AHR Conversation: The Historical Study of Emotions

Eustace, Nicole; Lean, Eugenia; Livingston, Julie; Plamper, Jan; Reddy, William M. and Rosenwein, Barbara H.. 2012. AHR Conversation: The Historical Study of Emotions. American Historical Review, 117(5), pp. 1487-1531. ISSN 0002-8762 [Article]

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In the past few years, the AHR has published five “Conversations,” each on a subject of interest to a wide range of historians: “On Transnational History” (2006), “Religious Identities and Violence” (2007), “Environmental Historians and Environmental Crisis” (2008), “Historians and the Study of Material Culture” (2009), and “Historical Perspectives on the Circulation of Information” (2011). For each the process has been the same: the Editor convenes a group of scholars with an interest in the topic who, via e-mail over the course of several months, conduct a conversation, which is then lightly edited and footnoted, finally appearing in the December issue. The goal has been to provide readers with a wide-ranging consideration of a topic at a high level of expertise, in which the participants are recruited across several fields and periods. It is the sort of publishing project that this journal is uniquely positioned to undertake.

This year's topic is “The Historical Study of Emotions.” Given the expanding range of new methodological and disciplinary forays among historians in recent years, it may be too much to proclaim that we are witnessing an “Emotional Turn.” (Indeed, one conclusion that might be drawn from the June 2012 AHR Forum on “Historiographic ‘Turns’ in Critical Perspective” is that the very concept of “turns” may have outlived its intellectual usefulness.) But it cannot be denied that the study of emotions has become a thriving pursuit among historians from many different areas and periods. Not only does its emergence as a legitimate subfield foster the interrogation of descriptors—love, hate, resentment, passions, pity, happiness, and the like—that historians are more often likely to use uncritically if at all; it also allows for the crossing of the boundaries between private and public, the personal and collective, that often constrain our work. To be sure, a major problem with the study of emotions is how we can access the emotional lives of people in past times: is it possible to go beyond emotional expressions—usually conveyed in language—and attain some assurance that these are indicative of actual emotional states? This is only one of the questions confronted in the course of this wide-ranging conversation.

Joining the Editor in this conversation are Nicole Eustace, a historian of early America; Eugenia Lean, who studies modern Chinese history, literature, and culture; Julie Livingston, a historian who works in Africa; Jan Plamper, a specialist in Soviet and Russian history; William M. Reddy, who has written widely on modern European as well as comparative history; and Barbara H. Rosenwein, whose research has ranged across the religious, social, and intellectual history of the Middle Ages.

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December 2012Published

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02 Oct 2015 14:05

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27 Jun 2017 10:28

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