This post is a revised version of a short paper from the ‘Emotions Work in the Historical Past’ workshop, University of Melbourne, November 13, 2014.
Posted by Grace Moore
On Thursday September 13, 2001 Diana Pharoah Francis of the University of Montana Western posted a message to the Victoria list server, in which she said:
As I’m going to teach my Victorian class today, I plan to talk about the Indian Mutiny. I have been struck by the US response (personal rather than national) to the attack. In particular, as I try to make some sense of it for myself, I was thinking about how the British must have reacted to the news of the mutiny. I have been a member of the postcolonial listserv, and a number of people there have pointed out that the US foreign policy is largely responsible, and how did we expect them to react? It gets at the complexity of the issue, even as I can hardly bear to hear it.*
Francis, like many working in the humanities, turned to her work as a means of making sense of what had happened in the United States just two days before, and also possibly out of a need to make it meaningful in a time of crisis. Her posting led to a sequence of responses in which a number of Victorian scholars—some of them highly distinguished—played out their responses to 9/11, sometimes in a highly emotional manner. One contributor followed a tirade with the words, ‘I will no doubt apologize for this outburst in a week or so…’, unable to stop himself, all the same.
I recall, at the time, feeling a great sense of pathos, peppered with despair, when reading some of these messages. On the one hand it seemed as though the scholarly rigour of the list had been compromised or contaminated through attempts to tease out transhistorical parallels, while on the other I experienced deep discomfort in watching list members deal with their shock and grief in this semi-public manner. More than a decade on, these messages have stayed with me in a way that the—sometimes hundreds of—other posts I receive from the list-server each week have not. And over the last couple of years, that issue of the transhistorical parallel has become a type of intellectual sticking point for me, as I’ve leaned on Brian Massumi’s work on the ontology of threat to explore literary—and sometimes literary-historical responses to bushfires.
To date I’ve used Massumi for two projects. The first is a co-authored piece on John Kinsella’s 2013 poem ‘Bushfire Approaching’, a work that uses fire in the Western Australian wheatbelt as a means of exploring broader issues of climate change and extinction. The second is an exploration of emotional responses to arson in Anthony Trollope’s 1872 novella Harry Heathcote of Gangoil and a handful of short stories about arson from the nineteenth-century Australia periodical press.
Massumi’s essay, ‘The Future Birth of the Affective Fact’, has been incredibly useful for both pieces because of its exploration of trauma and what he calls the ‘anticipated threat’. The annual seasonal menace of the bushfire makes Massumi’s work on the fear of future catastrophe a near perfect fit for the work I’ve been engaged in, with its heavily traumatized characters and cyclical disasters. He writes:
Threat is from the future. It is what might come next. Its eventual location and ultimate extent are undefined. Its nature is open-ended. It is not just that it is not: it is not in a way that is never over. We can never be done with it. Even if a clear and present danger materializes in the present, it is still not over. There is always the nagging potential of the next after being even worse, and of a still worse next again after that (53).
Taken in isolation, this analysis seems to lend itself perfectly to a reading of JS Borlase’s bleak little story, ‘Twelve Miles Broad’ in which an act of arson leads to a dramatic suicide, causing the survivors to abandon their home because they can no longer live either with the memories that it evokes or with their deep fear of future bushfires. Massumi writes beautifully of what he calls the ‘smoke of future fires’, reading the fire alarm through the semiotician Charles Peirce as an ‘index’ which ‘acts upon the nerves of the person and force(s) his attention’ (64). For the survivor of a fire who returns to the site of the home, there are usually two possible responses. One is what the fire historian Tom Griffiths has identified as a type of willed amnesia, in which the memory of the fire is contained by casting it as a freak event, something unnatural that can never happen again. The other is to live in what Massumi identifies as a state of heightened arousal, endlessly fearing the next disaster, interpreting the merest whiff of smoke as a signifier of impending catastrophe.
My major stumbling block is that Massumi is not, of course, writing about bushfires in the late nineteenth century, nor is he concerned with the West Australian wheatbelt. Rather, his work is engaged very specifically with the climate of paranoia, uncertainty and terror which followed the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001. His theories of anticipated disaster were formulated in response to the visceral fears of New Yorkers in the days and months that followed that terrible September day. A world in which white powder signified anthrax and in which when a plane crashed in New York City two months later, a witness was quoted as saying, “I heard the explosion and I looked out the window and saw the flames and the smoke and I just thought, ‘Oh no, not again’.”
Massumi, then, is and is not a perfect fit for my research and, while I continue to use him, I’m troubled by a sense of scholarly irresponsibility in using work that is so politically, historically and geographically specific to unpack responses to very different forms of fire. The question which began at the back of my mind, and which is pushing itself increasingly to the forefront is, ‘Does trauma “translate”?’, or can there be such a thing as a transhistorical emotion?
Ann Kaplan’s Trauma Culture a 2005 work that she describes as a ‘belated’ response to 9/11 offers me some legitimacy here and it is to Kaplan that I am indebted for the idea of emotional ‘translation’. Kaplan herself is a New Yorker and writes very movingly and personally about her traumatized reactions to the two smoking towers. Kaplan is mostly concerned with what she calls ‘quiet trauma’ (or the very personal), but she argues compellingly that disaster can cause history, memory, time and space to collapse into one another. To support this idea, she analyzes how the terror attacks caused flashbacks to her childhood in the London of the Blitz, bringing long-buried fears to the surface one more, combining with her more immediate trauma and leading to a dread of what the future might hold. Kaplan is not alone here, and New York Holocaust survivors have also spoken of being plunged back into memories of traumas past, while at the same time living with what Massumi terms the ‘ontology of threat’—a threat that is both real, but also manufactured and manipulated by politicians and the media (and I’ve written elsewhere on John Howard’s rather cynical attempts to draw parallels between the attacks of 2001 and the Canberra bushfires of 2003 through his notion of the ‘summer terror’.
What Massumi and Kaplan show us, I think, is that trauma is a very mobile response, in which reactions to the present collapse into those of the past, and in which the suddenness of an event can lead to a type of catastrophic anxiety in relation to the future. Kaplan tells us, ‘Trauma can never be “healed” in the sense of a return to how things were before a catastrophe took place, or before one witnessed a catastrophe; but if the wound of trauma remains open, its pain may be worked through in the process of its being “translated” via art’ (19). Whether trauma is an historically transferrable emotion remains for me an open question that sits uncomfortably alongside my engagement with Massumi.
On an obvious level, we live in a media age, which saturates us with images of disaster—for some this leads to vicarious or secondary trauma, in which empathy for unknown suffers can be overwhelming. For others, over-exposure to disaster leads to a state of anesthaesia, in which it becomes impossible to feel anything. While I can read about fictional and actual bushfire survivors from the nineteenth century, I remain uncertain about what they felt; about whether the fear they experienced in the menacing Australian bush was the same as the terror I feel when a kookaburra cackles through the wilderness. Certainly, while I identify many of my subjects as ‘traumatized’, they wouldn’t have labeled themselves in this way and I find myself endlessly troubled by my own historical situatedness as I try to capture emotions in history. The J.S. Borlase story that I mentioned before ends with the narrator voicing fears for his wife’s endangered ‘reason’, which to me signals deep trauma. Yet in a Victorian context, the mechanisms for dealing and not dealing with this emotional response are so different from those of today, that I must also ask how useful it is to anachronistically impose the term ‘trauma’ upon people and characters of the period.
To end somewhere close to where I began, I want to go back to the Indian ‘mutiny’ of 1857.** It was an event that, like 9/11 elicited highly emotive and very public responses, in which writers and thinkers including Charles Dickens responded to what was essentially a military insurrection that got out of control by advocating mass genocide. The parallels between the events of September 2001 and the subsequent wrath of the Bush administration are tempting here (and I’m using the term wrath with a strong awareness that it is for the most part an historically-bound emotional response). Diana Francis and those responding to her post were mostly able to situate themselves in relation to a critique of US cultural imperialism. The ‘mutiny’ was very much a media event, in which erroneous reporting whipped up a racist furore in England (albeit much more slowly than the real time in which CNN dramatizes disaster). As with 9/11, there were clear signs for those who were willing to see them that some sort of uprising was inevitable. Yet, what makes me pause with both this unwieldy comparison of events separated by more than 150 years, and my application of Massumi, is the question of shame.
Queen Victoria’s immediate public response to events of May and June 1857 was to declare a day of national fasting and humiliation, and more than 150 churches opened their doors to members of the public who wished to humble themselves. For the Victorians, this event was an expression of divine disapproval (and large-scale fires were often interpreted in the same way). The acceptance of shame, if not responsibility, was part of their grieving and healing process and a much more wholesale, visceral and public experience than the way we express shame today. I can say, ‘I am ashamed of British/American/Australian foreign policy’, but it would not occur to me to express that shame through starvation and abjection, actions which are both personal and collective and which might, it occurs to me, be cathartic too.
It is here, then, that I see and feel historical distinctions and an embodied emotional response that is deeply alien. With that knowledge, I need to continue to question the utility and responsibility of myself collapsing disasters into one another, and to accept that the historical emotion might be elusive and inscrutable, even while I continue to chase it.
*I am grateful to Diana Pharoah Francis for permission to cite her post to the VICTORIA-L listserv
**I use this term because this is what the Victorians called the event now known as the first Indian War of Independence.
By Penny Edmonds, University of Tasmania
The flood of coverage of the centenary of Gallipoli and the first world war profoundly shapes the way we think of Australia’s history; but we suppress other violent events in our own country that also shaped us.
On Australian colonial frontiers, violence and conciliation went hand-in-hand. Acts of aggression, retribution, and pacification were linked in complex ways — ways that were not always recorded in archival accounts. We come to our history often through the written word, or television, and objects too often are left as mere footnotes to our history.
So can historical objects from our frontier past gives us fresh perspectives in rethinking and writing colonial history, and give us a window on such violence and troubled diplomacy?
In an essay Australian novelist Delia Falconer wrote for the the Australian Book Review in 1999, she noted evocatively that using objects as originating points for our research is like “walking though the back door of history, you don’t necessarily end up at the front door of the same house”.
In the course of my work – in Australian and Pacific-region colonial histories – I came across a curious 19th-century heart-shaped breastplate (main image) and found myself at the front door of frontier massacre. The breastplate was given to “U. Robert King of the Big River and Big Leather Tribes” by an unknown settler at Goonal station, established in 1843 on the Gwydir River or “Big River” in New South Wales.
The breastplate is clearly part of the widespread settler tradition of giving crescent-shaped breastplates plates to Aboriginal people for alliance and pacification, on a continent where there were no formal treaties.
Yet with its heart-shaped form it is exceptional, and at the top – between an emu and kangaroo – it shows an intriguing motif of crossed spears and gum boughs, similar in style to North American “peace medals” given to native Americans that displayed a crossed hatchet and peace pipe, suggesting pacification or the halting of violent relations.
The heart motif in European tradition is a symbol of love, friendship, and affiliation, but also of “bone fides” or good faith. Yet, as it turns out, this strange and unique object can be traced directly to the Gwydir River, in the New England region, and to the general vicinity of two of the most infamous massacres in Australian history: the Waterloo Creek massacre and the Myall Creek massacre of Kamilaroi peoples in 1838.
In this year, escalating frontier skirmishes between settlers and Aboriginal peoples led the Governor to dispatch Major James Nunn to the region to “suppress these outrages” by the “blacks”. Nunn led a group of more than 20 troopers to the Liverpool Plains district in January of 1838.
On January 26 1838, known as “Foundation Day”, our precursor to Australia Day, Major Nunn and his group attacked a large group of Aborigines camped by a lagoon at Waterloo Creek (or Slaughterhouse Creek), resulting in what most historians agree were the deaths of at least 30 Aboriginal people.
Vigilante-settlers continued Nunn’s campaign, riding the country shooting Aboriginal people they could find, in what Muswellbrook Magistrate Edward Denny Day would come to call a “war of extermination” on the Gwydir.
Five months later, on the afternoon of Sunday June 10 1838, a gang of 11 convict and ex-convict stockmen led by a squatter, surrounded and tied up Wirrayaraay Aboriginal men, women and children, who were camped peacefully next to the huts on the Myall Creek cattle station of Henry Dangar, near Bingara on the Gwydir River.
They were taken away and slaughtered. The gang later burned the decapitated bodies. Despite public outcry, and after a second trail, seven were hanged in December 1838 in one of the few instances when white men were tried, convicted and hanged for the mass-killing of Aboriginal people.
When His Honor Judge Burton passed sentence on the men, he remarked:
I sincerely hope that the grace of God may reach and penetrate the hardened hearts that could surround a funeral pile lighted by themselves, and gloat on the tortures and sufferings of so many of their fellow beings.
By the 1850s remaining Aboriginal people in the area continued to seek protection on stations were they could, with men and women often working as shepherds and stockmen.
The breastplate given out to “U. Robert” of Big River, probably a senior Aboriginal man and possibly a shepherd, within decades of massacre, is a greatly unsettling object and represents a supreme conceit given the pernicious violence that occurred in the region as settlers pushed into northern New South Wales to take pastoral lands.
It is an object of alliance and friendship, given all too late. Aboriginal artist Andrea Fisher has rightly critiqued the coercive sentiment of the breastplate tradition with her reworkings and subversions of the breastplate motif in her works “blood” and “truth”.
But the heart-shaped breastplate may be suggestive of other meanings and valences. While I have not traced it to an individual settler with a “whispering in his heart” – historian Henry Reynold’s compelling phrase to suggest settler conscience – it may be nonetheless expressive of compassion and conscience.
In fact, Robert Brown, the owner of Goonal Station, to which the breastplate is linked, and a devout and evangelical Christian, went quite mad and was declared a “lunatic” in 1862, and died a year later in an asylum. Did he commission this breastplate for the Aboriginal people living and working on Goonal Station, their region only so recently invaded and beset by violence?
Was this the folly of a madman, or was it given in the name of friendship, reward, pacification, coercion or some form of conciliation with “U. Robert” and his family group? Did the whispering in Brown’s heart drive him mad? We may never know.
“Heart” can mean conscience, and it can also mean hope and acting in good faith. Every year, for 14 years now, commemoration ceremonies have been held at the site of the Myall Creek massacre. Here, the descendants of Aboriginal people and settlers come together in good faith as part of a community-based reconciliation project.
The non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal participants in the reconciliation ceremonies at Myall creek have described “a great lifting”, and that they felt “set free” when they acknowledged the violence of their shared past.
Heart may also be the courage to remember, honour, and the strength to forgive in order to reconcile. These acts of reconciliation were possible at the Myall Creek site because some form of justice – at least, in part – had been seen to be done, unlike Waterloo Creek. The plaque on a stone memorial at the Myall Creek massacre site reads:
Erected on 10th June 2000 by a group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in an act of reconciliation and in acknowledgement of the truth of our shared history. We remember them/ Ngiyani winangay ganunga.
These ceremonies are rites of passage in settler societies, events crucial to peace-building and healing, where the past has been strewn with conflict and trust can be low; here through truth-telling and ritual the past is acknowledged and shared, and new stories are made.
These are emotional journeys where “fraught hearts” come into play and individual acts of consciousness and the building of trust matters.
Every year Australians engage in such grassroots commemorations, to mourn, reflect, say sorry, and honour, and to build new peaceful accords.
These community ceremonies are sometimes uncomfortably close to our hearts and homes, based on events that occurred under our very feet, and are far closer than battles on distant shores. There must be room for these too. Our most important history is too often at our own front door.
And its vestiges can be elicited by extraordinary objects in museum collections.
Penny Edmonds’ book, Conciliation on Colonial Frontiers: Conflict, Performance and Commemoration in Australia and the Pacific Rim (Routledge), co-edited with Kate Darian-Smith, is due out in late 2014.
Penny Edmonds receives funding from the Australian Research Council.
Shakespeare as performed on the eighteenth-century stage was arguably more emotional than the Shakespeare we know now. Once the English theatres reopened in 1660 (following their closure during the Civil War and Interregnum), playwrights took the opportunity to revise Shakespeare’s works for new audiences, new theatre spaces and new actors (women being allowed to perform on stage for the first time). Many of these adaptations held the stage until well into the nineteenth century, so emotional Shakespeare was the primary way in which the works were staged for many years.
One of the most fascinating elements of these adaptations is the way in which they alter and even augment the emotional impact of the plays. In 1681, Nahum Tate gave King Lear a new ending in which Cordelia remains alive, marries Edgar and is left to reign over the kingdom. Lear is spared the pain of losing his daughter and he survives too. Thus joy replaces sadness at the play’s denouement.
Thomas Otway’s Roman adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, entitled The History and Fall of Caius Marius (1680), has Juliet awaken in the tomb in order to exchange some tender parting words with Romeo before she dies. The most influential actor, manager and adapter of the eighteenth century, David Garrick, followed Otway in including this romantic scene in his version of the play (first performed in 1748). A painting by Benjamin Wilson depicts Garrick and his stage partner, George Anne Bellamy, at this precise moment: Romeo steps back in amazement as Juliet awakes to gaze longingly at him. Critic Francis Gentleman approved of the alteration and acknowledged its emotional impact, writing that the scene gave “an opportunity of working the pathos to the tenderest pitch” (Francis Gentleman, note on Romeo and Juliet in Bell’s Edition of Shakespeare’s Plays, 2nd ed., 5 vols. (London, 1774), vol. 2, p. 148.) Image: “David Garrick and George Anne Bellamy in Romeo and Juliet”, 1753 (oil on canvas) by Benjamin Willson
The heightened emotion prevalent in eighteenth-century performances of Shakespeare’s plays was readily replicated by the audience. There are several accounts of women weeping in response to what they saw on the stage. In 1756 Frances Brooke took a group of young women to see King Lear and noted both the copiousness of the tears they shed and that their response was shared by other audience members: “I had the satisfaction of finding we were accompanied in our tears by almost the whole house”(Mary Singleton [Frances Brooke], The Old Maid 18 (13 March 1756), new edn. (London, 1764), pp. 144-50 (p. 146)). Men joined in too. James Boswell wrote of going early to the playhouse to see Garrick act in order to get himself into the right frame of mind to watch the performance, that is, to facilitate being emotionally moved by it. He recorded his verdict of this experience: “Mr. Garrick gave me the most perfect satisfaction. I was fully moved, and I shed abundance of tears” (James Boswell, 12 May 1763, Boswell’s London Journal, 1762–1763, ed. Frederick A. Pottle (London: Book Club Associates, 1974), p. 257).
These public displays of emotion were facilitated by the fact that it was not possible fully to dim the house lights in theatre auditoria at this time. Playgoers could thus easily read emotion on the faces of other audience members, which allowed feelings to circulate readily in the theatre. Our modern audience experience, which predominantly involves sitting in darkened theatres, significantly shuts down the possibility of the kind of emotional community that was readily available to eighteenth-century playgoers and which the period’s adaptations of Shakespeare facilitated.
by Early Career Researcher Fiona Ritchie, McGill University.
For more CHE research on Shakespeare performance, see Dr Penelope Woods on “Feelings in the Room: Theatre Audiences and their Emotions,” Dr Robert White on “Shakespeare in our World,” and Dr Glen McGillivray on “Forms Forced to their Conceit: Semiosis and Affect in Eighteenth Century English Acting.”
by CHE Honorary Chief Investigator Susan Broomhall
Lodged in the rafters of the Queen’s bedchamber at Stirling Castle, excavators found a worn leather ball…. Did someone kick it accidentally into the ceiling cavity before it was sealed up in the 1540s, or was something more superstitious at work?
Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with staff at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum in Scotland in my role as a member of the Centre. We developed this particular project to provide PhD students and early career scholars with a chance to learn how to pitch research for the general public, to highlight the importance of emotions to the story of individual objects, and to showcase the wonderful range of artifacts held in the collection of the museum.
In the card, Jo wrote about how Scottish monarchs were highly superstitious. Perhaps, she wonders, this ball was carefully placed above the bedchamber to protect its occupant, the young Queen Mary Stuart (1542-87), who lived in the castle as a child.
Even more superstitious than his mother Queen Mary, James VI thought it perfectly reasonable to insist in his work on demons, the Daemonologie of 1597, that “assaultes of Sathan are most certainly practized.” James was all for witch hunting, and sat in on the interrogation and torture of a few women himself. He was convinced that there was “a fearefull aboundinge at this time, in this countrie, of these detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchaunters”.
It was not uncommon at the time for people to place clothing, or objects in rowan wood, as protective charms in meaningful boundaries. And, Jo notes, marks have been found scratched into Stirling Castle’s outer door, marks that were thought to ward off witches.
Jo’s research offers an exciting new dimension to this small piece of leather and pig’s bladder that sits in the Stirling Smith. As a serious contender for the world’s oldest football, it gets a fair bit of coverage, especially lately, as the Smith has opened up the collection on ‘touching days’ (emotion and sensation entwined) when visitors can handle historic artifacts for themselves and create emotional memories of their own.
It’s been wonderful working with the Smith’s staff as they explore how their objects can resonate with modern audiences and their stories be told in new and different ways. In this project, we created six cards to showcase some of the medieval and early modern treasures of the museum.
With the team in Australia and Scotland, we discovered the poignant tale of the garnet ring once owned by covenanter Reverend James Guthrie who slipped it from his finger as he ascended the scaffold, the soulful meanings embedded in a sixteenth-century samurai sword, the frighteningly heavy chains once used to bind the insane in the hopes of cure by St Fillan, the elegant propaganda fans used by society ladies to signal their political allegiances, and the passions stirred up to create an accurate pint measure for ale!
We also learned a great deal from designers about which precise object detail to highlight in order to attract and intrigue a viewer, just how much information is enough, and how to bring emotions to the fore in our story-telling.
You can see the rest of the cards, at the Stirling Smith shop or via the CHE website, where you can see and read about each card in more detail – including Mary’s frightening leather ball…
Bronwyn Reddan, a postgraduate candidate in SHAPS (the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies) at the University of Melbourne, is writing her thesis on love in early modern French fairy tales. Her research examines how these fairy tales problematise love and challenge the cultural stereotype of love as the ultimate happy ending. By examining a corpus of fairy tales which present a range of perspectives on love, her thesis aims to illustrate an ambiguity in early modern attitudes to love and enrich the history of this complex emotion.
How did you become involved with The Centre for the History of Emotions?
I first found out about CHE when I was completing my honours studies in history at the University of Melbourne. One of the elective subjects offered was a course on the History of Emotions and it was the best subject I studied during my honours year. This subject was not run by CHE staff but my tutor told us about CHE and I subsequently attended a CHE collaboratory where my honours supervisor gave a paper. My honours thesis was about magical objects in seventeenth-century French fairy tales and when I decided to apply for a PhD, CHE was a natural fit as I had decided to broaden my project from magical objects to love.
How has working within a research research centre impacted your graduate experience?
Being involved with CHE has had an enormous positive impact on my graduate experience. The main benefit of being involved with a research centre is that I am now part of a research community as well as having individual faculty supervision. This means that I am invited to CHE events where I get to meet researchers from a range of different disciplines and attend presentations by leading history of emotions scholars. As well as attending CHE events, I also been given the opportunity to present my work and obtain feedback from a range of different scholars as well as my supervisor.
Another benefit is that I am involved in methodological discussions shaping history of emotions scholarship. It is an amazing opportunity to see first-hand how this cutting edge field of research is developing and it has been extremely helpful in the formulation of the methodological approach of my own research.
Did you know about “the history of emotions” before embarking on a PhD at Melbourne? How has working with this particular lens on history and literature shaped your work and thinking?
I did know about the history of emotions before I started by PhD at Melbourne and the presence of the centre was one of the reasons I decided to do my PhD in Melbourne rather than apply to international programs. Using history of emotions methodology in my research has broadened my perspective on the sources I examine and challenges me to think about exactly what information about the past we can uncover in literary sources. Thinking about the social nature of emotion and its role as a cultural framework shaping our experience of both the past and the present has allowed me to examine the fairy tales I work with as historical sources providing evidence about changes in ideas about love in the seventeenth century.
Bronwyn is currently in Berlin attending a summer school on the history of concepts at the Max Planck Research School for Moral Economies of Modern Societies. She will be presenting a methodological paper about the relationship between emotion and language as well as participating in discussions with an international group of scholars about new approaches in the field of conceptual history, including the conceptualisation of emotions across different languages and cultures.
After the summer school has finished, she will go to Paris for two weeks to conduct research at the Bibliothèque nationale de France before heading to London, Ontario where she will be presenting a paper at the annual conference of the Society for Interdisciplinary French Studies (SE17). This trip has been funded by CHE, the French History Research Higher Degree Scholarship from the University of Melbourne and the Max Planck Research School for Moral Economies of Modern Societies.
Find out more about Bronwyn’s research on The problem of love in early modern contes de fées.
Filmed over three years, Moira Fahy’s remarkable documentary, Afterburn: In the Tiger’s Jaws, offers extraordinary insights into the emotional journeys of bushfire survivors. Framed by a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the work explores how the world can become uncanny and unrecognizable when catastrophe strikes.
The small rural village of Steels Creek was ravaged by fire on February 7, 2009, the day now known as Black Saturday. As is well known, 173 people died in Victoria on that day and more than 4500 square kilometres of land were burned. In the Steels Creek community, ten people were killed and sixty-seven properties destroyed in a fire from Kilmore East that most residents believed would never reach them.
Initiated by Jane and Malcolm Calder, one of the three couples whose stories are woven together in this astonishingly beautiful film, Afterburn is, as Libby Robin has noted, a very important part of the healing process for the Steels Creek community. In addition to the Calders, the documentary tells the stories of Edd and Amanda Williams, who watched their ecofarm and bed and breakfast business burn to the ground, and Rob and Julie Fallon, who left Steels Creek belatedly on the day of the fire with their two young children. In addition to losing their home, the Fallons lost two sets of neighbours, very dear friends who decided to stay and defend their properties, and who were burned to death when the fire roared through the valley.
Interlaced with moving accounts of the different types of grief, pain and trauma experienced by each of the couples, are contributions from three experts. Their input offers valuable contexts for understanding the history of fire in the region, the trajectory and destructive force of a bushfire, and the many pressures that accompany survival. Fire historian Tom Griffiths draws important yet sensitive parallels with the deadly bushfires of 1939, commenting that, ‘the most haunting aspect of this tragedy is its familiarity’, while reminding us that ‘fire always returns to the same place’. Peter Stanley, a social and military historian, offers a vivid account of the trajectory of the Black Saturday Fires across the landscape, which is accompanied by footage from the day, while psychologist and disaster expert Rob Gordon provides an overview of the physical and mental pressures that each of the survivors will endure in different ways.
Each family deals with the fire in its own way. The Calders hurl themselves into community work, but to begin with, take little time for themselves. The Fallons decide to leave Steels Creek and, in quick succession, purchase both a unit and a camper van, embarking on an extended trip across Queensland, before settling down in a new home. Julie Fallon speaks movingly of her grief at the loss of the ‘simple bush life’ she had wanted for her children, while her husband Rob talks with great regret about their tremendous losses when he says, with great pathos, that having lost both home and friends, ‘we would look to the bush for identity, but that’s gone too’. The final couple, Edd and Amanda Williams, set to work to rebuild the home and business that they have lost, creating an underground fortress, designed to withstand the onslaught of any future fire.
Charting the passage of time and milestones in the recovery process with haunting shots of the landscape and its regeneration, Fahy sets up a beautiful contrast between the natural world’s swift renewal and the much slower recovery of the delicate human beings, whose lives have been redefined by the fire. Rob Gordon’s commentary is valuable here, as it explains the protracted emotional and physiological toll of rebuilding, outlining in particular how adrenaline can save us when we are faced with an immediate threat. Prolonged exposure to adrenaline, however, leaves us trapped in a survival mode, which then hinders our ability to get on with everyday life. In particular, Gordon points to survivors’ frantic attempts to re-assert their old lives through hard work and rebuilding, before outlining the emotional slumps that they experience in trying to do too much, too soon.
Events like natural disasters can, according to Rob Gordon, trigger the re-emergence of past traumas, forcing survivors to confront incidents from their lives that were never resolved. Some of the Steels Creek survivors featured in Afterburn find themselves reliving previous ordeals, while others find that, having pushed their bushfire experiences to one side, they suddenly catch up. Jane Calder speaks of suddenly becoming very tired (which, Rob Gordon explains, is part of the replenishment of reserves that will allow survivors to go on), while Amanda Williams observes, towards the end of the film, that it has taken two years for her to allow herself to grieve, particularly for the loss of her dogs.
Roger Newcome’s narration brings Moira Fahy’s elegant script to life, setting the tone for a subtle, thoughtful journey through devastation, sorrow and fortitude. The stories are concluded with a bittersweet mixture of success and numbness, while Rob Gordon warns that recovery has to be about much more than building a house or creating fortifications.
Afterburn is a profoundly moving piece of work and perhaps the words that reverberate through it most strongly are those of Tom Griffiths, who warns that, ‘Fire is something that we have to live with, not triumph over’. Moira Fahy’s outstanding film reveals the paradoxical combination of resilience and fragility that make us human, with her delicate touch allowing the three families to tell their own stories. Touching and inspiring, Afterburn has much to teach us about the emotional process of learning to live with fire and its destructive power.
Afterburn is part of a bigger bushfire recovery project in the Steels Creek community, details of which may be found here: http://steelscreek.vic.au/publications/
Professor Tom Griffiths of ANU has written about the emotional background to Afterburn here: http://history.cass.anu.edu.au/monthinhistory/afterburn-emotional-legacy-bushfire
Another film by Moira Fahy about the 1939 bush fires, ‘Black Friday’, may be viewed here: www.abc.net.au/blackfriday/
Posted by Grace Moore
In recent months I’ve been working on an extended piece dealing with Anthony Trollope’s deeply affective response to the Australian environment. Trollope visited the Antipodes twice. Once between 1871 and 1872, when he based himself in Australia, but also travelled to New Zealand. He returned in 1875 for a shorter trip, when he mostly remained in New South Wales.
Trollope’s son Frederic had settled in Australia as a young man having, as his father expressed it, ‘resolved on a colonial career when he found that boys who did not grow up so fast as he did got above him at school’. Fred was not a very successful farmer, at least partly because of his attempts to transpose European agricultural methods onto the southern hemisphere terrain. Anthony Trollope was, nevertheless, fascinated by the settlement of Australia, channelling his experiences into works like the novella Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874) and his novel, John Caldigate (1879).
Like many other Victorian writers Trollope was fascinated by the fortunes to be made in the southern hemisphere. Yet, unusually, he also felt that settlement in the empire should be a long-term commitment—that men should not simply plunder the colonies only to return home with their riches, but rather they should commit to their new home in a whole-hearted and respectful manner. The most extensive account of Trollope’s time in the antipodes appears in his two-volume work, Australia and New Zealand (1873), in which he charted the ecological vandalism that European settlers inflicted upon the landscape. He weighed in on controversial issues like the ring-barking of trees (of which he disapproved) and he also wrote a damning indictment of the wholesale damage caused by gold prospectors.
Trollope was, for the most part, intrigued by the strangeness of life on the other side of the world, but his appreciation for its fauna was somewhat inconsistent. Moving from a description of some of the world’s deadliest snakes (of which he remarks, ‘I do not think much of Australian snakes’, he rather perplexingly comments, ‘Australia is altogether deficient in sensational wild beasts’. While Trollope’s knowledge of Australian fauna is undoubtedly patchy, he astutely captures its endangerment at the hands of European settlers. Although at home in Britain he was a keen hunter, Trollope approaches most Australian wildlife with respect and curiosity. He also reveals deeper insights into precarious ecological and anthropological balances in the Antipodes when he ostensibly writes of proliferating animals. Commenting of the possum,
The opossum, –‘up a gum tree’, where he is always to be found, –seems to be the most persevering aboriginal inhabitant of the country. He does not recede before civilization, but addicts himself to young cabbages, and is a nuisance. As the blacks die out there is no one to eat him, and he is prolific. He sleeps soundly, and is very easy to kill with a dog… But there is no fun in killing him, for he neither fights nor runs away.
For Trollope, the possum is hardy and adaptable, able to change his diet to accommodate non-native plants, like cabbages, and to adjust to the differences of settler life. The possum is, however, curiously vulnerable because of the trust he places in humans. Thus, Trollope’s sense of an Australian eco-system is, accordingly, unable to accommodate compassion for the land’s traditional custodians, expressing approval only of those with what he sees as the vigour to change.
Trollope’s attitude towards dingoes, the wild dogs whom he describes as ‘the squatter’s direct enemy’, is remarkably similar to his position on indigenous Australians. He regards the dingo as a pest and describes, in graphic and shocking detail, some of the attempts made to obliterate the dogs, who posed (and continue to pose) a threat to livestock and hence to livelihoods, too:
The squatter attempts to rid himself of the dingo by poison, and consequently strychnine is as common in a squatter’s house as castor oil in a nursery. On many large runs carts are continually being taken round with baits to be set on the paths of the dingo. In smaller establishments the squatter or his head man goes about with strychnine in his pocket and lumps of meat tied up in a handkerchief. Hence it comes to pass that the use of a shepherd’s dog is impossible, unless he be muzzled. But the dingo likes lamb better than bait, and the squatters sometimes are broken-hearted.
The anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose has written of what she calls the ‘violent unmaking’ of dingoes in Australia’s Northern Territory today, charting the ways in which they continue to be poisoned and treated as vermin. According to Rose, the dingo pits itself against the pastoralist, who destroys the dogs in order to assert or display dominance (See Deborah Bird Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming, 93). Far from being a companion species like his domesticated European counterpart, the dingo opposes himself to imported ideas of the pastoral, feeding on sheep instead of herding them; actively resisting the idea that the countryside can be parceled up and fenced in. The dingo is, for both Trollope and Rose, what Raymond Williams would term a counter-pastoralist—albeit a particularly feral one—who pits himself against Europeanized farming practices and ideas of property ownership. Ignoring the boundaries imposed upon the landscape by settlers, the dingo continues to treat the land as a source of ‘innate bounty’. Indeed, as Australian sheep stocks grew after 1850, so the number of dingoes trebled. The dingo is a living, plundering reminder of just how incompatible imported ideas of land ownership are with the vast and wild Australian terrain.
Towards the end of his travelogue, Trollope offers an account of a dingo hunt, which is, for him, ‘great sport’. His depiction reveals how a privileged sector of settler society sought to contain—and possibly also to redefine—the dingo by treating him as they would an English fox. There are distinctions, as he explains, noting that while a fox who is shaken from a bag declines to run, the dingo is much more obliging. For the most part, Trollope focuses on the hunters themselves, recounting how they crash into fences that are too high, lose their mounts and generally prove to be unequal to the differences involved in riding to hounds in the bush. Trollope is so weary by the time he and his fellow huntsmen and women catch up with the dog that he declares, ‘I cared little what it was’. This particular dingo is taken alive, having been pursued for two miles, although what happens to him next is not reported. Most dingoes who were caught up in hunts were killed as vermin and newspapers contain numerous accounts of the stalking of dingoes, sometimes as a bloodsport and sometimes in response to the theft of sheep.
While on the one hand a replication of an English country pursuit that is for some an important tradition dating back to the sixteenth century, on the other the Australian version of the hunt is something more. Hunting in England is about the pursuit of an individual fox, with no sense that these enemies of the farmer might ever be eradicated through this highly ritualized chase. The hunting of dingoes, however, was part of a much more widespread and systematic process of extermination that hinged on the labeling of the wild dog as a pest. The hunt might thus be regarded as an attempt to express mastery, albeit one that fails, according to Trollope’s descriptions of fallen riders and general calamity. The transposition of this aspect of English rural life to the bush is far from seamless and fails to account for the many differences between the countryside at ‘home’ and the much more rugged Australian terrain. In many ways, Trollope’s dingo hunt highlights the numerous challenges that the land threw in the faces of migrants, challenges that were exacerbated by such willful attempts to impose aspects of the pastoral onto a resistant environment.
Trollope allows some of the ideas that sanctioned and legitimated the dingo hunt to permeate his contribution to the debate surrounding invasive species. Once more invoking the idea of the ‘pest’, he remarks that, ‘the rabbit has become so great a plague in Victoria and parts of Tasmania that squatters in some localities are spending thousands with the hope of exterminating them’. He notes that one farmer claims to have spent more than fifteen thousand pounds in attempting to eliminate rabbits from his property, an aim which modern-day land managers know to be futile. Yet while on the one hand he registers the nuisance posed by the rabbit, on the other he voices an admiration for its ability to proliferate in new climes. Trollope writes of imported European animals ‘thrusting out the aboriginal creatures of this country’, noting with approval that ‘The emus are nearly gone. The kangaroos are departing to make way for the sheep’. He continues to celebrate the ‘numerous’ sparrows, also asserting that the ‘busier bee from Europe’ has quickly displaced his Australian counterpart, in terms of sheer numbers, but also production of honey. When read alongside Trollope’s dismissive comments regarding indigenous Australians, remarks of this kind become inflected with contemporary notions of natural selection and racial vigour. While today’s ecologists are perturbed by introduced species, for Trollope the fact that they were able to thrive in the Antipodes became a legitimation of the colonial venture and an implicit assertion of mastery. European creatures were stronger and more spirited than their Oceanian counterparts and were therefore, just like white settlers, able to displace those who had occupied the land for millennia.
This entry is a compressed account of an article, ‘”So Wild and Beautiful a World Around Him”: Trollope and Antipodean Ecology’, which will be published in 2015.
Posted by Grace Moore
The second ‘Languages of Emotion’ collaboratory took place in Perth during a very hectic week for the Centre, with chief investigators, postdoctoral researchers, advisory board members and administrative staff converging from around the country and beyond for our mid-cycle review by the Australian Research Council. While thoughts and energies were sometimes distracted and anxiety levels high — not least because our director and conference host, Philippa Maddern (who has since passed), was gravely ill — the collaboratory certainly benefited from this adventitious influx of unofficial participants. We were able to live stream some of the proceedings to include colleagues unable to attend, which we’ve linked to below.
Our previous language collaboratory had invited papers on ‘concepts, codes and communities’, exploring, for example, the emotional investment of writers in particular languages, languages defining emotional communities, and the emotional nuances conveyed by multilingual writers through the operations of code-switching. It was Philippa’s hope that this one would really to come to terms (as it were!) with historical variation and evolution of emotions concepts.
Linguist Anna Wierzbicka (ANU) threw down the gauntlet with her lively opening keynote, ‘Exploring human emotions from non-Anglocentric and non-chronocentric perspective’. Wierzbicka, inventor of ‘Natural Semantic Metalanguage’, argued passionately for the application of this instrument to historical emotions, that we should recognize and replace our English folk-psychological terms with cross-culturally intelligible descriptions based on universal ‘semantic primes’. Our second keynote speaker, Naama Cohen-Hanegbi (Tel Aviv), plotted shifts in the vocabulary and taxonomies of emotion terms in medical works written in Italy and Spain between 1200 and 1500 to reveal key moments in the transmission of ideas between different fields of knowledge. Cohen-Hanegbi’s magisterial paper demonstrated that medical sources appropriated a wider range of ‘emotions’ terms in the later middle ages from religious discourse – but also, to some extent, secularised them. Our final keynote speaker, cognitive linguist, Javier E. Díaz-Vera (Castilla-La Mancha), led a postgraduate masterclass drawing on linguistic, visual and architectural data to build up a finer-grained picture of the Old English concept of ‘awe’ than would have been possible through textual sources alone. While CHE chief investigators were called away for interview by the ARC during this session, reports from the postgraduate attendees were very appreciative and saw potential in Díaz-Vera’s multimodal approach to emotion conceptualisation for application in their own research.
As a CHE ‘collaboratory’, Philippa had wanted this event to be interdisciplinary, open-ended, and to embrace contributions from both early career researchers as well as established experts. Harpist and performance practice researcher, Andrew Lawrence-King (The Harp Concert), delivered an engaging paper on the integration of verbal, musical and gestural language in early opera. Brid Phillips (UWA) elicited the emotional connotations of colour terms in early modern English drama; Bronwyn Reddan (Melbourne) highlighted the difficulties of translating the terminology of love from the French fairy tales of seventeenth-century author, Henriette-Julie Castelnau, Comtesse de Murat. Andrea Rizzi (Melbourne) also grappled with problems of translation when attempting to gauge the contemporary reception of the – to modern ears – extreme and offensive public insults routinely hurled by Italian Renaissance humanists (most often in Latin). Bob White (UWA) carefully unravelled the tangled associations of English ‘rue’ through historical culinary and medical texts in the hope of arriving at an understanding of what Ophelia might have meant when she told Hamlet’s mother she ‘must wear [her] rue with a difference’. While his paper offered a history of the word, the full historical meaning of the emotion, ‘rue’, may forever be irretrievable. Andrew Lynch’s discussion of terms of courage and cowardice in Anglo-Saxon battle narratives prompted consideration of the extent to which such texts were normative or idealising in their representation of historical emotions. The difficulty if not impossibility of recovering historical emotions from textual sources, especially literary ones, was a recurring theme in the conference — although Professor Wierzbicka was more optimistic about that possibility. In the final session, Juanita Ruys (Sydney) and Yasmin Haskell (UWA) took tentative first steps towards a word history of affectus (‘emotion’?) and its cognates through a sample of medieval and early modern theological and philosophical texts. Several participants expressed interest in contributing to a larger book on this topic.
Early modern cultural historian, Charles Zika (Melbourne), nicely summarised the main themes arising over the three days in his concluding remarks. He first expressed appreciation for the conference welcome, in Nyoongar language, by Alan Dench, head of UWA’s Graduate Research School, a researcher of Australian indigenous languages – Professor Dench’s attempt to articulate the emotions of another culture paralleled our own historical work of reconstructing the emotional lives of medieval and early modern Europeans. Professor Zika noted the mobility, fluidity, and miscibility of emotions concepts that had been highlighted in many papers. But if we ended on an aporetic note, with historical emotions resisting translation or transforming with viral elusiveness, the collaboratory had the salutary effect of clarifying what it is that we (CHE researchers) think we are doing when we study the ‘history of emotions’. There was consensus, at least, that it could not exhausted by the history of words or concepts. While we were made aware of the walls of what Wierzbicka has called the ‘prison’ of English, our strategies for escaping that prison seem to depend on the directions in which our quite diverse research projects are running. Sadly, my co-host, Philippa Maddern, was unable to attend any of the conference which she had done so much to set up. She would have been pleased, I think, that debate was heated, language was colourful, but that humours remained even-tempered.
By Professor Yasmin Haskell (Chief Investigator, UWA)
Notes on a recent CHE Symposium on Feeling Exclusion in Early Modern Europe convened at The University of Melbourne by Giovanni Tarantino and Charles Zika, compiled by Giovanni Tarantino. On April 13, 1986 Pope John Paul II made an official visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome, in what was the first ever visit by a pope to a place of Jewish worship. In his address to the Jewish community of Rome, the Pope alluded to the improvement of the relations between Jews and Christians brought about by the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions “Nostra Aetate” issued by the Second Vatican Council. He then said something which is of particular relevance to the topic of a recent symposium promoted by the Melbourne node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (http://www.historyofemotions.org.au/events/feeling-exclusion-emotional-strategies-and-burdens-of-religious-discrimination-and-displacement-in-early-modern-europe.aspx): The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ for us, but rather it is, in a certain way, ‘intrinsic’ to our religion. In this regard, therefore, we have affinities that we have with no other religion. You are our well-beloved brethren and, in a certain way, one could say our elder brothers. Amidst the widespread euphoria over John Paul II’s visit, it was left to the historian Carlo Ginzburg to point out that the term “elder brothers” is not just a bland expression of friendship, but refers to Romans 9:12: “The elder shall serve the younger. Just as it is written: Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” By a sort of unintentional theological lapse, just as he was striving to blunt the edges of existing divisions between the two religious communities, John Paul II once again became entangled in the traditional theology of typological thinking: the elder brother Esau, standing for Judaism, has been superseded and replaced in the history of salvation by his younger brother Jacob, who represents the Christian Church (see “Pope Wojtyla’s Slip,” in C. Ginzburg, Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance (Verso, 2002)). I decided to introduce our symposium on “Feeling Exclusion in Early Modern Europe” with this intriguing insight by a historian who has done path-breaking work on the victims of Inquisitional persecution, in that it seems to me to graphically illustrate the way in which the internalization of a stereotypical representation of religious alterity, or alterity as a whole, is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in the process of building a more inclusive society – a society that does not wave the flag of identity as a weapon to separate insiders from outsiders, a society capable of engaging with and accepting diversity, with curiosity, humbleness and respect rather than with diffidence, fear, mockery and dismissiveness. The symposium set out to investigate the emotional strategies that contributed to or resisted the depositing of these stereotypes in culture and daily life in various European contexts between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, when, as a result of political and religious upheaval, an unprecedented number of people were forced to flee from their native lands, to live in a state of internal exile and to devise strategies of dissimulation and secrecy. Religious refugees were variously received by their host communities: some were welcomed and helped, while others were met with hostility and contempt. The duration of their exile also varied from the temporary to the permanent. But as foreigners in an unfamiliar land, they all invariably experienced profound feelings of estrangement and disorientation, worked to set up new patterns and channels of communication and to deal with their sense of displacement and alienation. A further aim was to explore the relationship between the emotional experience of exclusion, persecution or exile and the emergence, articulation or justification of tolerant and intolerant attitudes or policies. The Huguenot sceptic Pierre Bayle, who was himself a refugee in addition to being an influential theorist of toleration, was deeply suspicious of anyone who even thought of being able to define true religion. He believed that any effort to put up fences, however innocuous they might seem, reflected an underlying attachment to an ideology that would ultimately lead to the erecting of further fences. Emotions were considered first among the strategic devices of excluded individuals and communities seeking support and assistance from co-religionists across Europe, and from family and friends who had emigrated to supposedly more tolerant regions. In our quest to uncover emotions, we did not just consider ego-documents but also sermons, parodies, trial proceedings, biblical quotations, “hate literature” (I would suggest that the Toledot Yeshu might also fit into this emotional genre), memorials, depicted sounds and dancing, tolerationist and anti-slavery stances. They all turned out to be suggestive media for representing or projecting emotionally charged views of both the “religious Other” and marginalized, exiled or displaced subjects and communities. Gendered and bodily expressions of emotion were also considered. Culturally specific ways to control, express, mobilize, or repress emotions were touched on across the papers, and discernible changes in emotional reactions to comparable phenomena were also highlighted. One example was the fascinating case of changing attitudes toward witchcraft in the twilight of early modern Spain. This brought to mind Barbara Rosenwein’s penetrating criticism of Norbert Elias’s narrative depicting the history of the West as the history of increasing emotional restraint. In Rosenwein’s view this grand narrative no longer holds up. The new narrative, she says, “recognizes various emotional styles, emotional communities, emotional outlets, and emotional restraints in every period, and it considers how and why these have changed over time.” The discussion of the emotional vocabulary employed by the Portuguese New Christian Abrunhosa to rebutt the Inquisition’s allegations and mainly drawn from the lexicon of honour and shame, offered further insights into the gradual cultural shift from action to identity in the emotional construction and labelling of the religious Other. This process involved an increasing emphasis in its transcultural rhetoric with the transcultural rhetorical stress on purity and impurity, cleanness and contagion, rationality and madness. It also appeared to mark a stress on male honour, a characteristic that Ute Frevert considers one of those “emotional dispositions” that translate into different practices according to gender, age, social class, national belonging and religion. The crucial connections between emotion, religion and conflict demand and deserve to be addressed by historians. On behalf of Charles Zika and myself, I would like to thank the participants in the Feeling Exclusion symposium for engaging in our common ambitious project of identifying emotional discourses as drivers of major cultural, social, and political changes. The following more detailed conference report, soon to appear in Italian in the Bulletin of the Society for Waldensian Studies (BSSV), was generously provided by Giuseppe Marcocci (Scuola Normale of Pisa), one of the speakers at the symposium. The history of emotions: report on an Australian symposium On 29–31 May 2014, the international conference Feeling Exclusion: Emotional Strategies and Burdens of Religions Discrimination and Displacement in Early Modern Europe was held at the Graduate House of the University of Melbourne. The event was organized by the local node of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, consisting of a network of research groups active in five of Australia’s major universities (Melbourne, Adelaide, Queensland, Sydney and Western Australia). This was set up in the context of a project funded for the period 2011–2018 by the Australian Research Council, which decided to invest in one of the most lively and innovative areas of research at an international level. Fifteen speakers took part in the conference; ten were from Canada, the UK, Italy, Spain, the US and Switzerland. The anthropologist Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (University of Zurich) was also due to give a paper entitled “Visual emotional strategies in Cérémonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde”, but she had to pull out at the last moment. After the “Welcome to Country” by an elderly member of the local Aboriginal community, who stressed the significant coincidence that a conference on exclusion and discrimination was taking place during National Reconciliation Week, and after the welcoming remarks of the Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty of Arts, Janet Fletcher, representing the University of Melbourne, work got under way with introductory reflections by the conference organizers, both members of the local centre for the history of emotions: Charles Zika, a specialist in the history of witchcraft, and Giovanni Tarantino, a scholar of the history of toleration. Zika and Tarantino stressed the social and religious fracture caused by the processes of exclusion in European history during the modern age, linked to the best-known episodes of expulsion of Jews and Muslims, and to the exiling religionis causa of entire communities belonging to minority Christian confessions in the respective countries, following the rift provoked by the Protestant Reformation and the wars of religion arising from it. The speakers were invited to explore the emotional dimension of these events as they emerge from historic sources, not just as an instrument for gaining a better knowledge of the way in which the protagonists experienced those dramatic events – sometimes forging community ties between the excluded, at other times prompting acts of discrimination shared by the majority of the population – but also as a possible means of studying forms of engagement by different groups in the multi-layered process of achieving religious toleration. The first day’s papers all concentrated on aspects associated with divisions within European Christianity. The correspondence of Protestant exiles formed the basis for the papers of Ole Peter Grell (Open University) and Susan Broomhall (University of Western Australia). The former discussed the emotional lexis and strategies to be found in requests for help sent by refugees in the German-speaking world during the Thirty Years’ War to Calvinist congregations in the rest of Europe; the latter explored the affective universe of Huguenots resident in France and the Low Countries at the end of the 1660s by looking at a group of intercepted letters sent to relatives and friends in exile in England. The composite emotional experience of French Huguenots at the time of the wars of religion in the second half of the sixteenth century was analyzed by Penny Roberts (University of Warwick). She showed how, besides a rhetoric of demonization, rage and hatred for the enemy, the letters and memoirs of those who continued to live in France or moved to England or the Swiss Confederation also reveal dynamics of frustration and hostility among co-religionists, while expressions of shame and fear, joy and pain, tended to remain concealed. David van der Linden (University of Leiden) rounded off this first set of very compact and tightly knit papers by drawing the audience’s attention to the sermons directed at French Huguenots exiled in Holland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). The diaspora of English Catholic communities in European cities between the end of the sixteenth and the mid eighteenth century, with particular attention to nunneries, was the point of departure for Claire Walker (University of Adelaide) to reflect on, amongst other things, the development of political and religious activism in conditions of exile. The circulation, in Europe, of the representation of the “martyrdom” of the freemason John Coustos, tried by the Portuguese Inquisition in 1743–1744, offered Giovanni Tarantino (University of Melbourne) scope for a perceptive investigation of the impact of singular emotional patterns among the Huguenots of the diaspora. The first day was rounded off by Edoardo Tortarolo (University of Eastern Piedmont) with a report on non-Catholic minorities in Italy between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; he focused in particular on the case of the philosopher and mathematician Giovanni Francesco Salvemini di Castiglione, who converted to Calvinism in Lausanne after having left Tuscany in 1736, and developed an attitude of minimalist secularism towards religion. Episodes of persecution, expulsion or purification of a community were the connecting thread of the first three papers on the second day. Starting from a series of specific cases drawn from the history of the confraternities in Italian cities between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Nicholas Terpstra (University of Toronto) gradually broadened his perspective to offer an overall analysis of the connections between reformation and the dynamics of exclusion in modern Europe. Gary K. Waite (University of New Brunswick) concentrated on the vicissitudes of the Anabaptists, examining numerous sources, including visual ones, regarding the persecution suffered by the Dutchman David Joris and the emotional dimension of the messages which, in the mid sixteenth century, he sent to coreligionists from the safe havens of Antwerp and Basel. On the other hand, Giuseppe Marcocci (University of Tuscia) drew on private documents to explore the reaction of a noble Portuguese family which, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, defended their social honour against the charge that they had Jewish blood and practiced Judaic ceremonies. Witches, the possessed and Jews were the focus of the second half of the day, which started once again from the Iberian peninsula, with the sensational case of the possessed of the village of Tosos (Saragozza), which, in 1812, became intertwined with the anti-Napoleonic wars of independence, subtly recounted by the Spanish scholar María Tausiet. This was followed by a brilliant discussion by Charles Zika (University of Melbourne) of processes of exclusion and emotions expressed in the iconographic tradition regarding the dance of witches. The circulation in the modern age of a parody of the life of Jesus and of the origins of Christianity, the Toledot Yeshu, composed in the Middle Ages in Jewish circles, was traced by Daniel Barbu (University of Berne), who went on to reflect upon the relation between emotions and identity and to try to evaluate the nature of the anti-Christian sentiments of the Jews. The third day of the conference was opened by Dolly MacKinnon (University of Queensland), who examined the emotional strategies adopted by the Scottish covenanters in order to resist the religious persecution inflicted by the English monarchs between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. John Marshall (Johns Hopkins University) then presented the final paper on the programme, looking at the emotions connected with the sufferings of the Quakers in seventeenth-century England and their connection with the genesis of forms of religious toleration and positions of open condemnation of the slave trade. A lively concluding discussion, opened by some reflections by Yasmin Haskell (University of Western Australia), brought together into a single, albeit problematic, frame, the many issues dealt with over the course of the three-day conference. It offered an opportunity to dwell on doubts about methods and research perspectives that emerged in the course of a conference destined to leave a deep mark on the history of emotions and over a wider field as well.
Posted by Giovanni Tarantino
A Report from the International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, MI, May 2014)
It was difficult not to feel smug when I first walked into room 2016 in the Fetzer Center and saw that it was absolutely packed. Dozens of sessions were taking place in that time slot, but ours still had a spectacular turnout. This became a familiar sight over the next two days, as our five sessions on emotion in the European Middle Ages unfolded.
These sessions were the fruit of a collaboration between the Swiss Association of Medieval and Early Modern English Studies (SAMEMES) and the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (ARC CHE). We agreed that we wanted session titles that played upon two themes: the idea that emotions themselves are not fixed or static, but frequently in flux or working across space, time, and language; and the way that emotions attach themselves to the very ‘stuff’ of human life—clothes, plant matter, animals.
Denis Renevey, Stephanie Downes, and myself managed to convince the ICMS organizing committee that the time was ripe for a series of sessions on emotion: two on ‘Materiality and Emotion’ (run by the ARC CHE), two on ‘Motion and Emotion’ (run by SAMEMES), and a jointly run roundtable on ‘Feeling the Middle Ages’. These sessions included papers on history, art history, and literature; topics derived from such varied fields of study as English legal history, French literature, and German sculpture.
Despite the breadth of material covered across the three days of discussion, a number of general trends kept resurfacing. One of these trends was a resistance to ‘isolating’ approaches to the study of emotion—past or present. The ineffability of emotion often prompts scholars to erect artificial barriers between emotional subjects, processes, and experiences. Scholarship often considers reason, feeling, thinking, and sensing separately, for example, or separates human emotional experience from non-human existence. But papers and roundtable presentations at ICMS challenged these forms of artificial isolation by emphasizing what is most muddled, coextensive, and ‘enmeshed’ (to use Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s word) about emotion. Both matter and the immaterial—plants, skin, swords and knives, the elements, and other non-human factors—were shown to carry powerful emotional charges, and even to be possessed of surprising emotional agency. (Indeed, as Valerie Allen showed, the affective was even deeply connected to such acts as measurement and calculation.)
The second thing that was evident across all three days of discussion was that we were all deeply interested not just in what emotions are, but also—drawing on Sara Ahmed’s work—in what emotions do. And they do a lot. Indeed, it was clear not only that ‘Emotions make history’ (in the words of the ARC CHE motto), but that emotions situate us in relation to history. Emotion can both establish and strain relations between individuals, different communities, or even between different periods of time. The very act of naming or categorizing emotions has its own emotional and, some have argued, moral impact. Emotions persuade and emotions trouble, particularly when they cannot be named or pinned down, as in legal accounts of individual suicides (Rebecca McNamara), or when, like Gawain’s green girdle, the objects to which they are attached shift in terms of their meaning or ownership (Sarah Randles). As Stephanie Trigg demonstrated, emotion can also determine where objects are felt to ‘belong’, or where they eventually end up. Emotions make things happen: as Evelyn ‘Timmie’ Birge Vitz suggested, we might consider emotions to be the ‘motors’ that ‘drive’ texts. And, as Spencer Young pointed out during his roundtable presentation, emotions are making scholarly history right now, shaping and directing the research of countless scholars around the globe.
Conversely, presentations and discussion also often turned to the question of how (or whether) we ‘do’ emotion, or how (and if) emotion is something that we can avoid doing or feeling. To what extent can we view emotion in relation to a kind of self-generated causality, according to which cause cannot be distinguished from effect (Karl Steel)? To what extent are emotions capable of being practiced, cultivated, or repressed? To what extent does the ‘performance’ of an emotion make manifest something that lies within, or to what extent does it bring emotion into being? Emotion is made up of processes and stimuli over which we have varying degrees of control, and of which we are aware to different extents.
So how do medieval emotions ‘move’ and why/how do they matter? The list of titles below will give you a sense of how presenters engaged with these questions over the three days of sessions. Other thoughts, comments, and reflections, from those who were there and from those who weren’t able to make it, are most welcome!
MATERIALITY AND EMOTION I: Skin and Threads
Lara Farina, West Virginia U, ‘Vines, Petals, Nerves: Feeling Floral Skins’
Gabrielle Parkin, Mount St. Mary’s U, ‘Feeling Fabric: Margery Kempe, Mysticism, and a Love of Clothes’
Sarah Randles, U of Melbourne, ‘Was Gawain’s Girdle a Relic?’
Katie L. Walter, U of Sussex, ‘Plastic and Prosthetic Skin’
MATERIALITY AND EMOTION II: Sticks and Stone
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, George Washington U, ‘Love of Stone’
Brigit G. Ferguson, UCSB, ‘Emotions in Stone: Sinful Anger and Saintly Joy in a Thirteenth-Century Stoning of Saint Stephen’
Karl Steel, Brooklyn College, CUNY, ‘Spontaneous Generation and the Problem of “Automatic” Agency’
Rebecca F. McNamara, U of Sydney, ‘Weapons of Self-Destruction: Materiality and Suicide in the Middle Ages’
MOTION AND EMOTION I: Movable Texts
Marcel Elias, Cambridge University, ‘Emotional Rhetoric in Middle English Crusade Romance’
Amanda Taylor, U of Minnesota, ‘”Feeling Words” and the “Mayd Martial”: Passions and Porous Bodies in Spenser’s Faerie Queene’
Louise D’Arcens, U of Wollongong, ‘Feeling Medieval: Transhistorical Emotions’
Stephanie Trigg, U of Melbourne, ‘Where Do Medieval Things Belong?’
MOTION AND EMOTION II: Textual Triggers
Laura Ashe, Oxford University, ‘Empathy and Socio-political Discourse in High Medieval Literature’
Ayoush Lazikani, Oxford University, ‘Sensing and Feeling in Thirteenth-Century Devotional Lyrics’
Valerie Allen, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, ‘Protective Measures: Some Late Medieval Charms’
FEELING THE MIDDLE AGES (A ROUNDTABLE)
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, George Washington U, ‘Feeling Enmeshed’
Fiona Somerset, UCONN, ‘Feeling, Emotions, and Cognition: Together or Apart?’
Mary C. Flannery, U of Lausanne, ‘How Not to Feel’
Evelyn Birge Vitz, NYU, ‘Perspectives on the Emotions in Medieval French Literature’
Spencer Young, U of Western Australia, ‘Vices, Conversion, and the Emotions in Late Medieval Religion’
Posted by Mary C. Flannery
University of Lausanne