Experience history in action, how human emotions have changed over the centuries, and the impact it has had on Australia today. Read the latest news from the History of Emotions:

12 July 2016


The homepage of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions boldly proclaims ‘Emotions make history’. This seems like a truism, but perhaps there is no sphere of human activity that demonstrates its veracity more clearly than electoral politics.

Indeed, I was in the UK during the second half of June, where I witnessed the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union; and I returned to Australia just after the Federal election. So I have had plenty of exposure to the emotional roller coaster that is a modern democratic election, and to its driving force, stories in news media about whom to love and whom to hate.

In the last few days before the UK referendum, emotions were vividly on show in the British popular press. Pro-leave newspapers and their politician-clients constructed a narrative of nostalgic patriotism built upon an onward and upward historical story of independence and greatness, as evidenced by the growth of parliamentary democracy and the British Empire. Alternatively, the EU and its faceless bureaucracy were represented as an insidious challenge to traditions of British sovereignty, and their guarantee of free movement among people a threat to British identity and the sustainability of the welfare state – regarded as the cherished prize for courageous Britons after victory in World War II. Meanwhile pro-remain commentators were accused of maintaining ‘project fear’: a promise of economic decline and a false claim that the leavers were closet racists, thereby threatening Britain’s prosperity and identity as an open and tolerant, fair-minded people. Both of these competing stories depended on the deliberate manipulation of collective emotions, and both ended in anger.

Certainly many among the victorious leavers felt a sense of shame when it became clear that the result had licensed racist attacks on immigrants; while the remainers bemoaned their sense of lost European identity and expressed their anger at ambitious MPs and narcissistic ministers who had treated matters of government like a game of student politics. Fittingly, the press represented the ultimate split between the principal protagonists of the leave campaign in tragi-comic style: Michael Gove was accused of ‘knifing’ his erstwhile friend Boris Johnson, who was represented as Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: crying ‘et tu, Brute!’

The Australian Federal Election was less self-consciously dramatic, but equally driven – and riven
by the politicians’ and news media’s attempted manipulation of emotions. At a relatively early stage, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was branded ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’ by one of his party enemies; and the centre-left press took up this appeal to envy and resentment gleefully. On the other hand, immigration minister Peter Dutton was accused of attempting to raise community anxiety over refugees by declaring that ‘illiterate and innumerate’ refugees would take ‘Australian jobs’. For their part, in the final stages of the campaign the Labor Party allegedly resorted to a classic scare campaign, which claimed the Turnbull government intended to privatise Medicare. This was the subject of an angry speech by Turnbull on election night, wherein he condemned ‘a lying campaign from the Labor Party’ for the government’s loss of seats.

Thus modern elections construe voters as ‘affective subjects’ who are best influenced by appeals to their hopes and fears, likes and dislikes. This knowledge is not exclusive to our Centre. But our research on the history of emotions has shown that the management of collective feelings has always been a feature of power and politics, and has drawn attention to important shifts in the subjects of fear and compassion. Indeed, research on the history of emotions is surely intrinsic to progressive ideas about intelligent citizenship and governance.
David Lemmings
(CHE Change Program Leader, The University of Adelaide)


Image: East Indian Market Stall, attributed to Albert Eckhout, 1640 - 1666. © Rijksmuseum.By Giovanni Tarantino (CHE Research Development Officer, The University of Western Australia)

The 'Emotions: Movement, Cultural Contact and Exchange, 1100-1800' conference in Berlin (30 June-1 July 2016) organised by Freie Universität Berlin and CHE with the invaluable support of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, focused on the history of emotions in relation to late medieval and early modern cross-cultural links within Europe and between non-Europeans and Europeans.

The conference, which drew scholars from across the globe, tapped into a wealth of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary expertise, with keynote speakers Monique Sheer (Universität Tubingen), Lyndal Roper (University of Oxford) and Laura M. Stevens (University of Tulsa) presenting a broad cross-section of the different interpretative possibilities opening up in the history of emotions. Drawing on ethnographic and historical research material about Protestant worship in Germany, Professor Scheer examined belief practices that were geared into producing particular emotional effects, and the moral implications of the 'proper' distribution of agency. In her paper she also reiterated her view that emotions are 'embodied thoughts', though this does not mean that the body remains unchanged through history, across cultures and between individuals. Instead, as she has stated elsewhere, 'the body is a hybrid of the social and the biological: a physiological machinery, if you will, but one that is socialised, habitualised, and thus shaped and conditioned'. With the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation drawing near, Professor Roper showed that we can gain a different understanding of it by investigating its emotional dynamics: the Reformation unleashed a range of passionate emotions – anger, fear, hatred, joy, excitement – and it was the depth of Luther’s fear and despair as a monk that led him to conceive God’s justice in a fresh way. In her fascinating and moving talk, Professor Stevens sketched the outlines of a global history of displaced children, prompting a lively and stimulating debate about the cultural bias underpinning the visual construction of the affective constellation of childhood.

Seven parallel sessions provided opportunities to showcase a wealth of groundbreaking research. The wide range of offerings, explored through an equally broad spectrum of textual, visual and material sources, covered emotional responses to the encounter with ethnic, cultural, religious and sexual alterity; experiences of exile, the desert and war; the various emotional issues of identity re-formation faced by exiles, travellers, merchants, missionaries, settlers, and natives who came into contact with them; and the impact of transcultural experiences and cultural adaptations on emotional concepts and practices such as romantic love, friendship and family bonds.

Finally, a round table coordinated by Charles Zika (The University of Melbourne) with Daniela Hacke (Freie Universität Berlin), Andrew Lynch (The University of Western Australia), Margrit Pernau (Max Planck Institute for Human Development), and Jacqueline Van Gent (The University of Western Australia) brought into focus the themes and problems that emerged during the three-day event, and helped to single out potential future strands of inquiry in the history of emotions. Particular emphasis was placed on the need for new generations of historians to be trained to consider a wide range of textual, visual and material sources, languages, methodological approaches and theoretical perspectives in their work; to familiarise themselves with reception and translation theories and with relational and global approaches to historical and cultural studies; to uncover entangled histories of emotions; and to actively collaborate with scholars from other fields and disciplines.

The Berlin conference was without doubt a fine example of interdisciplinary and international collaboration and engagement, offering further proof of the vitality and fruitfulness of the history of emotions.


Image: The Letter Writer, Frans van Mieris (I), 1680.  Copyright Rijksmuseum.CHE’s latest project, the Society for the History of Emotions (SHE), is a professional association for scholars interested in emotions as historically and culturally situated phenomena within past and present societies across the globe. For more information about the Society’s aims and membership click here.

The aims of the Society include the publication of a journal called Emotions: History, Culture, Society (EHCS). The first issue of the journal will be launched in 2017 and will be edited by Andrew Lynch and Katie Barclay. The editors welcome submissions of work, typically between 6,000 to 8,000 words, exploring the role of emotion in shaping human experience, societies, cultures and environments. Submissions are accepted all year round at the email address: editemotions@gmail.com Enquiries can also be directed there.

The Editors also plan a special issue exploring the question, ‘What differences do emotions make in processes of change?’, to be published in the first half of 2018. Teasing out the role emotion plays in processes of change – is it an actor in its own right, or a tool to be utilised, or something of both? – remains a significant area of debate. More broadly, an interrogation of emotion can help scholars to rethink how to assess change. Is change something that happens at the level of individuals, groups or societies? Is feeling a sufficient marker of change or does it have to be followed by action and, if so, what counts as action? How do emotions enable change? How is emotion mediated, shared, transformed and put to work? What role do the arts, literature, technology and more play in emotional processes of change? These questions are intended to stimulate ideas and generate discussion but should not be viewed as limiting.

Contributions are welcome that seek to re-imagine the terms of this question to further our understanding of the operation of emotion in human life.

The Editors invite proposals for articles of 6,000
to 8,000 words (including notes) on the theme ‘Emotions and Change’ by 31 July 2016. Proposals should include a title, abstract (c.500 words) and a short biography of the author with contact information. Please send proposals and enquiries to editemotions@gmail.com

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LtoR: Emma Matthews, Sally-Anne Russell and Jeremy Kleeman in Voyage to the Moon.By Emma Miller (Media and Communications Officer, The University of Melbourne)

Voyage to the Moon, a new chamber opera brought to life through a collaboration between CHE, Victorian Opera and Musica Viva, has resulted in three 2016 Helpmann Award nominations.

Renowned theatre director Michael Gow received a nomination for Best Direction of an Opera, while Sally-Anne Russell was one of only two singers nominated for Best Female Performer in a Supporting Role, and Jeremy Kleeman was one of four short-listed for Best Male Performer in a Supporting Role.

This scholarly and creative musical collaboration ¬– produced in partnership with CHE’s Performance Program led by Professor Jane Davidson – re-imagined the high drama of baroque opera by creating a new story using arias by Handel and Vivaldi as well as lesser-known eighteenth-century composers.

Voyage to the Moon toured nationally in February and March 2016, during which Jane Davidson and her team collected data from select audience members in order to track their emotional responses throughout the performance.

We’ll have our fingers crossed on 25 July, when the Helpmann Award winners will be announced in Sydney.

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Louis CharlandEmma Miller (Media and Communications Officer, The University of Melbourne)

Should disorders and addictions such as anorexia nervosa, problem gambling and substance abuse be viewed as ‘passions’?

Yes, says philosopher and bioethicist Louis Charland, who is currently visiting CHE from Western University in Ontario.

'Reform on a grand scale is needed,' he suggests, 'if we are to better understand and treat sufferers of these often long-term conditions.'

Professor Charland, a CHE Partner Investigator, believes that the difference between the historical concept of ‘passions’ and more recent ideas about ‘emotions’ could be crucial in improving clinical treatments.

'Disorders such as anorexia nervosa can’t be easily cured with cognitive-based therapies and only new, alternate passions can often reverse, block or divert the unhealthy ones,' Charland claims.

'Passions can begin innocently enough, providing a person with meaningful activity and purpose, but when they become extreme they can suck a person into a powerful downward spiral where they’ve effectively lost control.'

Professor Charland believes that it’s not only scholars of psychiatry and psychology who could benefit from the reinstatement of ‘passion’, but that ¬ literature scholars should also take note.

'My research has shown that re-reading Shakespeare in the context of ‘the passions’ helps solve many interpretive problems in his plays and reveals the full extent of the Bard’s psychological insight,' he says.

Professor Charland will be running a free workshop, ‘
Passions – Healthy or Unhealthy?’, at The University of Melbourne on 19 July 2016, which will explore the significance of ‘the passions’ for contemporary psychology, psychiatry and literary studies.

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Othello on Trial is a theatre-in-education project aimed at raising awareness of how victim-blaming provocation defences have garnered cultural validity.

This project, presented at La Mama Courthouse Theatre, Melbourne, on 15, 16 and 17 May 2016, was supported by CHE.

Brain-child of Adrian Howe, adjunct academic at Griffith University’s Law School, Othello on Trial is a play that explores whether emotional turmoil‘being wrought’ as Othello says, or ‘seeing red’ as modern wife-killers have put it – has mitigating force today.

An intense seventy-minute performance delivered excerpts from Shakespeare’s Othello cleverly juxtaposed against evidence from contemporary British and Australian legal cases.

The palpable reactions of La Mama’s audience revealed the power of the play’s content. In a clever theatrical gesture, audience members were asked to deliver the Trial’s verdict.

Drawing on extensive research relating to intimate partner femicide cases, Howe compelled the audience to reflect uncomfortably on past legacies and shocking continuing legal practices with the notion of a ‘crime of passion’ being an accepted cultural account for wife killing. In essence, Howe applied history of emotions methodology to showcase the historically sanctioned sexual politics ingrained in law as provocation by infidelity.

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Rebecca McNamaraRebecca F. McNamara, (CHE Honorary Research Fellow, The University of Western Australia)

Upon finishing my CHE postdoctoral research fellowship and an English lectureship at The University of Sydney in 2014, I moved to Los Angeles, California, to seek my academic fortune in a city made for medievalists. (Some people think this town is built on film and fame – they haven’t seen The Getty’s medieval art collection). Full of universities, libraries and galleries that host some of the finest scholars and pre-modern resources in the world, Los Angeles has been a fascinating place to connect with new colleagues and continue my work in the history of emotions.

My postdoctoral fellowship facilitated extensive archival work to build a database of cases of suicide in medieval English legal records. I analysed this raw evidence using historical, religious and medical frameworks in order to establish important cultural links in medieval England between emotions related to suicide and issues such as sickness, suffering and criminality. I am now building on this work to extend my study into the portrayal of the suicidal impulse in late medieval literature. Suicidal impulses and acts appear with startling frequency in medieval literary texts and images, and they are employed to evoke a range of meanings and emotions.

In April I undertook a short-term Mayers Research Fellowship at The Huntington Library, a vast collection housed in a stunning botanical garden full of familiar gum trees and wattles. I’ve been scouring medieval legal handbooks and late medieval literary texts in search of scribes’ or readers’ interactions with the suicidal impulse on the page.

My sources in The Huntington range from work-a-day copies of Langland’s Piers Plowman to large, sumptuously illuminated French versions of Boccaccio’s Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes. So far, I’ve been hard pressed to find evidence of scribes or readers interacting on the page with instances of suicide – little erasing, re-wording or markings around these episodes. However, this ‘silence’ reveals something about the frequency with which scribes and readers encountered the suicidal impulse in writing. And the illuminations of suicide have provided an important layer to understanding how and why authors and artists portrayed self-killing, and how readers encountered visual portrayals of suicide.

Other researchers I speak with here are eager to hear about my experience with the CHE, and are impressed by the innovative and collaborative work the Centre facilitates. While I miss being based in Australia with such a concentration of historians of emotion, it’s evident that thinking about past emotions has spread widely, even all the way to Tinseltown.


Lyndal RoperCHE Advisory Board member and Regius Professor of History at Oriel College at the University of Oxford, Lyndal Roper, is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Gerda Henkel prize. This international research prize, which is awarded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, honoured Professor Roper for her outstanding achievements in the field of early modern history. Lyndal Roper has authored trailblazing studies on social, gender and psychological history, as well as the history of the body; they stand out for their theoretical acumen, masterful command of an impressive wealth of source materials, and superb prose. In her research on the Age of the Reformation, she has developed a completely new way of conceptualising the relations between religion and social order. Her studies on witchcraft and the persecution of witches mark the emphatic transition in the historiography from women’s history to gender history. The judges particularly praised her most recent studies on Martin Luther’s biography, which were driven by a history of physicality. They remarked that it ‘will no doubt strongly influence debates on the Reformation leader in Luther Year 2017. Lyndal Roper, whose work impacts well beyond thinking on the Early Modern epoch, is one of the towering figures in international historiography’.

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Samantha Dieckmann has recently joined CHE as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, based at The University of Melbourne. Working with Jane Davidson and CHE's new industry partners, Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV), the Australian Multicultural Foundation, VICSEG New Futures and Cultural Arts Collective, Samantha's research explores the potentially transformative role music can play in conciliation, as it relates to personal, religious and political conflict.

The ‘Music, Emotion and Conciliation' project will investigate the emotional engagement of both facilitators and participants attending inter-faith, inter-cultural community music programs, via interviews and participant observation. The project straddles CHE's Performance and Shaping the Modern Programs.

Samantha recently completed her interdisciplinary PhD at The University of Sydney, researching the musical lives of South Sudanese Australians, Filipino Australians and white Australians in Blacktown, New South Wales. She has taught music education and research methods at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and is the assistant editor of the international, peer-reviewed journal Research Studies in Music Education.

Ciara Rawnsley will be returning to CHE as a Project Officer based at The University of Western Australia. Collaborating with Bob White, she will work on producing academic outputs of the history of the New Fortune Theatre at UWA.

The New Fortune Theatre is valued by theatre historians around the world as a remarkable heritage resource which can be invaluable for research into the material conditions of theatres in Shakespeare’s London. Since 2011, CHE has sponsored, organised and recorded research-related symposia, performances, lectures and events showing the unique value of this historical resource. The project proposed is designed to raise the profile of the New Fortune Theatre internationally and locally by documenting such resources.

Ciara completed a PhD in 2013 and subsequently began working at CHE on two web-based resources for researchers studying the history of emotions. Her research interests include Shakespeare, early modern popular culture and drama, premodern emotions, and folktales and folklore. She has published a number of pieces on Shakespeare and emotions, and is the co-editor of a soon-to-be-released book on childhood, death and emotion.


Public Lecture: The Script For Love: Romantic Lexicon In Eighteenth-Century England'
Speaker: Dr Sally Holloway, Richmond, The American International University in London, and CHE Early Career International Research Fellow
Date: Friday 15 July 2016
Time: 3.30-5.00pm
Venue: Napier 210, The University of Adelaide
Bookings: Bookings essential. Please RSVP to Jacquie Bennett (

Queensland Film Festival Film Screening:
The Son of Joseph, dir. Eugène Green (2016)
Date: Saturday 16 July 2016
Time: 4:00pm
Venue: New Farm Cinema, Brisbane

Treasured Possessions Exhibition
Date: Friday 5 August 2016 - Friday 2 September 2016
Time: 10am-5pm Tuesday-Friday, Weekends 12-4pm
Venue: Wollongong City Art Gallery, Community Access Gallery (lift and stair access available)
Enquiries: Dr Kimberley-Joy Knight (

Symposium: Feeling (for) the Premodern
Date: 2-3 September 2016
Venue: St Catherine's College, The University of Western Australia
Registration: The symposium is free and open to all interested in attending and joining in discussions. Registration is necessary for catering purposes. Please contact Pam Bond
Academic enquiries: please contact Prof. Andrew Lynch (andrew.lynch@uwa.edu.au)

Symposium: Children's Voices in Contemporary Australia
Date: Friday 9 September 2016
Time: 9-5pm
Venue: The Kenneth Myer Auditorium and The Dax Centre, 30 Royal Parade, The University of Melbourne
Symposium organisers and enquiries:
Dr Melissa Raine (
Penelope Lee (

A full list of forthcoming events and further details about individual events can be found on our website.

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