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Emotions History

As the linguistic and cultural turns lost steam in the 1990s and 2000s, historians launched forays into the emotions. Psycho-history had been developing on the fringes of the profession for decades, but it was only at the turn of the twenty-first century that historians began to conceptualise ‘emotions’ history in earnest. Although there is growing consensus that emotions have shaped the course of history, debates still rage over how historians can identify and assess them.

Seminar Questions

  • What led cultural historians to turn to the emotions as a subject of inquiry in the 1980s and 1990s?
  • What are the benefits and limitations of emotions history? What do emotions explain or not explain.
  • Do emotions have a ‘modern’ history?
  • How do historians try to explain change through emotions?

Essential Reading

Overview: Plamper, Jan. ‘The History of the History of Emotions’, Chapter One of The History of Emotions: An Introduction. Oxford, 2012.

Academic press series

You may want to scan the following webpages to get a sense of what kinds of histories of emotion are being written by these academic presses:

Oxford University PressLink opens in a new window

University of Illinois PressLink opens in a new window 

Bloomsbury PressLink opens in a new window

PalgraveLink opens in a new window

Further reading

  • Barclay, Katie, The History of Emotions: A Student Guide to Methods and Sources (London, 2020).
  • Boddice, Rob. The Science of Sympathy: Morality, Evolution, and Victorian Civilization.
  • Broomhall, Susan. Early Modern Emotions: An Introduction. London, 2016.
  • Carr, Helen, 'Can Emotions Have a History?', in Helen Carr and Suzannah Lipscomb (eds.), What is History Now?

    How the Past and Present Speak to Each Other (London, 2021), pp. 134-151.

  • Dixon, Thomas, '"Emotion": The History of a Keyword in Crisis', Emotion Review 4: 4 (2012), pp. 338-344.
  • Febvre, Lucien. 'Sensibility and History: How to Constitute the Emotional Life of the Past', in Peter Burke, A New Kind of History from the Writings of Febvre (London, 1973).
  • Ute Frevert, Learning How to Feel: Children's literature and emotional socialization, 1870-1970.
  • Gammerl, Benno. "Emotional Styles: Concepts and Challenges." Rethinking History 16 (2012): 161-175.
  • Häberlen, Joachim C. The Emotional Politics of the Alternative Left: West Germany, 1968-1984. Cambrige: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  • Häberlen, Joachim C., and Russell A. Spinney. "Introduction." Contemporary European History 23 (2014): 489-503.
  • Kounine, Laura. Imagining the Witch: emotions, gender, and selfhood in early modern Germany.
  • Matt, Susan J. and Stearns, Peter N. Emotions History. Urbana, IL, 2014.
  • Plamper, Jan. The History of Emotions: An Introduction. Oxford, 2015.
  • Reddy, William. The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions.
  • Rosenwein, Barbara H. Generations of Feeling. Cambridge, 2015.
  • Stearns, Peter and Stearns, Carol, ‘Emotionology: Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards.’ American Historical Review, Vol. 90, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 813-836.

Truffle Hunt

Sources for the History of the Emotions are wide-ranging. For an overview of the possibilities, see

K. Barclary et al., Sources for the History of the Emotions: A GuideLink opens in a new window (London: Routledge, 2020). Part II, chps 4-13.

The above guide has chapters on the following kinds of primary sources:

- Rituals, relics and religious rhetoric

- Prescriptive literature (manner books... for a seminal study of this genre, see Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, the first volume of which provides a 'history of manners'.

- Medicine, science and psychology. (How are emotions clinically assessed and treated?)

- Legal records (What state of mind was the criminal in when s/he committed the crime? How should victims' emotions figure in law?)

- Fiction. (What can a novel say about contemporary norms about emotions -- or 'emotional regimes'?)

- Performing emotions

- Visual and Material sources.