Introduction: emotion, history and the arts

Erin Sullivan, Marie Louise Herzfeld-Schild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This introduction surveys the rise of the history of emotions as a field and the role of the arts in such developments. Reflecting on the foundational role of the arts in the early emotion-oriented histories of Johan Huizinga and Jacob Burkhardt, as well as the concerns about methodological impressionism that have sometimes arisen in response to such studies, the introduction considers how intensive engagements with the arts can open up new insights into past emotions while still being historically and theoretically rigorous. Drawing on a wide range of emotionally charged art works from different times and places—including the novels of Carson McCullers and Harriet Beecher-Stowe, the private poetry of neo-Confucian Chinese civil servants, the photojournalism of twentieth-century war correspondents, and music from Igor Stravinsky to the Beatles—the introduction proposes five ways in which art in all its forms contributes to emotional life and consequently to emotional histories: first, by incubating deep emotional experiences that contribute to formations of identity; second, by acting as a place for the expression of private or deviant emotions; third, by functioning as a barometer of wider cultural and attitudinal change; fourth, by serving as an engine of momentous historical change; and fifth, by working as a tool for emotional connection across communities, both within specific time periods but also across them. The introduction finishes by outlining how the special issue's five articles and review section address each of these categories, while also illustrating new methodological possibilities for the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-128
Number of pages12
JournalCultural History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2018


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