Communities and Society : The History of Emotions in the Middle Ages

AHA Session 176
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Chicago Ballroom C (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
William M. Reddy, Duke University
Emotions and Society in the Middle Ages
Piroska Nagy, Université de Québec, Montréal; Damien Boquet, University of Provence Aix-Marseille I
Prolegomena to the Study of Early Medieval Emotions
Nira Pancer, University of Haifa
Barbara H. Rosenwein, Loyola University Chicago

Session Abstract

A group of researchers in France, with the collective name EMMA (short for EMotions in the Middle Ages) has undertaken (since 2006) to explore the different uses of emotions as they are revealed at three levels of meaning: individual feelings and existential stakes; communities and social networks; society as a whole. While our modern Western approach to emotions considers them an authentic manifestation of individuality, traditional societies functioned as an organic body, shaping all the levels of meaning in them. The papers proposed here present three different glimpses of our work, while emphasizing methodological issues and new approaches to emotion in the sources. The first paper by the two founders of EMMA, Damien Boquet & Piroska Nagy, traces the major lines of the common work that has been accomplished by EMMA since 2006.  Its collective import is to problematize the relationship between society and emotion from both epistemological and methodological points of view, dealing first with individual emotion, revealed to be culturally shaped; then with how emotions are used in politics and society; finally with emotions’ relation to the body, the main medium of their expression. Nira Pancer proposes to use new methods to read emotions in early medieval texts, allowing her to transcend the more usual lexicographical approach through analysis of larger sequences or scripts that consider larger contexts; this method supports an intuitive reading of silences and unuttered feelings that can be read out of a careful analysis of social links. Laurent Smagghe focuses on the uses of weeping by the princes at the end of the Middle Ages, when the reshaping of a series of cultural models made weeping an efficient rulership practice that both rallied an emotional community around the ruler and celebrated the social order.

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