medicine, cultural studies, literary studies, and security studies.