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Monday musings on Australian literature: The History of Emotions

May 20, 2013

I had something else planned for today’s Monday musings, but it can wait, because this afternoon a member of my Jane Austen group brought something rather interesting to my attention. It’s the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Here is how it describes itself:

Emotions shape individual, community and national identities. The ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions uses Historical Knowledge from Europe, 1100-1800, to understand the long history of emotional behaviours.

How fascinating. It’s one of those joint ARC projects involving a number of universities: the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney, and the University of Western Australia. Given the cutbacks to tertiary studies in the humanities over recent years, I’m thrilled to see something like this being supported. The Centre was established in January 2011.

Lithograph of Cremorne Gardens in 1862

Lithograph of Cremorne Gardens in 1862 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They divide their research areas into four programs: Meanings, Change, Performance and Shaping the modern. There’s a lot going on, but under Shaping the Modern I found an interesting current project being undertaken by Dr Katrina O’Loughlin, titled ‘A certain correspondence’: intellectual sociability and emotional community in the eighteenth century.  She’s interested in the “global early modern world” – seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe – and the explosion in trade and travel that led not only to movement of people and objects, but to “a lively exchange of ideas”. Her specific research interest is the “affective dimensions” of the “intellectual bonds” that were forged as people shared ideas – in salons, theatres, coffeehouses, pleasure gardens and so on.

I guess you know what this made me think of: how our current global communication explosion is resulting in a similar sharing of ideas – virtually – and how this too is having an affective dimension, both positive and negative. From my forays into online communities – starting with internet bookgroups operating via listservs in the mid to late 1990s – I have been thrilled by the sharing of ideas that I’ve been involved in but, just as importantly, also by the friendships that have developed as a result. I have also, as have any of us who’ve spent a lot of time online, experienced or witnessed a range of other, more negative, emotional behaviours. These emotional behaviours and patterns can clearly impact us as individuals, but the interesting thing is whether or how they impact society (or community) as a whole. For example, has (or will) our global sharing lead to improved understanding of “other” and therefore greater peace? Hmm … Anyhow, I’d love to see what conclusions O’Loughlin reaches, and how applicable they might be to the 21st century.

I suppose this post has a tenuous link to Australian literature but, looking at it broadly, the research being undertaken will add to the body of Australian academic literature, and I reckon that’s a good enough reason for writing about it in my Monday Musings series. And anyhow, isn’t emotion at the bottom of everything we read?

You can Like the Centre on Facebook to be kept informed about activities/events/research that are historically emotional or, is that, emotionally historical!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2013 1:35 am

    Fascinating. The ways people share ideas–and who gets included and excluded–is something I have noticed historically, too. Where are the conversations that matter. And for some reason, I wonder about Stella Miles Franklin, what she sought and tried to create for others. I will check out the sites you mention.

    And of course I share your interest in the present practices. When I am feeling theoretical, and not just reading because that’s what I do, the whole idea of people needing to understand each other is one of my justifications, especially for reading women’s books because of our stark ignorance of each others’ lives.

    • May 21, 2013 1:48 am

      I thought you’d like this Marilyn … what I love is O’Loughlin’s concept of “intellectual sociability and emotional community”. I love your justification for reading what you do – not that you need one of course!

  2. May 21, 2013 1:40 am

    Australian academic literature still counts as Australian lit in my book, just a different genre than your usual. It sounds like they are doing some exciting research. O’Loughlin’s study does sound fascinating. I can’t help but think it will have some relevance to today, we have different methods of “travel” and “salons” but the explosion in interaction seems similar.

    • May 21, 2013 1:51 am

      Thanks Stefanie. I hoped readers here would agree. I thought this post would interest you given the sort of reading you do … and I agree that her research must surely have resonance today. I hope we get to hear about it.

  3. May 21, 2013 4:53 pm

    Ah, listservs – now there’s something I’ve not heard about for a long time!

    The problem people have with going on line seems to be keeping a balance between the “real world” and the “online world”. The two are very different and I’m sure someone has written a book about it somewhere. While I love book blogging and flickr, I’m not interested in facebook and twitter, so perhaps I’ve been left behind. But then when I take my grandchildren to the park I see all these young mothers checking their iPhones and feel pleased that I can look at the world around me rather than being glued to the phone.

    An interesting article. I’ve been away thus my lack of comments lately.

    • May 21, 2013 5:06 pm

      It’s amazing how quickly communications technologies have moved on, isn’t it Tom? I know what you mean about the attachment to the iPhones … I like my communications but I don’t need to be in touch all the time.

      And don’t worry about comments … I’ve been on the road for much of May too. I tried a couple of comments on your blog but I find commenting on blogs via the ipad a very hit and miss affair.

  4. May 22, 2013 4:18 am

    You are now clearly qualified to teach the Sociology of Emotions component I took at ANU. x

    • May 22, 2013 8:03 am

      Oh, I’d forgotten that course … I gather the history of emotions is an emerging discipline.

  5. May 23, 2013 11:15 am

    One of my bookclub members is studying emotions in early England. Some of the articles point to this area of study:
    http://history.tulane.edu/web/people.asp?id=LindaPollock.txt

    This area of research is interesting.

    • May 23, 2013 11:43 am

      Oh thanks Isabel … I noticed one paper there on Anger and the negotiation of relationships in early modern England. Would love to read that as my Jane Austen group looked at anger in Jane Austen’s novels earlier this year but a link wasn’t provided. Academic journals!

  6. May 27, 2013 3:46 pm

    Interesting! As I live much of my writing life online I have to say that these changes in ways we acquire information and form opinions is central to the way I work. I don’t find it completely satisfactory – I’d much rather a face and a talk – but it does makes unlikely connections occur, and also allows you to step back and reflect (being a slow thinker I do like this) before joining the fray. It sounds like a crucial study given so much has changed over recent generations. We may need to step back see what we might be missing – or how our emotions are conditioned somewhat by our technological means.

    I’m with Tom in the park – an iPhone-free day is a REAL day (I’m far too bound to mine!)

    • May 27, 2013 4:12 pm

      No, I don’t find it completely satisfactory either – the face to face IS the best – but online communication has its place doesn’t it and boy, can emotions come out in all sorts of ways … the thoughtful and the thoughtless, the kind and the vituperative. Like you my favourite part is the opportunity it provides to step back and think. I’m not a creative writer but I do think better when writing. The emotional experience is different though – the excitement of discussing a book in person in a reading group is quite different to the thoughtful written comments on line. Oh, and I think online communication will change old age significantly – if I can keep up with the technology!

      I’m not really bound to my phone (Android not iPhone) but that’s probably partly because I’ve always hated phones and because I don’t have a data plan for it so don’t use it for social media – it’s really just a phone. (I use my iPad more that way – and have it with me always – but it’s not so easy or subtle to check it all the time!_

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