The History of Emotions and the Other Disciplines

AHA Session 25
Friday, January 2, 2015: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Morgan Suite (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Susan J. Matt, Weber State University
Reflections on History of Science, and History of Emotions
Otniel E. Dror, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(Moral) Philosophy and Its Use of Emotions: From Smith to Nussbaum
Ute Frevert, Center for the History of Emotions, Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Session Abstract

In 1941, Lucien Febvre called for scholars to investigate the history of emotions, a new subject of inquiry in which, he claimed, “psychology wrestles with history.”  It took several decades for historians to respond to his call, but over the last quarter century, interest in the emotions has flourished -- so much so that one scholar recently declared that the field of history had taken an “emotional turn.”  As the history of emotions has expanded, scholars have realized they must wrestle not only with psychology, but with neuroscience, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics, literature, and the history of science as well.

Historians of the emotions have found much to admire in these other fields, whether it be Arlie Hochschild’s sociological explorations of “feeling rules” in American corporate capitalism, Albert Hirschmann and Robert Frank’s efforts to restore the passions to economic analysis, or Catherine Lutz’s forays into psychological anthropology.  As they began their own research into emotions, historians benefitted from the methodologies and theories these scholars developed as well as the data they gathered.  But historians have much to offer other disciplines as well.  For instance, researchers in the sciences and "hard" social sciences have often discounted the role of emotion and history in their analyses; philosophers, political scientists, psychologists and behavioral economists, while acknowledging the importance of feelings, often have assumed emotional experiences were universal and minimized their historical and cultural variability.  Consequently, there is much room for fruitful exchange, debate, and future collaboration. This roundtable considers both how historians of the emotion can benefit from interdisciplinary approaches and how other disciplines can benefit from the history of emotions.

Peter Stearns will explore the relationships between the history of emotions, social psychology, and sociology by focusing on interdisciplinary opportunities and challenges in dealing with shame. Historians have offered important analysis concerning shame, but have not interacted with more recent developments, particularly in social psychology.

Bringing together politics, philosophy, and history, Ute Frevert will explore how (moral) philosophy, from Adam Smith to Martha Nussbaum, has conceived of emotions and made them the cornerstone of respective concepts of morality and civility.

William Reddy will consider recent research in “affective neuroscience” that suggests a much larger role for interpretation and learning (that is, for historical change) in emotional experience than previous researchers supposed.

Otniel Dror will explore connections between the history of science and the history of emotions: To what extent did science constitute the norms, experiences, expressions, and regimes of emotions; does the study of science proffer a unique perspective to the historian of emotions, above and beyond the study of literature, art, economics, and politics; to what extent can we read the history of emotions writ large in terms of the history of science and vice versa?

Susan Matt will examine how the history of emotions enriches impoverished explanations of human motivation offered by traditional rational choice theories of economics, and how the new field of behavioral economics can contribute to historical research on market behavior.

The audience will serve as commentators.

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