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Jacqueline Van Gent
The University of Western Australia
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Colonial encounters and cross-cultural emotions in the early modern world and in late colonial Australia

This project explores the role of emotions in colonial encounters of Europeans in the Asia-Pacific region in the early modern period and in late colonial Australia. Early modern European societies invested much energy, time and emotions in their colonising endeavours, be they missions, trading companies or scientific exploration and diplomatic exchanges. This project looks at how the entangled histories of colonialism are shaped by European emotional regimes as well as by indigenous responses to it.

Colonial encounters and cross-cultural emotions in the early modern world and in late colonial Australia

This project compare the similarities and differences of emotional economies which are usually separated by different historiographical traditions, but which intermeshed in social practice: religious (mission societies, witchcraft), mercantile (Dutch VOC and Scandinavian East India Companies) and travel (especially the students of Linnaeus such as Solander who accompanied Cook on his voyage to Australia).

Van Gent’s research addresses the following key questions: What do emotions ’ do’ in a variety of early modern encounters? How did different emotional economies interact at the colonial frontier? How did colonised people respond to European expectations of ‘correct’ emotional performances?  She is simultaneously interested in the emotions that were performed as part of the transformations of colonial goods, such as porcelain or lacquer work, and of colonialized people (indigenous converts, servants, artists) into expressions of social and cultural power at European courts. 

In this work Van Gent uses a wide range of ‘traditional’ historical sources (letters, travel account, missionary reports, memoirs) as well as the social and emotional lives of colonial objects such as the ear rings that were worn by an Inuit woman from Labrador who became a Moravian convert,  Linnaeus’ porcelain tea cup from Canton and his Saami objects from northern Sweden or  wampum belts from northern America which circulated not only in the emotional economies of Native American societies but moved in and out of Dutch and Swedish settler communities.

The emotional dynamics of pre-modern colonial engagements have shaped societies to this very day. Hopefully, this project will be followed-up with a smaller case study on how these early modern colonial engagements, and the historical emotions attached to them, are represented in today’s museum collections in Europe and Asia.

Recent papers and publications

Jacqueline Van Gent, “Emotions and colonial encounters in early modern Sweden and The Netherlands”, paper accepted, international workshop: Entangled colonialisms, Amsterdam, 13-14 November 2014

J. Van Gent, “Sarah and Her Sisters: identity, letters and emotions in the early modern Atlantic world” Journal of Religious History, volume 38,issue 1, March 2014, pp. 71-90.

Broomhall, Susan and Jacqueline Van Gent, "Converted relationships: Renegotiating family status after religious conversion in the Nassau dynasty", Journal of Social History, 47,3, Spring (2014)

Jacqueline Van Gent, “Linnaeus tea cup: Gender, colonial consumption and Chinese porcelain”, paper presented at Swedish Historians’ Conference, Stockholm 8-10 May 2014

Jacqueline Van Gent, “Encountering emotions: cross-cultural contacts, historical sources and Moravian missions”, paper presented at CHE international conference “Sourcing Emotions” 27-29 June 2013, UWA.

Jacqueline Van Gent, “Witchcraft and Emotions”, invited keynote, Gustav Vasa Seminar, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, 11-12 June 2013.

Jacqueline Van Gent, “Linnaeus’ Chinese porcelain tea cup and other ‘things’: Gender, emotions and colonial encounters in eighteenth century Sweden “, paper presented at workshop “Gender, emotions and objects in Scandinavian history”, Umea University, 29 May 2013.

Jacqueline Van Gent, “Wampum: objects, exchange and emotions in colonial in America“, “Feeling Things”, Symposium, Melbourne University,  13 March 2013.

Forthcoming Publications


Edited collections:
J. Van Gent and S. Young (eds). 'Emotions and Conversions'. Special issue, Journal of Religious History 39.4 (2015).

J. Van Gent and M. R. Toivo (eds). ‘Gender, Material Culture and Emotions in Scandinavian History’.  Special issue, Scandinavian Journal of History 41.3 (2016).


Chapters and articles:
Jacqueline Van Gent, “The burden of love: Moravian conversions and mission encounters in the eighteenth century”, in Van Gent and Young (eds), “Conversion and Emotions” Special Issue of JORH (forthcoming 2015).

J. Van Gent, ‘Gendered Power and Emotions: The Religious Revival Movement in Herrnhut in 1727’. In Gender and Emotions in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Destroying Order, Structuring Disorder, edited by S. Broomhall, pp. 233-47. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015.

J. Van Gent, “Moravian Memoirs and the Emotional Salience of Conversion  Rituals”, in Emotion, Ritual and Power in Pre-Modern Europe: Life-Cycles. Ed. Merridee Bailey and Katie Barclay (under review with Palgrave).

S. Broomhall and J. Van Gent, “Material culture as power: Gendered strategies of power in an early modern dynasty”, in James Daybell and Svante Norrhem (eds), Gender and Political Culture in Early Modern Europe, Ashgate. (book proposal accepted)

Broomhall, Susan and Jacqueline Van Gent, “Courting Nassau Affections: Performing love in Orange-Nassau marriage negotiations.” In Emotions in the Premodern World, edited by A. Lynch and P. Maddern, Brepols (forthcoming 2015).



Image: "Portrait of Christian Protten and his wife Rebecca". By Johann Valentin Haidt, held by the Moravian Archives (Unity Archives [Archiv der Bruder-Unitat]), Herrnhut, Germany. Image Courtesy of Jon Sensbach as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library