Literature and emotions at RSA 2014

There are quite a few proposed panels on emotions/passions/feelings and literature at the RSA in New York, March 2014. Most deadlines are tomorrow or this weekend, so you read this just in time to write an abstract.


CFP Reading and health in early modern Europe

Symposium on Reading and Health in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800

Medieval and Early Modern Research Group, Newcastle University

5-6thJuly 2013

This symposium will explore how early modern texts engage with the regulation of the body and mind through reading. It will investigate the connections between reading and health and consider how reading was understood as an embodied practice in the period with profound implications for both personal well being and conception of the healthy body politic.

We invite proposals that address the relationship between health and reading in any genre in print or manuscript in any European language. The genres might include medical, scientific, literary, religious, or pedagogical and rhetorical writings. We encourage proposals that recover diverse reading communities and practices and readers/hearers. We also welcome papers that consider problems of evidence: e.g. manuscript marginalia; print paratexts (and directions to readers); visual representations; non-material evidence (voice; gesture; touch).

Topics might include, but are not restricted to:

Reading as therapeutic (devotional; recreational etc.)

  • Reading medical writing
  • The physiology of reading
  • Reading and well-being
  • Reading and disability
  • Health and the senses
  • Health as a literary theme
  • Reading and the healthy body politic (censorship; free speech; reading communities etc.)

300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers from individuals and panels (3 speakers) to be sent to the conference organisers.

The deadline for abstracts is Thursday, January 31st, 2013.

View the conference website at Newcastle University.

The Transmission of Emotions

An Interdisciplinary Symposium

The Transmission of Emotions
An Interdisciplinary Symposium

Friday 10 February 2012, 12.30-17.30 hrs
VU University Amsterdam, Aurorazaal

‘The business of understanding the transmission of affect has barely begun’
– Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (2004)

How and why do we sense and share the emotions of others? The question of how we are moved by the feelings of others has long remained largely unexplored in psychology, neurology, and language research. It is only recently that various disciplines have begun to unravel the mechanisms of empathy, emotional contagion, and the operations of affect in watching a film or reading a novel.

This interdisciplinary symposium brings together three scientists who explore the transmission of emotions from different disciplinary perspectives: neurology, social psychology and psycholinguistics. Their lectures will introduce current knowledge of the transmission of emotion in these three fields. The symposium seeks to encourage interdisciplinary exchange on this broad-ranging topic so fundamental to understanding human interaction.

The speakers:

  • Christian Keysers (neurology): The emphatic brain
  • Agneta Fischer (social psychology): The regulation of social relations through emotional mimicry
  • Jos van Berkum (psycholinguistics): So what about emotion in language?

Click here to register (before 25 January 2012)

For more information, please see the ACCESS website or contact Kristine Steenbergh (k[dot]steenbergh[at]vu[dot]nl).

This event is organized by the Amsterdam Centre for Cross-Disciplinary Emotion and Sensory Studies, sponsored by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the Faculty of Arts, VU University.

Illustration by Camilla Engman (

Conference: Cultural history of Dutch Emotions

Cool, Calm and Collected
The Dutch and their Emotions in Pre-Modern Times

Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag
4 November 2011

Registration by way of an e-mail to: info[at]knhg[dot]nl, or by telephone: +31 (0)70 3140363

The conference ‘Cool, Calm and Collected’ aims to enhance the burgeoning history of emotions in the Netherlands. Speakers at the conference will present their current research, integrating the study of emotional standards in advice literature with the study of actual emotional practices in ego documents, chronicles or archival sources. The fields covered will range from politics, philosophy and the urban feud to religion, the stage and the visual arts. The conference will not only be of interest to specialists in the history of emotions but also to the greater historical community.

Although the history of emotions was already suggested as an interesting topic by Lucien Febvre and Johan Huizinga it has been taken up seriously as a subject of historical study only fairly recently. Initially, historians limited themselves largely to the study of documents that prescribed emotional ideals and standards. Researchers are now going beyond such texts. They are currently identifying transformations in emotional ‘communities’ and ‘styles’ on the basis of letters, autobiographies and memoirs, as well as a variety of narrative, archival and visual sources. Historians are also emphasising performativity, what emotions actually do. At the institutional level, in Europe two important research centres have been started: in London the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions (Thomas Dixon, director); in Berlin the ‘Forschungsbereich Geschichte der Gefühle’ (Ute Frevert, director). This conference seeks to establish a more solid footing for the history of emotions in the Netherlands and join in with these international trends.

The speakers at the conference will discuss the emotional styles of the Modern Devouts and the cult of pugnacity in Late Medieval feuds. Focusing on the seventeenth century, they will reconsider the performativity accorded to the emotions in painting, the theater, and pietist religious movements. For the eighteenth century, speakers will analyse the Dutch ‘cult of sensibility’, the contemporary appreciation and navigation of the sentiments. The day will be closed with a lecture by Dorothee Sturkenboom. She is a pioneer in the study of emotions in the Netherlands and will relate the emotional history of the Dutch to contemporary and more recent views on their ‘national character’.

The conference’s keynote lecturer, the well-known English historian Thomas Dixon, will discuss the latest developments in the field.

The organisers: Wessel Krul, Herman Roodenburg, and Catrien Santing.

The conference will take place in the National Library of the Netherlands (KB) in The Hague.

The conference fee is € 30,- (€ 25,- for members of the KNHG and € 15,- for students and PhD students) and includes lunch. The conference fee should be transferred to account number 6934391 of Nederlands Historisch Genootschap in The Hague.

Registration by way of an e-mail to:, or by telephone: +31 (0)70 3140363.


9. 45 – 10.00                          Welcome Catrien Santing (Groningen University), chair

10.00 – 10.15                       Introduction Herman Roodenburg (Meertens Institute)

10.15 – 11.00                        Keynote lecture Thomas Dixon (Queen Mary, London)

                                                 History in British Tears: Some Reflections on the Anatomy of Modern Emotions

 11.00 – 11.15                        Coffee/tea

11.15 – 11.45                        Mathilde van Dijk (Groningen University),

                                                 ‘Just some silly Beguine’: being pious and showing it in the Devotio Moderna

11.45 – 12.15                        Matthijs Gerrits ( Leiden University )

                                                Anger and Feuding in the Late Medieval Northern Low Countries

12.15 – 13.30                        Lunch

13.00-13.30                          Annual Meeting Koninklijk Nederlands Historisch Genootschap

13.30 – 14.00                        Kristine Steenbergh (VU University)

                                                  Vondel and the Role of Emotions in the Public Sphere

14.00 – 14.30                        Fred van Lieburg (VU University)

                                                  The Use of Emotions by the Hotter Sort of Protestant

14.30 – 15.00                        Eric Jan Sluyter (Amsterdam University)

                                                  The Changing Representation of the Passions in History Paintings by Rembrandt and his Amsterdam Colleagues


15.00 – 15.15                        Coffee and tea

15.15 – 15.45                        Wessel Krul (Groningen University )

                                                 Phlegmatic Excitement. The Dutch and the Discovery of the Emotions in the 18th Century

15.45 – 16.15                        Edwina Hagen (VU University)

                                                 The Passionate Politics of Rutger Jan and Catharina Schimmelpenninck: Dialogue between the Head and the Heart.

16.15 – 16.45                        Dorothée Sturkenboom (independent scholar)

                                                The Dutch Temperament: An Enigma to be Explained…

16.45 – 17.30                       Reflections by Dixon, Roodenburg and Santing, followed by Plenary Discussion

17.30-18.00                         Drinks

Live conference blog


I am in Istanbul at the second conference on the Cultural History of Emotions in Pre-Modernity (the first was in Umeå, Sweden, in 2008). A very broad range of historians of science and medicine, literary, legal, cultural historians and anthropologists have met here to discuss the cultural history of emotions up to and including the nineteenth century. I took along my iPad to do a bit of conference blogging.

Because the historical periods and cultures discussed range from classical antiquity via medieval China to eighteenth-century Copenhagen and the emotions under scrutiny are just as varied, it is hard to sketch out general ideas or conclusions reached at the conference. The theoretical frameworks from which the cultural history of emotions is approached are also different. The most often referred to is Barbara Rosenwein’s concept of emotional communities and their specific words. What all contributors do agree on, is that at least part of what we now call an emotion is culturally determined and therefore different across space and time.

In his keynote paper “Beyond Emotion,” William Reddy (author of the seminal book The Navigation of Feeling) started from this idea. He remarked that although emotional vocabularies are complex and culturally specific, we usually can find ways to translate specific emotion terms. As an example, he compared Stoic ira with Ilongot liget. Even though these two cultural concepts of anger are poles apart, Reddy argued that we are able to see that they have a shared core. (I wonder if this applies to all emotion terms – there are of course the oft-quoted examples of emotions specific to one culture only, such as Japanese Fureai.)

What is the cause of this overlap in meanings, this shared core of two culturally different interpretations of an emotion?

Continue reading

Gender, history & blogging

Historiann this week features two great guest posts by Ruth Mazo Karras, one of the editors of Gender and History, in which she gives an inside view of academic publishing in journals. The first post walks the reader through the process of publishing an article (including a very useful practical timeline of the whole process), the second post answers questions from readers of the first post – also on the question whether you should publish an article on gender history in Gender and History or in a  journal that specializes in in your historical period.

I also found this Call for Papers in my mailbox, via kenau and the History of Feminism Network:

Call for Papers: Feminism, Blogging, and the Historical Profession
Journal of Women’s History

The Journal of Women’s History invites submissions for a roundtable on the emergence of blogging as a location for critical thought among women in the historical profession; historians of women, gender, and sexuality; and feminist scholars who may, or may not be, historians. Participants may wish to address one or more of the following questions in an abstract of no more than 250 words:

  • What role does self-publishing on the internet play in a profession where merit is defined by scholarly review and a rigorouseditorial process?
  • What are the intellectual benefits, and/or costs, of blogging?
  • What are the ethics and consequences of blogging under a pseudonym?
  • What kinds of electronic acknowledgement already correlate with established scholarly practices; which can be discarded; and which need to be attended to, perhaps more rigorously than in printed publications?
  • If many scholarly publications and organizations have alreadyadopted blogs as a way of spreading news and inviting conversation, is blogging itself developing rules and practices that will inevitably produce intellectual and scholarly hierarchies similar to those that blogging seeks to dismantle?
  • Does feminist blogging offer particular opportunities for enhanced conversation about race, sexuality, class, and national paradigms, or does it tend to reproduce existing scholarly paradigms and silences within feminist scholarship?
  • Finally, are new forms of colleagueship and scholarship emerging in the blogosphere?

The roundtable will consist of a short introduction, several essays of 2,000 to 3,000 words, and a concluding comment/response. Abstracts should arrive no later than July 15, 2009, and can be submitted electronically to Claire Potter at tenured[dot]radical[at]gmail[dot]com.

Final submissions are due October 1, 2009. Pseudonymous bloggers may publish under their pseudonyms, but must be willing to reveal their identities to the editor of the roundtable and the commenter. Bloggers based outside the United States are particularly encouraged to contribute.

Early Modern Literature and Bodily Experience

contreblason-du-ventreTogether with a friend and colleague from Leiden University who works on perceptions of pain in early modern English poetry, I am trying to put together a panel on Early Modern Literature and bodily experience for the Venice conference of the Renaissance Society of America in 2010. Do send me an email if you are interested, or leave a comment of course!

CFP – Early Modern Literature and Bodily Experience

Panel at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference, Venice, April 2010

This session invites papers on the relations between early modern literature and bodily experience, with a focus on two related questions:

How did early modern literary texts represent embodiment?
How did early modern culture conceive of the bodily effects of reading literature and watching plays, and of writing literature and acting?

In investigating these questions, participants are invited to look specifically at early modern conceptions of sensory perception, the physiology of the emotions, physical health, illness and suffering, and at the different political, religious and social contexts in which these topics took shape.

Please submit an abstract in English before 1 May 2009 to both co-chairs:

Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen (J[dot]van[dot]Dijkhuizen[at]hum[dot]leidenuniv[dot]nl)
and Kristine Steenbergh (k[dot]steenbergh[at]let[dot]vu[dot]nl).


The image above is taken from a site I just discovered – the Renaissance Body Project at Stanford University, with an archive of renaissance images of the body.

Emotions in premodernity

beloveds_detailIn the last week of October, I was at the Cultural History of Emotions in Premodernity conference, organised by Jonas Liliequist and his colleagues at Umeå University in Sweden. It was the first conference of a new international network for research on the history of emotions. The size of the conference, modestly called a workshop, was ideal – there were about sixty participants, and that turned out to be the perfect number for getting to meet everyone in 4 days’ time. There were six keynote papers, and twelve parallel sessions.  These were the keynotes (in order of appearance):

Piroska Nagy
Université du Québec à Montréal (UQUAM)
“Historians and Emotions: New Theories and New Questions”

Barbara H. Rosenwein
Loyola University Chicago
“Theory and Its Limits: The Emotions of Thomas Aquinas and His Disciples.”

Kristine Steenbergh
Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Emotion and Gender: The Case of Anger in Early Modern English Revenge Tragedies

Walter G. Andrews
University of Washington, Seattle
“Age of Beloveds: Love and Its Emotional Content in Early Modern Ottoman Society and Culture.”

Anne C. Vila
University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Finer’ Feelings: A Zoology of the Over-Delicate in Eighteenth-Century and Early Nineteenth-Century France.”

Wendy Heller
Princeton, New Jersey
“Learning to Lament: Monteverdi and the Gendering of the Passions in Early Modern Italy”

Piroska Nagy opened the conference with an inspiring paper “Historians and Emotions: New Theories, New Questions“, in which she surveyed past theories on the history of emotions, and looked at new methods, tools and theories. She posted her paper on the  EMMA (Émotions au Moyen Age) website, where she also wrote a review of the conference. There is a lot more to read on the EMMA blog.

Barbara Rosenwein built on her work in Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages (Cornell, 2006) (Google books link) in which she challenges Norbert Elias’s teleological model of the history of emotions. Elias’s model, which views emotions as frothing fluids that need to be repressed and controlled, is no longer tenable in the context of modern cognitive theories, in which the emotions play a key role in rational cognitive processes. Moreover, it represents the Middle Ages as a period of child-like, uncontrolled anger – a representation vigorously contested by medievalists. In place of Elias’s model, Barbara Rosenwein proposes the emotional community, “groups in which people adhere to the same norms of emotional expression and value – or devalue – the same or related emotions.” Several communities can co-exist, and they can change over time. In her paper, she tested this model on the community of Thomas Aquinas and his disciples.

The abstract of my paper on gender and the emotion of anger in early modern English revenge tragedies is here. I proposed a model of research into the history of emotions that resembles Barbara Rosenwein’s, but builds more on Foucault and Joan Scott’s theories, and is concerned with the role of literary texts in shaping emotional regimes.

Age of belovedsWalter Andrews gave a paper that tickled everyone’s senses with its intriguing descriptions of the representations of love in early modern Ottoman culture. He showed us fascinating parallels with early modern western European culture, and stimulated our interest into non-western histories of the emotions. I am currently reading his wonderful book Age of Beloveds: Love and the Beloved in Early Modern Ottoman and European Culture and Society (Duke, 2005). Review coming up!

Anne Vila made us think about our own emotional ecologies by analysing the bodily sensitivities of scientists in the eighteenth century, and Wendy Heller’s paper, richly illustrated with fragments from Monteverdi opera’s, indulged my senses as well as my fascination for gender and the passions.

Highlights from the parallel sessions for me were Jan Söffner’s “What Does the Poem Feel? A Medieval Answer,” Frank Brandsma’s “Arthurian Emotions and Audience Competence”, Angus Gowland’s “Melancholy, Imagination and Dreaming in Early Modern Europe” and Maureen Flynn’s “Nocturnal Pollution and the Medieval Misinterpretation of Women’s Dreams.” Jan Söffner argued that we can no longer only ask what a poem thinks, we should be interested also in what the poem feels. As he put it in his abstract:

Paradigms of the embodied mind, of embodied emotionality (as discussed in Neurosciences and related fields of Social Psychology), of embodied perception and interaction, and embodied semiotics put into question the universality of the Saussurian or post-Saussurian absentic structure of signification and rather focus on phenomena of meaningfulness emerging from and inside embodied sensuality too.

Frank Brandma used the concept of the ‘mirror character’ from neurological research to examine the ways in which medieval texts generated emotion in their readers and listeners. Angus Gowland analysed the relationship between melancholy, imagination and dreaming in early modern theoretical texts, and Maureen Flynn looked at fifteenth-century explanations for the wet dreams of monks and nuns. The entire programme and the abstracts can be downloaded from the conference site.

The conference was the first international activity of the new network for the cultural history of emotions in premodernity. The new website has just gone up. There, you can join the network to access the news list and the discussion forum. This is how the website summarizes the aims of the network:

The theme “cultural history of emotions in premodernity” aims to bring together scholars and post-graduate students from a broad range of disciplines. The history of emotions should not be confined to specific disciplines, methodologies or geographical areas but is best understood from the perspective of interdisciplinary and comparative approaches. We welcome contributions to all aspects of the history of emotions, from approaches as diverse as possible and especially in comparative perspectives across cultures.
Our aims could be summarised as:

  • providing a forum for discussion, contact and news
  • establishing contact with other research groups
  • initiating new research projects
  • organising seminars, workshops and conferences

Cultural history of emotions

I’ve been quite busy the first seven weeks of this semester. I tried out a wiki project on my unsuspecting second-year students in a course on early modern literature and cultural history. I think they liked it. The course is almost over now, and I’ll probably be posting an evaluation of my use of a wiki project soon.

First, though, I am off to Sweden this Wednesday, to a conference on the Cultural History of Emotions in Premodernity in Umeå. I’ll be talking about gender and emotions, more specifically on anger, gender and the self in early modern English revenge tragedies. I was invited to give a keynote paper, and since this is my very first keynote, I am a little nervous about it all. Also, my paper is right after a keynote by Barbara Rosenwein, whose work I really admire. It will be a hard act to follow. Still, I really look forward to presenting the gist of my PhD research all in one paper, with enough time for a couple of case studies to show what I did. Anyone out there have tips for a first-time keynote?

Here are some things I noted on the web this morning, while I should have been tinkering with my paper:

  • A new book just out on lovesickness and gender in early modern English literature, by Lesel Dawson. She looked at “literary representations of lovesickness in relation to medical ideas about desire and wider questions about gender and identity, exploring the different ways that desire is believed to take root in the body, how gender roles are encoded and contested in courtship, and the psychic pains and pleasures of frustrated passion.” (OUP) By the way, The Telegraph‘s writer of headlines needs a history lesson. [Update – ah, they’ve changed it. The page URL still gives the original mistake away, though].
  • At Diapsalmata, Whitney ponders the issue of interactivity in the digital archive and posts a wonderful image of a fold-out anatomical illustration in a sixteenth-century English translation of Vesalius.
  • While I’m in Umeå, the next early modern Carnivalesque will be up at Mercurius Politicus on 25 October. I’m looking forward to catching up with everything I missed in the past busy weeks.

Cognition, the brain and cultural history

One of the highlights of the ISCH conference so far, for me, was a paper on cognitive theory and cultural history by Evelyn Tribble and John Sutton. In April, I wrote a post on literature and neuroscience, triggered by Raymond Tallis’ objections to the application of popular neuroscience in the study of literature. He considered it a reduction of humanity to a function of the brain. Tribble and Sutton, however, propose a model that accommodates historical and cultural difference. They acknowledge that some proponents of the use of science in the humanities are universalizing in their orientation. Cognition, however, is a diversified field, and we need to be careful in choosing our allies. In their abstract (also online in the conference booklet [PDF]), they write that: 

The model of cognition we propose – Extended Mind theory and its cognate field Distributed Cognition – takes account of historical difference. […] Extended Mind theory posits that the mind is both embedded in and extended into its worlds. Thought is not merely intracranial, but depends instead upon cognitively rich environments […].

In their paper, Tribble and Sutton argued that this model can shed new light on individual agency and social practice in the early modern period. Because of the rapid changes in cognitive technologies and social institutions in the period, they argue that cognitive theory and cultural history are natural allies. They presented brief case studies of an application of Extended Mind Theory to rehearsal practice and mnemonic techniques used by actors, as well as learning practices in the early modern apprentice system. 

What fascinated me about the model, is that it allows for historicization, and even for the interaction between brain and cultural context. Therefore, the model does not only use modern cognitive theory, it also allows for the inclusion of historical, early modern theories of cognition such as the ideas Sutton discussed in his earlier Philosophy and Memory Traces – because they too, like the material practices the paper focussed on, shaped early modern cognition.

On the programme for today is a paper on a related subject, the biological limits of interpretation. In “Culture, the Body and Noise,” Bruce Johnson will explore the role of sound and the body in cultural history. His approach seems to be rather more biologically essential than Tribble and Sutton’s. Bruce Johnson writes in his abstract:

This paper articulates the possibilities of cultural analyses that is neither visually-dominated nor incorporeal. Certain kinds of sounds are already ‘hard-wired’ biologically for a particular repertoire of effects and affects. There are pre-cultural factors which constrain and predispose the affective range of sonic stimuli. […] While cultural scaffolding articulates the social outcomes of sound, there is a biological foundation circumscribing that articulation.

On a related note, I think we are in the middle of a Corporeal Turn — the body is everywhere at this conference, and is often referred to as an entity that resists discursive analysis, has its own agency, and shapes our perception of the world.

And in other news: I gave my paper yesterday, and it was well received. I changed some things, scribbled additional thoughts in the margins that I will add to my previous post later. I also need to find out how Renaissance Self-Fashioning fits into all this. I offered some thoughts on that matter during the discussion, but I need to look into it further.