The History of Emotions: A Four Volume Sourcebook

KATIE BARCLAY, with FRANÇOIS SOYER, is editor of Emotions in Europe, 1517-1914 (Routledge, 2020), a four volume sourcebook. Here she talks to History about the work.

History: What was the inspiration behind this project?

Katie: I’ve been teaching History of Emotions courses for several years now and had been developing a series of resources to support students in their learning. I began with my ‘student guide’, The History of Emotions: A Student Guide to Sources and Methods (Palgrave, 2020), which is designed to support students applying history of emotions methods to historical sources and was based on the lectures that I was giving at Adelaide to my students. This was accompanied by an edited collection with Sharon Crozier-De Rosa and Peter Stearns, Sources for the History of Emotions: A Guide (Routledge, 2020), which brings together a group of scholars to explore the sources they use in their research and how they are helpful for research in the History of Emotions. Unsurprisingly, a set of primary sources to accompany these volumes also seemed like a good idea and this collection is designed to sit alongside them and to offer a ‘package’ of resources for teaching. I got together with François for this because we have different chronological and language expertise and thought that between us we could produce something useful. The four-volume sourcebook that results brings together a range of sources from Europe and its empires between 1517 and 1914, which can be used for History of Emotions research.

History: What is the main contribution that you hope these History of Emotions source volumes will make to the history of emotions?  

Figure 1. The front cover of Emotions in Europe, 1517-1914: Volume 1. Reformations 1517-1602 (2020)

Katie: The original goal had been to provide a collection of sources for students to use in the classroom, or for early research. We wanted volumes that could be used along current research (so tied into articles and books in the field) and offered sources that were otherwise hard to access (from manuscripts and archives) or were considered ‘classics’ and directed students to important works from an emotions perspective that they could explore in more depth. It was especially important to us that we offered a range of voices, not just from different languages, but from children and adults, rich and poor, different ethnicities, and to provide some access to the variety of Europe and its empires. This turned out to be quite challenging because of the limits of space, but we hope that where there are gaps that students might nonetheless be inspired to fill them. We started out to create this resource for teaching, but along the way, it became apparent that our collection allows for some new histories to emerge, both chronologically as you compare similar concepts over time, and more narrowly as they focus on particular themes and allow new connections to emerge. 

History: How did you decide which source types and themes to include? 

Katie: We designed the volumes – each deal with a different period – around the themes of self, family and community, religion, politics and law, science and philosophy, and art and culture. Our choices here reflected our sense of the field and the areas where there was developing work. Here it is noticeable that we’re both early modernists. I suspect a properly ‘modern’ historian might have identified different topics. We thought it was important that our sources complemented current research so that teachers could accompany sources with relevant readings to contextualise them or demonstrate how historians might use them. That was perhaps the easy part! Harder was picking the sources themselves. Initially we were really ambitious, but it’s surprising how quickly you fill up the space once you get started. Languages were also a concern. While François is a talented linguist and I can read in a few complementary languages to his, translating new sources is nonetheless quite time consuming. And, unfortunately, we had no budget to recruit a world of translators. For this reason, we ended up relying on translations produced by others for a lot of our work, and that shaped several of our decisions. A lot of translated work is of well-known and powerful men. As a result, we tried to complement these more traditional writings in print with original manuscripts from new voices. This was inevitably imperfect, but we aimed for a balance that offered students both key works that have underpinned our knowledge of emotions in the past with some new material that might open up different ways of thinking about the topic.

History: Did your involvement in the editorial processes take you in any unexpected directions? Have any of these sources directly impacted your own research? 

Katie: Great question! François might have different answers to this too! I am not sure this counts as unexpected, but I became very aware when pulling these sources together – partly I suspect as my own research has been so archivally based – how the ‘big narratives’ of European history are based on some classic texts – novels, religious works, scientific writings (in translation). It made me conscious not only of the importance of being widely read in the key texts of the European tradition, but how these works provide the outlines of so many of our historical narratives of progress and change. If different writings – and implicitly different people – had been given the same level of acknowledgement, our histories might be quite different. I think this is especially important to remember ‘in context’ as these works often became important over time, but in the moment of production were part of a contest of ideas. Because of this, I tried to give some texts that ‘failed’ – that never became canonical but were important in their time – and also archival sources that offered examples of how people experienced emotion in the everyday, beyond the grand narratives of the past. I especially enjoyed putting together the sections on science and philosophy because it helped me contextualise how the ideas expressed in my archival sources – letters, court records – were underpinned by ideas that were given particular authority.

Figure 2. ‘A Peasant Burial’ – Erik Werenskiold (c.1883-1885)

History: Are there any themes or source types that you weren’t able to include within this book?  

Katie: Most of them! The further we went with this project, the more imperfect it felt. A key issue that is missing is regional variation. Early modern Europe rarely shared a language let alone a national identity and yet we tried to use the modern nation state to guide our ‘spread’ of sources. But once you have a source from Ireland, Austria, Portugal and the Spanish Americas, suddenly you’ve filled a lot of space. But of course all of these nations would have seen significant regional variation in languages, ideas, and cultural norms. We made an effort to cover significant religious groups, genders and age categories, but there are numerous minority experiences that we don’t touch on. Emotions too are not all present. When selecting sources, we tried to create connections for teachers and students, so that they could compare and contrast works. But this meant we ended up with more on love than hope, and on anger than loneliness. We hope that ultimately these decisions will be productive for users, but it’s very much a start and not an end. 

Figure 3. ‘Young Man and Woman in an Inn (Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart)’ – Frans Hals (1623)

History: How would you hope to see these sources used in teaching? ​

Katie: The design of these volumes was to complement research by other scholars in the field and to allow students to create new histories of their own. I hope therefore they are used in a variety of ways – for lower-level teaching as an example of the sources than underpin works in the field; for upper level students, for more original comparisons across sources and original reflections on variety and difference, and for early researchers who might see these volumes as providing stories of their own of the past – and exclusions as part of those histories. As a good history addict, I found all these sources interesting in their own right, and I hope that teachers enjoy them too – even if just because our engagements with our predecessors is rewarding and their emotional lives make an especially rich domain in which to do this.

Katie Barclay is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in the History of Emotions and Associate Professor and Head of History, University of Adelaide.

Cover Image. A. Trankowski, ‘Jewish Wedding’ (c.1875 – 1900). Available in the public domain.

Figure 1. Cover of Emotions in Europe, 1517-1914: Volume 1. Reformations 1517-1602 , ed. K. Barclay and F. Soyer (2020). Image provided by the author.

Figure 2. Erik Werenskiold, ‘A Peasant Burial’ (c.1883-1885). [National Gallery, Oslo, Norway – Oil on canvas]. Available online CC BY 4.0.

Figure 3. Frans Hals, ‘Young Man and Woman in an Inn (Yonker Ramp and His Sweetheart)’ [1623]. [Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – Oil on canvas, 105.4 x 79.4 cm]. Available online with CC BY 4.0.

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