Author Archives: Thomas Dixon

Radio 4 and Books of the Year

TLS_Cover_November_1195239mDr Thomas Dixon appeared twice recently on BBC Radio 4 to discuss his research on the history of tears and emotions. He spoke at the conclusion of a special edition of The Film Programme marking the 70th anniversary of Brief Encounter. Then, on All in the Mind, he discussed the history and science of tears and health with Claudia Hammond, including a recent Mind campaign about crying and anxiety.

Thomas’s book Weeping Britannia was selected as one of the Guardian’s best history books of 2015, while in the Times Literary Supplement‘s Books of the Year for 2015 it was nominated by both Professor Sir Richard Evans (Cambridge) and Professor Ritchie Robertson (Oxford). In the Spectator round-up of the best books of the yearWeeping Britannia was one of the choices of Thomas W. Hodgkinson.

Sarah McNamer: ‘The Poetics of Emotion in History’. Annual Lecture 2015.

SarahMcNamerNew (1)Dr Sarah McNamer (Georgetown University) will deliver the fourth annual History of Emotions Lecture at Queen Mary University of London, to be followed by a drinks reception.

The Arts One building is number 37 on this campus map.

The event is free but registration is essential – please register for your place on Eventbrite.

‘The Poetics of Emotions in History’

Literature is, on the face of it, the richest archive of the emotions in history. Yet the history of emotion as a field has tended to approach literary texts – with the exception of social realist fiction – with caution, as if the very features that make texts “literary” make them less reliable as witnesses to how emotion was produced, experienced, and practiced in the past. How can we move beyond this limitation and make better use of literature as source for the history of emotion? This lecture advocates closer attention to poetics, to the formal features and sensuous surfaces of literary texts as essential clues to how they operated in history. It does so through a close look at a particular example: that exquisite medieval English poem of love and loss, Pearl, in the context of what remains one of the most central and compelling questions in the history of emotion: did premodern parents grieve for their very young infants, and if so, how?

Attending to Pearl’s poetics – its rhythmic complexities, its metaphorical extravagance, its manifest swerves from a realistic aesthetic – can paradoxically lead us to a more rigorous historical understanding of this poem and its purpose. Indeed the poetics of emotion in Pearl suggest that the elusive Pearl-poet wrote at the royal court for the family of Edward III, scripting the affective aspirations and promoting the dynastic ambitions of this particular emotional community. Pearl, I argue, served not only to cultivate grief for a royal infant, a granddaughter of Edward III, but, in doing so, helped to forge a cult of the affective family — a cult that could, in turn, serve Edward III’s chief political ambition: the creation of a glorious new Plantagenet dynasty. The poetics of emotion, then, serves to expose the politics of emotion in this case. The lecture concludes by gesturing towards other promising conjunctions of poetics, emotion, and politics in other historical periods.

New Scientist and Woman’s Hour

Book of Human EmotionsTiffany Watt Smith’s Book of Human Emotions (Profile Books, 2015), published earlier this month, continues to generate huge interest.

Previously the book was extracted in the Guardian.

Tiffany has an article in the current New Scientist – “Buzzwords: How Language Creates Your Emotions” – a short extract is available online.

She has also been interviewed by Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about the history of emotions and her new book.

Congratulations to Tiffany for all this great coverage for her beautifully written and thought-provoking book!

New book by Thomas Dixon published today

Weeping Britannia coverToday sees the publication of Thomas Dixon’s new book Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (Oxford University Press), which charts the ebb and flow of British tears from the late medieval period to the present, and traces the origins of the idea of the British ‘stiff upper lip’.

You can read more about the book in a blog post by Thomas Dixon on the History of Emotions Blog, and download the Introduction via the OUP website.

Major new grant to explore emotional health

Telemedicine illustration

Illustration credit: Matthew Herring, Wellcome Images

The Centre for the History of the Emotions has been awarded a grant of £1.6m by the Wellcome Trust for a five-year inter-disciplinary research project entitled ‘Living With Feeling: Emotional Health in History, Philosophy, and Experience’.

The project, one of the first to receive a Wellcome Trust Humanities and Social Science Collaborative Award, will connect the history and philosophy of medicine and emotions with contemporary science, medical practice, phenomenology, and public policy, exploring the many varied and overlapping meanings of emotional health, past and present.

Research topics will include: the use of the passions as medical treatments; the anatomy of anger as a modern emotion; relationships between religious, philosophical and scientific forms of therapy; time-management and de-cluttering as emotional technologies; the rise of the psychologist parent; and the roles of imitation, contagion, and mirror neurons in emotional health.

A core team of humanities researchers will draw on the expertise and creativity of collaborators including neuroscientists, clinicians, dramatists, and policy experts to investigate how ideas about emotional health have changed over time, and what we can learn about managing, channelling and cultivating our emotions from historical predecessors in Europe, Britain, and America. Among our many intellectual and creative collaborators will be the Health Experiences Research Group at Oxford, and the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary.

The project will be launched in October 2015. To keep up with developments and learn much more about the project as it unfolds, you can subscribe to our email list, read our blog, and follow us on Twitter.

See also the announcement on the Queen Mary website.