The Aesthetic of Dark Mofo: Emotion, Darkness and the Tasmanian Gothic

By Alicia Marchant and Penelope Edmonds,

History, The University of Tasmania

Dark Mofo 2015 Fire Twirlers. Photo credit: Derek Tickner, courtesy of Dark Mofo

Dark Mofo 2015 Fire Twirlers. Photo credit: Derek Tickner, courtesy of Dark Mofo.

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,

Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt,

It lies behind stars and under hills,

And empty holes it fills,

It comes first and follows after,

Ends life, kills laughter.

J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit


The melancholic shadow that encases Tasmania during the long winter is the focus of Dark Mofo celebrations. Timed to mark the Winter Solstice, Dark Mofo entices people out into the night air, and for eleven consecutive nights in later June, a cold Hobart is illuminated. This year the dark was kept at bay by a spotlight streaming sky-wards (Pulse Column by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer), and another circling from a boat to light the River Derwent’s shoreline complete with foghorn sounding (Night Ship by Anthony McCall). Flames jump out of metal structures and signs, and fires in forty-four gallon drums are scattered around the Hobart docks.

Pulse Column  Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)

Pulse Column. Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)

Celebrations continued over the weekend with the Huon Valley’s Mid-Winter Festival (17th-19th July). The program included nocturnal feasting, bonfires, the burning of a Mid-Winter Man (a five metre-tall effigy), storytelling, folk music and of course sampling the cider for which the region is famous. The central event to the Mid-Winter Festival is a ‘wassailing’ ceremony performed to awaken the apple trees and encourage autumn growth. Drawing on traditions practiced in the south-west of the British Isles in the early modern era and even earlier, wassailing in the Huon includes singing and banging on pots and pans, and a volley of guns, so as to create enough noise to scare away the evil spirits that could lurk and do damage to the precious apple trees.

The ‘dark’ that the festival draws upon is both literal and metaphoric. It is not only a celebration of the pitch-black winter night, but also the ‘dark’ shadows: the macabre, gruesome, quirky, grim, unenlightened and savage. The term ‘dark’ has been used historically to refer both to the abnormal and the ways in which humanity knows of and engages with this abnormal. In religious contexts, ‘darkness’ has long been associated with evil and the devil, but also with ignorance: the ‘Dark Ages’ were named by renaissance scholars to contrast them with their own perceived enlightenment. Yet darkness could also be used to obscure those elements of society that were ‘to be kept in the dark’ and hidden; the ‘dark house’ denoted a mental asylum, as Shakespeare uses it in As you Like It (Act III. Ii. 387): ‘Loue is meerely a madnesse, and … deserues as wel a darke house, and a whip, as madmen do.’ Recent bourgeoning scholarship in tourism studies uses the term ‘dark tourism’ to refer to people’s fascination for visiting sites associated with death, massacre, torture and the like. Although the term ‘dark tourism’ was coined in 1996, since time immemorial people have engaged with and actively sought out the shocking, the alienating and the ‘dark’. The well-attended violent spectacles of execution in public spaces in medieval and early modern Europe, for instance, as well as the practice of exhibiting and sometimes dissecting the dead body post-mortem, have been well documented. More recently, areas hit by the 2004 Tsunami, Nazi Concentration Camps and gulags, for instance, as places of persecution with a ‘heritage that hurts’, have attracted visitors. The raison d’être of dark tourism is emotion: dark tourists commonly wish to experience heightened emotions such as fear, disgust, shame and pain, both emotional and physical.

The Body. Image credit: Kara Healey. Image courtesy of the artists and Dark Mofo 2015.

The Body. Image credit: Kara Healey. Image courtesy of the artists and Dark Mofo 2015.

Dark tourism appears to satisfy some people’s curiosity about the processes of death and humanity’s mechanisms for coping with it, and even inflicting it. At Dark Mofo, death and the performances and rituals associated with death are front and centre, along with the cycles of nature and seasonal decay. Dark Mofo celebrates the transitional moments and transformations of the universe and of humanity. The programme for 2015 included the participatory theatrical performance Funeral, and music performed by bands named the Pallbearer and the Body. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and chorus performed a series of requiems, while the festival films had bloody overtones. After watching the film The Kettering Incident, a friend reported: ‘now I am scared of Tasmania’.

Funeral. Image courtesy of the Guerrilla Museum and Dark Mofo 2015.

Funeral. Image courtesy of the Guerrilla Museum and Dark Mofo 2015.

One of the centre-pieces of Dark Mofo, the Ogoh-Ogoh, three monsters built in the Balinese Hindu tradition, highlights the relationship between the emotions and the ‘dark’.[1] Throughout the festival people wrote their ‘darkest’ fears privately on a piece of paper and placed them onto or inside one of the giant monsters. ‘Deep water’, ‘enclosed spaces’ and, oddly, ‘trampolines’ were some of the fears that we noticed recorded (Alicia’s six-year-old wrote ‘big teeth’; Penny’s seven-year-old wrote ‘fires’). On the night of the Solstice the Ogoh-Ogoh monsters were carried in procession to the docks, where one of them (Jessica the Handfish) was set alight, sending peoples’ fears up in smoke. The ritual incineration of the monsters was deeply grounded in anxieties about the unknown, and particularly fears of a violent and untimely death, like drowning (‘deep water’) and suffocating (‘enclosed spaces.’) Sometimes, however, fears and memories of past events are too uncomfortable and immediate; in Dark Mofo 2014, Articulated Intersect (Rafael Lozano-Hemmer), an installation of eighteen powerful spotlights pointing sky-wards that could be moved around by the public, prompted terror in several older Hobart residents who were survivors of the Blitz in London or bombing elsewhere in Europe. For these viewers, the sight of the search-lights roused unwanted emotions and memories.

Ogoh Ogoh - The Burningx Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art).

Ogoh Ogoh – The Burningx. Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin. Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art).

Ogoh Ogoh – The Burningx. Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy of Mona (Museum of Old and New Art)

Dark Mofo 2015. Picture: Derek Tickner, courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

Dark Mofo 2015. Picture: Derek Tickner, courtesy of MONA Museum of Old and New Art

During this year’s Dark Mofo, the Narryna Heritage Museum, a colonial mansion built in Battery Point in 1836, was transformed into a Georgian house in mourning with the exhibition Ashes to Ashes (Curated by Scott Carlin and Lana Nelson with photography by Angela Waterson). Visitors were given undertakers’ hats and mourning veils on entering the house, and engaged in past mourning rituals, filing past a coffin laid out in the front room. Female manikins in ornate, nineteenth-century mourning dresses stood in attendance. In another room, a four-poster deathbed was draped with interpretative posters describing causes of death in the early days of the Hobart settlement: by diseases, lightning, fire and crushing by log wagons. On the upper floor of the house were objects associated with mourning practices of the past, including jewellery made from deceased loved-ones’ hair. Ashes to Ashes embodied the duality characterising so much of Dark Mofo: the conflicting feelings of alienation and familiarity, a Freudian ‘uncanniness’. As well as evoking the horrors of the relatively recent past, the exhibition was also a reminder that while rituals and practices might change, powerful emotions like grief and melancholy are common to people across time.

With the billing, ‘Something strange has taken over the industrial guts of the Old Mercury Building,’ artists Patricia Piccinini and Peter Hennessey’s bizarre, hybrid couplings of plants and animals, and uncanny creatures jarringly malformed were shown in the basement of a heritage city building. The Shadows Calling provides an interesting contemporary counterpoint to popular ideas of a 19th century gothic Tasmania. The reconfigured and monstrous beings are suggestive of a dark alien crop invigilating the urban spaces of the Apple Isle.

The Shadows Calling, Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey  'The Bridge' Patricia Piccinini Silicone, Fibreglass, auto paint, clothing, human hair Ed 3 + 1 AP The Shadows Calling, Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey  'The Bridge' Patricia Piccinini Silicone, Fibreglass, auto paint, clothing, human hair Ed 3 + 1 AP Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin Image Courtesy of the artists and Detached gallery, Hobart, Tasmania

The Shadows Calling, Patricia Piccinini + Peter Hennessey
‘The Bridge’
Patricia Piccinini
Silicone, Fibreglass, auto paint, clothing, human hair
Ed 3 + 1 AP
Photo credit: MONA/Rémi Chauvin
Image Courtesy of the artists and Detached gallery, Hobart, Tasmania

Giidanyba, a series of seven sculptures by Tyrone Sheather depicting spirits from Aboriginal mythology, was captivating and nostalgic. In a very different way to Ashes to Ashes, it too is a work of ritual, using luminous images in darkness to create an initiatory impression. Hovering above the ground, each spirit appears to move when approached, glowing, with heart palpitating. They recall a lost ancestral place and a heritage destroyed by the cultivation of another; positioned within the old walls of the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens, now a landscaped parkland, the seven figures reclaim a space of aboriginal importance. They mourn the loss of the middens upon which the garden was built, as well as the deaths and dispossession of Aboriginal peoples that occurred throughout Tasmania. Yet such pre-contact spiritual entities were also entirely palatable for non-indigenous attendees and offshore visitors – these installations were not darkly unsettling, but recuperative of an Aboriginal spirituality. Such a display prompts us to ponder: what is the ‘dark’ in Dark Mofo, and in what ways might it privilege some forms of ‘darkness’ over others? What must remain unspoken?

Giidanyba  (Tyrone Sheather), Image by Ali Marchant

Giidanyba. (Tyrone Sheather), Image by Ali Marchant

Dark Mofo’s aesthetic gels with other shades of ‘dark’ in the Tasmanian background. With its wealth of historic places associated with crime and punishment, imprisonment, pain, Aboriginal dispossession and massacre, Tasmania is particularly conducive to examinations of the ‘dark’. The twin forces of convictism and colonisation have made Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) notorious in the global historical imagination, and continue to resonate in Tasmania’s present, in popular culture, visual art and literature, and in haunted places of pain, shame, and unsettlement. Dark Mofo draws upon the Tasmanian dark and gothic, and challenges notions of the normal and abnormal. Though its aesthetic is archetypal, at times primordial, and so universalising, it works so well because Tasmania has long held a prime vantage point for looking into the dark.

The Fire Organ (Bastiaan Maris), Photo by Penny Edmonds.

The Fire Organ.(Bastiaan Maris), Photo by Penny Edmonds.

[1] The Oogh-Oogh was a collaboration between Dark Mofo, Balinese artists, The University of Tasmania Centre for Asian Studies and the University of Tasmania Centre of the Arts.

Emotions, Conflict and Communal Recovery

By CHE Honorary Researcher, Emma Hutchison, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland

Why do divided communities continue to fight when their losses are already so great? Why is more conflict often seen as the only way to address feelings of injustice and bereavement?

How to break cycles of violence is an age-old question which has preoccupied thinkers for centuries, ranging from Plato to Levinas and from Arendt to Badiou. There is obviously no simple answer. Political and community leaders confront this time and again. Think of some of the world’s current and most prominent conflicts: the tension between Israel and Palestine, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir, the current confrontation with Islamic State. In many of these and other cases, violence is so entrenched that the respective conflict seems “intractable”.

With Mandela Day approaching on July 18 it is time to reflect on these vicious cycles of violence and conflict. It is time to visualize a way out.   In this short blog I highlight one issue that is particularly crucial but remains largely under-appreciated by academics and policy makers: the role that emotions play in both conflict and reconciliation.

Emotions and conflict

To say that violence and ensuing trauma are profoundly emotional is commonsensical. Yes, of course violence is emotional – both in its origins and its effects. Violence leaves complex emotional legacies that affect the every day practices of communities for long after the initial conflict has passed.

Even though the links between emotions and conflict seem self-apparent, the complex ways through which emotions can support violence are often glossed over or left out. When it comes to how communities can best recover and move on after conflict, some of the most prominent political approaches view emotions not as an integral part of conflict and reconciliation, but merely as a factor that can be easily isolated and dealt with strategically. The assumption is, that it is enough to simply “take some of the emotion out of the debate” and find a solution.[1]

Srebrenica massacre memorial, 2009.

Srebrenica massacre memorial, 2009.

But this is not so. We know from the emotions literature that individuals and communities experience the world and enact their attachments through the emotions and affects they feel every day. All emotions help to make us who we are – those that are experienced through conflict are no exception. Emotions help to situate us. This is why we cannot simply forget or ‘do away’ with emotions associated with conflict.

Still, this does leave us with a troubling predicament. If communities divided by violence and injustice exist at least in part through affective logics that supported such conflict, how can emotions be a part of the resolution of conflict? Is it possible for emotions to be part of the solution?

Working through emotions after violence and trauma

There is a need to engage seriously not only with how emotions and conflict are inevitably intertwined, but also with emotions that can be actively harnessed to transform conflict and seek reconciliation.

A useful place to start lies with recognizing how particular emotional practices have come to shape individuals and communities in the wake of conflict. To borrow from Daniel Goleman, we need to tap into our “emotional intelligence” in order to appreciate the emotions at stake in conflict.[2] How do divided, potentially traumatized communities think and feel? Why do they think the things they think and feel the things they feel?

Young people view images of survivors of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China on Dragon Boat Festival Holiday, 2013.

Young people view images of survivors of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall in China on Dragon Boat Festival Holiday, 2013.

The emotional and psychological history that accompanies conflict is complicated and in each circumstance unique, yet patterns are often observed. Some scholars write of how individuals and communities can be so traumatized they search to “forget” what they’ve been through, while all the while they become fixated on, and constituted by, the emotions associated with suffering and a sense of injustice.[3]   Discourses fueled with humiliation, shame, anger and continued insecurity can prevail.[4]   Recovery in this situation becomes more about an emotional “acting out” of such insecurity, which can lead to more violence, than about genuine healing.

Identifying the emotional history of conflict provides a crucial opportunity: it can prompt divided communities to stop, reflect upon and potentially work through affective dispositions that may have propelled – and importantly, may also perpetuate violence.

The possibility of grief

Key here is, I suggest, the notion of grief, for it can potentially pave a way to work through and overcome the emotions that drive conflict.

Grief is an essential part of healing and recovery after conflict and loss. It encompasses a range of bereavement and mourning practices that prompt traumatized individuals and communities to come to terms with what they have been through, to reckon with the sense of injury. Rather than neglecting or glossing over the affective dimensions of violence, it involves an active engagement with the traumatic past, its emotions and memories.[5] This is akin to the type of societal healing that Nelson Mandela foresaw for post-apartheid South Africa. As he put it prior to reconciliation:

Only by knowing the truth can we hope to heal the terrible wounds of the past that are the legacy of apartheid. Only the truth can put the past to rest.

While not a finite process and also culturally distinct, this type of grief work would provide divided communities with a space to express and potentially transform the emotional practices that may pull them back into the traumas of conflict and, in turn, further violence. Grief can, in this sense be a form of working through, that prompts a search to mourn and, in turn, emotionally accept a history of loss in such a way that individuals and communities can move forward.


Emma Hutchison is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and an Associate Investigator in CHE. Her book, Affective Communities in World Politics: Collective Emotions After Trauma, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.



[1] Australian Government, Law Reform Commission, “Are Sedition Laws Necessary and Effective?”, 20 March 2006. Available at Accessed 6 July 2015.

[2] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. London: Bloomsbury, 1996.

[3] Jenny Edkins, “Forget Trauma? Responses to September 11”, International Relations, 16(2), 2002, pp. 243-256.

[4] Some of my work has examined the politics of emotional discourses and practices in Australia after the 2002 Bali bombing, see Emma Hutchison, “Trauma and the Politics of Emotions: Constituting Identity, Security and Community after the Bali Bombing,” International Relations, 24(1), 2010, pp. 65-86.

[5] Emma Hutchison and Roland Bleiker, “Grief and the Transformation of Emotions After War”, in Linda Ahall and Thomas Gregory (eds.), Emotions, Politics and War. London: Routledge, 2015.


5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies

By CHE International Investigator, Professor Ann Brooks, Professor of Sociology, Bournemouth University

The 5th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies hosted by The University of Edinburgh was set against the stunning backdrop of Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags at The University of Edinburgh’s John McIntyre’s Conference Centre.

The University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh

The conference attracted 250 international academics from a wide range of disciplines including sociology, geography, literature, cultural studies, art, archaeology, anthropology, urban studies, gender studies, tourism and many more. Delegates came from the US, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Brazil among others. The conference chair was Professor Liz Bondi from The University of Edinburgh and supported by Elsevier publishers, who publish the conference journal Emotion, Space and Society and who hosted a superb pre-conference welcome reception.

The conference streams reflected an international and interdisciplinary research profile combining theoretical and applied work as well as implications for policy debates at the local and national level. For example in one of the conference themes, ‘Persisting Selves: the Practices and Politics of Keeping Going and Carry On’, (divided into I Selves; II Time and III Recovering), papers included: ‘How does “a day at a time” work? Patience, Persistence and Proaction in an Everyday Sustained Alcoholic’, (Julia Mills, University of Manchester) and ‘Persistence, Insistence and Endurance in Pregnancy Loss Grief’, (Abigail McNiven, University of Oxford). A conference theme which showcased a wide range of doctoral, postdoctoral and early career researchers work was, ‘Childhood Youth and Intergenerationality: Relational Geographies of Emotions /Affects, Childhood and Youth’, papers included: ‘The Emotional Geographies of Children of Prisoners’, (Helene Oldrup, The Danish National Centre for Social Research) and ‘Slovenia’s Izbrisani (‘Erased’) Youth, Transitional Spaces and Radical Ethical Acts’, (Stuart Aitken, San Diego State University). Other conference themes included ‘Creative Spaces’, ‘Emotions in Fieldwork’, ‘Urban Life in Theory and Practice’, ‘Time and Space’, ‘Liminal Spaces’, and ‘Connecting across Space: Tourism’.

I presented a paper in the ‘Urban Life in Theory and Practice’ stream as one of three papers discussing the impact of the urban environment and landscape on emotional well-being. My paper looked at the impact of gentrification in cities in the US including San Francisco and New York City, where long term city dwellers and migrants are being forced out of their homes because of the gentrification of traditionally ethnic parts of the cities by corporate investors and wealthy foreigners. I also explore the growth of the Occupy Movement as a collective expression of anger at the increasing disparities of wealth in US cities. This work is part of the work undertaken for a forthcoming book on Emotions and Cities.

One of the high points of the conference was the presentation of one of three keynotes –Professor Lauren Berlant, George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, The University of Chicago.

Professor Lauren Berlant. Image courtesy of the author.

Professor Lauren Berlant. Image courtesy of the author.

Berlant is a foremost contributor to feminist and literary discourse in the US and it is a unique opportunity to have her appear at a UK conference. She is author of a number of outstanding books including: Cruel Optimism (2011), The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (2009), Desire/Love (2013), Our Monica, Ourselves: Clinton and the Affairs of State (2001), Intimacy (2000), The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (1997).

Berlant describes her work as follows:

“My work has focused on politics, emotion and intimacy in the U.S. nineteenth and twentieth centuries – now the twenty-first in particular, in relation to citizenship, to informal and normative modes of social belonging, and to affective attachments and fantasies that take shape through ordinary practices. These scenes zone and disturb the relations between public and private, white and non-white, straight and non-straight, and /or citizen and foreigner –along with providing settings for other, inventive kinds of social bond through which people imagine and practice world- making.”

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 5.04.20 pmPresenting her keynote address, ‘On being in Life without Wanting the World: Living in Ellipsis’, Berlant captured the imagination of delegates with an erudite and amusing presentation of concepts around emotion and affect. Berlant sought to define a range of new ‘affective’ states for addressing sex, democracy and belonging. Drawing on one of the classical social theorist Georg Simmel’s work on Metropolis and Mental Life, Berlant explored the concept of ‘disassociation’. Her ability to communicate with a wide range of academics using complex and imaginative frameworks of analysis is inspiring both on pedagogical and substantive issues.

Other keynotes included Professor Jane Speedy, University of Bristol and Associate Professor Joyce Davidson, Queens University, Canada.

This was a conference which not only provided outstanding networking opportunities and an opportunity to develop research synergies with international and national delegates, but in addition it was a great opportunity for me to reflect on a chapter I have just completed on Lauren Berlant’s work for my upcoming book, Genealogies of Emotion, Intimacies and Desire (Routledge, New York 2015). More food for thought from this exceptional academic.

This was a conference to inspire the intellect, engage the senses, to enrich international networking and to light the way for doctoral, postdoctoral and early career researchers on the best of interdisciplinary research and to showcase this on the world stage.

Reading Faces: Bodies, Senses, Lives

By CHE Associate Investigator Melissa Raine, University of Melbourne

Image: 'Scene from a Novella'. by Liberale da Verona, ca. 1445–1527. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image: ‘Scene from a Novella’. by Liberale da Verona, ca. 1445–1527. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When I attended the recent “Reading the Face” collaboratory at the University of Melbourne, I was hopeful that bringing together the diverse subjects and perspectives listed in the program would result in unexpected connections and insights. I was not to be disappointed.

I was struck by the differing understandings of how the face was apprehended; a closely related issue was the connection between the face and the body. This gave me much to think about in terms of my current interest in the interplay of the senses and emotion. Jane Davidson’s work demonstrated how, during live performance, the faces of pianists affect the listener’s experience of the music. Her paper established, to my mind, the importance of a multi-sensory approach: although we “believe” music is experienced aurally, sound does not operate in isolation when other senses have the opportunity to participate. Another striking example of “sensory entrainment” emerged from discussion of Lisa Beaven’s interpretation of a landscape by Poussin. The term “ripple” was applied to the extraordinary effect, in the painting, of emotion transmitted from one figure to the next. That ripple was clearly aural in part, originating in the horrified cry of a witness to a terrible death. Alison Inglis discussed pre-Raphaelite artist George Sandys’ repeated representations of a young woman chewing on a lock of her own hair. This gesture, it seemed to me, played with the desire to touch that is implicit in eroticised images of young women, rendering her less available to the audience. When Stephanie Downes discussed the intimacy of encountering faces in the margins of medieval manuscripts, I found myself wondering, which sense truly apprehends the written text? Does reading a text with marginal faces require two different modes of apprehension simultaneously?

In my experience of the conference, two papers spoke to each other with particular urgency, both dealing with personal responses to traumatic early life experiences, both searching intensely for empowerment. Sarah Richardson discussed the confronting work of Phoebe Gloeckner, who draws upon her own childhood and young-adult experiences of sexual abuse and addiction in her graphic novels. Her work is explicit and distressing. Bindi Cole Chocka spoke of her own history of neglect and abuse, and its relationship with her video installation, We All Need Forgiveness, where 30 individual videotaped faces look out at the audience, uttering the phrase “I forgive you”. This work affected many collaboratory participants powerfully, and positively. By comparison, Gloeckner’s work seemed overwhelming for many, but her images have stayed with me. As Richardson pointed out, Gloeckner reclaims the agency of the abused subjects she represents; by refusing to flinch from representing the explicitness of the abuses, her work challenges the shamefulness that can be so insidiously associated with the recipient of abuse.

Chocka’s work involved “face” in an almost pure form, the focus entirely on the expressions and words spoken; Gloeckner’s faces were inextricable from bodies and what was done to the whole person. Chocka spoke about an earlier phase in her work where her art was “angry”, a phase she’d left behind; I wondered if she would consider Gloeckner’s work angry? If so, would she accord it any positive value? Similarly, Chocka’s emphasis on forgiveness implied an end goal of healing; I wondered what Gloeckner, a trained medical illustrator who also creates images of herself diseased to challenge the viewer’s gaze, would make of the concept? While Gloeckner’s faces and bodies were inextricable, perhaps the most powerful face of the conference for me was Gloeckner’s luridly graphic, cloyingly innocent eight-year-old girl poised on the brink of an early abuse, the enticement by her stepfather to feel grown-up by drinking wine. I say cloying, because the hyper-innocence and sweetness of this face defied – or should have defied — the possibility of exploitation. The most disturbing detail was the girl’s missing tooth. The blackness of that gap seemed symbolically to foreshadow the possibility of trespass, bringing home the sickening vulnerability of the child, the magnitude of that betrayal of trust, the sheer damage that would be inflicted. The difficulty of looking at Gloeckner’s work underscores how important it is for her work to be looked at.

Gloeckner’s faces were powerfully connected to disturbing representations of bodies, provoking often visceral responses; the multi-sensory apprehension that is at work in more pleasing aesthetic experiences was also in play here, the results discomforting, but generating understanding and empathy. The very detachment of Chocka’s faces from context, including body, seemed integral to the sense of resolution that her work strives to promote. Not surprisingly, I found myself connecting these works with the testimony from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that were, on those same days, entering my awareness via the media. I wondered if either Chocka’s or Gloeckner’s works might speak to any of these people, and more importantly, make a meaningful contribution to any of those lives.

Unexpected insights? Most certainly.

Livestream videos of the presentations may be found here.

Why education matters: breaking cycles of child labour in the past and in the present

'Against Child Labou'r flyer from the International Labour Organisation.

‘Against Child Labour’ flyer from the International Labour Organisation.

June 12 was ‘World Against Child Labour Day’, where nations and individuals mark their protest against the 215 million children around the world who continue to do work that harms them or stops them from attending school.[1] One of the ways the problem of modern child labour is being tackled is through promoting the benefits of education, marked in 2015 by the slogan ‘No to Child Labour. Yes to Quality Education’. Yet, this is not a solution that is novel to the twenty-first century, nor is it one that is particularly straightforward. Education as a route out of poverty and as a way of gaining status and financial security is firmly rooted in the past. There has been a demand for quality education by poor parents since the early modern period and a number of responses to this problem. In the early eighteenth century a pro-forma for setting up charity schools was written which highlights the importance of education and the flourishing demand for charity schools during the period:

A Form of a Subscription for a Charity School, 1699-1718

‘And whereas many Poor People are desirous of having their Children Taught, but are not able to afford them a Christian and Useful Education; We whose Names are underwritten, do agree to pay Yearly, at Four equal Payments, the several and respective Sums of Money over against our Names respectively subscribed, for the setting up of a Charity-School in the Parish of in the City of or in the County of for Teaching [Poor Boys, or Poor Girls, or] Poor children to Read and Instructing them in the Knowledge and Practice of the Christian Religion … and for Learning them such other Things as are suitable to their Condition and Capacity.’

The specifics for each charity school are helpfully left blank to ease the process of creating new schools for poorer children.

Of course, the same problems existed in the past as they do today. How do families accommodate the loss of earnings when their children are in school instead of working? How can poor families provide the necessary clothing, books and tools for the young school boy or school girl? These problems were just as real in the past as they are for countless families today who rely on everyone in the family contributing to often inadequate family incomes. But breaking this cycle and encouraging education has historically been one of the issues parents, local communities and religious leaders have confronted, even when attempts to provide education can only be described as sporadic, slow and definitely privileging the education of boys over girls. We’d do well to remember that it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that England would make primary school education free and compulsory.

At the same time, the provision of compulsory schooling should not romantically be seen as an investment in a work-free childhood. Not only did many children in the past and today combine work with school, but much schooling has been ideologically and practically designed to create a highly-skilled workforce. State investments in education continue to be justified on the grounds that employers require their workforces at a minimum to be literate and numerate, and often to have a broad range of knowledge. Updates in the curriculum are still justified in terms of business-need, as much as what benefits the welfare of the child.

Moreover, child labour has incorporated a wide range of experiences, especially when considered over time and place. Most modern audiences have little tolerance for children’s labour being used in factories or industrial work, where children are apart from families, face poor working conditions, and even poorer wages, and where children’s later life opportunities seem limited by such experiences. The social, physical and emotional toll this takes on children should not be underestimated. The ‘World Against Child Labour Day’ recognises the physical, psychosocial and moral dangers of child labour.

Historically however, much child labour happened in the home and within family structures. In such spaces, children might be taught to work the farm they would inherit or be apprenticed to a trade, such as millinery work for girls or shoe-making for boys, that provided children with the opportunities to run successful businesses, even become very wealthy, in later life. For such children, child labour was also a form of education that was often done by parents or parent-proxies. Apprenticeship contracts, for example, typically required that the employers whom children lived with not only provided a good education in their trade, but ensured the health and social wellbeing of their wards. Cruel masters were subject to discipline, both by the courts and the wider community.

The importance of education for such children was less about making good workers, or even enabling social mobility, than making good citizens. Education also provides children with the ability to read widely, to engage in political debate and to fully participate in the social and cultural life of their communities. Education provides access to a dimension of cultural life that reminds us that life is not only about work, but about the pleasures of creativity and cultural engagement. Perhaps most importantly, education ensures that people from all social backgrounds have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the public sphere. As we commemorate ‘World Against Child Labour Day’, and demand quality education for all children, we are reminded that what we want from education is not just good workers, or a more economically-productive society, but a society that provides the opportunity for children to explore their talents, that supports their abilities, that encourages equality for girls and boys, that teaches them to care about each other and wider society, that is politically engaged, and where everyone is able to participate in everything that it means to be human.

By Merridee Bailey and Katie Barclay

[1] International Labour Organisation Figures.

‘Arousing sluggish souls’: Hildegard of Bingen and the Ordo Virtutum

By CHE Associate Investigator, Julie Hotchin, Australian National University, Canberra.

The enduring appeal of Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) music was apparent in early May when a full house in Canberra was treated to an ethereal, poignant and at times playful performance of her liturgical drama the Ordo Virtutum (Play of the Virtues). Vocalists from the Song Company and the Young Artist Festival Fellows, directed by Dutch early music specialist Koen van Stade as part of the Canberra International Music Festival, movingly performed Hildegard’s elaborate, soaring melodies to accompaniment on the harmonium by Festival Artistic Director Roland Peelman. The Ordo is rarely performed, in part due to the technical demands Hildegard’s music makes on performers, and on this occasion the vocalists conveyed the subtlety and force of the music with dramatic impact. The concert was an opportunity to experience the play and reflect on how its interplay of feeling and song convey spiritual meaning.

Hildegard – a Benedictine nun, visionary, theologian and musician  ̶  is unique in the history of Western music. She composed over 60 songs for Mass and Divine Office known as the Symphony of the harmony of celestial revelations, as well as the songs that comprise the Ordo Virtutum. Most of her lyrics, with notated music, are preserved in her ‘collected works’, the so-called Riesencodex, which was compiled at Rupertsberg in the final years of her life.


Beginning of the Ordo VIrtutum, Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2, f. 478v.

Beginning of the Ordo VIrtutum, Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs. 2, f. 478v.

(The Riesencodex is digitised here)

The Ordo Virtutum dates to the late 1140s and the early 1150s, the seer’s most fertile and productive period. Hildegard completed her first visionary treatise, Scivias, by 1151. The Ordo, like Hildegard’s other writings, was inspired by her visionary and auditory experience. In the final section of Scivias, Hildegard describes how she ‘saw the lucent sky, in which I heard different kinds of music (symphonia), marvelously embodying all the meanings I had heard before’ (Scivias, XIII; Hart, p. 525). Then follow lyrics for 14 songs and a shorter dialogue between the virtues, a soul and the devil that she later elaborated into the Ordo. If we understand Hildegard’s reference to ‘all the meanings I had heard before’ to be her work Scivias, her comment reveals how she conceived her treatise, music and drama as a unity to express her teaching about the path towards, and joy of, salvation. Although scholars differ on the specific occasion when the Ordo may have been performed  ̶  to celebrate the removal of Hildegard’s community from Disibodenberg to Rupertsberg in 1150, for a nun’s entrance into the community, or prior to receiving communion – it is evident that Hildegard designed it for her nuns to perform, creating a communal expression of confession and forgiveness.

In the Ordo, Hildegard creatively adapted traditional forms of liturgical drama and classical ideas about the battle between the virtues and vices to craft a story about the journey of ‘everysoul’. The central character in the play, Anima, is at once a particular and universal soul. She is the centre of a struggle between the Devil and the Virtues. Anima is first presented as happy, although she soon falls into discouragement and is lured into sin by the wiles of the Devil. With the aid of the Virtues Anima returns, weakened and bruised, and repents her ways. Humbled, she implores the virtues for assistance and with their aid the Devil is defeated and bound. The play concludes with a final melismatic chant by the Virtues and Anima representing the jubilation of the heavenly chorus.

Hildegard conceives of the Virtues as attributes of divinity that aid and strengthen the soul. The 17 Virtues in the play are drawn from the many Hildegard introduces and discusses in her visionary works. Each of these has special meaning for women living a monastic life – such as Humilitas, presented here as queen of the Virtues, Caritas, Obedientia and Discretio. We may imagine how a performance at Rupertsberg presented Hildegard’s nuns with role models for behaviour and instruction on the meaning and significance of particular virtues for the difficult path of spiritual life. It is intriguing to think about how the roles may have been assigned or selected by the nuns – were individuals chosen to perform a virtue that they already embodied, or one they needed to develop?

The musical structure of the Ordo reinforces the spiritual intent of the drama, distinguishing between sorrowing for sin and rejoicing in victory. The individual Virtues sing short elaborate songs in high modes, echoing their heavenly origins. Anima moves between happy and despairing, the shifts in tone and pace of her song from high to low, fast to slow, reflecting her differing emotional states. The only figure who does not sing is the Devil. Instead he angrily interjects, startles, and growls his challenge to the Virtues and his inducements to Anima. This juxtaposition of sound is intentional, for in Hildegard’s thought anger separated people from God. An angry person could not hear the heavenly symphony, and lacked a human voice. In presenting the Devil as uttering growling, bestial sounds, Hildegard portrays him as discordant and inharmonious, trapped in his fundamental disobedience to God.

To indicate the emotions the performers were to display, the rubrics in the Riesencodex text include emotion words as guides. When we first meet Anima she is described as felix (happy), later gravata (depressed), infelix (unhappy) and penitens (penitent). Similarly, the cleric who performed the role of the Devil is instructed to speak strepitus (noisily). Facial expression, gesture and movement all contribute to the emotional tenor of the drama. At his first appearance in Canberra, the Devil interrupted the rhythmic sound of the harmonium, interjecting a discordant and humorous note.

The Ordo reflects Hildegard’s idea that music can move the heart to change, to arouse the soul to repent. Towards the end of Scivias she wrote:

‘And as the power of God is everywhere and encompasses all things [. . .] so too the human intellect has great power to resound in living voices, and arouse sluggish souls to vigilance by the song’ (Scivias, III, xiii; Hart, p. 533).

In the tradition of Gregory the Great, Hildegard also stresses music’s ability to induce compunction of the heart: ‘For the song of rejoicing softens hard hearts, and draws forth from them the tears of compunction, and invokes the Holy Spirit’ (Scivias, III, xiv; Hart, p. 534).

We see here how Hildegard’s embodied conception of song, through which the breath moves through the body in a way that acts upon the soul, was thought to effect change within the person. Music could soften a hard heart and turn it towards heaven. She uses music to dramatise and evoke the emotional force of repentance, as Anima moves away from pride and grows in humility, before expressing contrition. Hildegard’s musical painting encapsulates the teaching contained in her lengthy visionary treatises and condenses it into a dramatic performance that engages ‘hearts and minds’. Here we see the consummate skill of the teacher keen to shape the lives of her community for the better. Hildegard’s music shows the breadth of her creative expression and how she lent a distinctively female voice to the celebration of the divine in the liturgy. The Ordo also prompts us to reflect on the relations between emotions and the qualities that we desire as virtues in our own lives and how we can bring them into being.

Further Reading:

For an edition and translation of the Ordo Virtutum see Peter Dronke, ‘Ordo VIrtutum, The Play of the Virtues, by Hildegard of Bingen’, in his Nine Medieval Latin Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 147-184.

Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, translated by Sister Columba Hart. Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), esp. Book Three.

The Ordo Virtutum of Hildegard of Bingen: Critical Studies, ed. by Audrey Ekdahl Davidson (Kalamazoo: Western Michigan University, 1992).

Barbara Newman, Sister of Wisdom: St Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

Voice of the Living Light, ed. by Barbara Newman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

Margot Fassler, ‘Composer and Dramatist’, in Voice of the Living Light, pp. 149-175.

Recycling in the Viking Age: Scandinavian re-use of monuments in Britain


By Shane McLeod, University of Stirling, Scotland, UK, Honorary Researcher, CHE

In honour of World Environment Day this note examines what may be considered a Viking Age example of recycling in Britain – the re-use of earlier monuments for burial. In true recycling style, this re-use of landscape features by the immigrants often involved adapting the monument to a new purpose.

The Viking Age has numerous examples of Scandinavians recycling, including material from other cultures such as silver, weapons and, perhaps most revealingly, metal-work taken from religious items and turned into jewellery. However, another example of recycling had the ability, in rare instances, to transform the immediate environment: the re-use of monuments for Viking burial. Once thought to be an example of expediency, or indeed laziness, most Scandinavian scholars now propose that in Viking Age Scandinavia earlier monuments were deliberately chosen as they were potent echoes of past power. Appropriating them for new burials was a way of associating the family of the dead with past rulers of the land, thereby legitimizing the current claimants by emphasizing a sense of continuation. Perhaps the most famous example, and the one which most altered the landscape, is the Jelling complex created by King Gorm and his son Harald Bluetooth, in which two large burial mounds (one an enlarged Bronze Age mound), two rune stones, and a church superseded a large ship setting.

Re-use of earlier monuments by Scandinavians for burials also occurred when they settled in Britain (primarily in England and Scotland) despite the impossibility, or at least extreme unlikelihood, of being able to claim kinship with those who had built the original monument. There are examples of earlier settlement sites re-used for burial, such as brochs at Castletown (north Scottish mainland) and Gurness, and even an abandoned Norse house at Buckquoy (both Orkney); as well as a cairn at Skeabost (Isle of Skye). However, the most common example of Viking Age re-use in Britain is in earlier burial mounds/barrows, effectively adding the dead of the new conquerors/settlers to the burial places of those who had previously ruled the land. Examples include the re-use of Bronze Age burial mounds at Housegord (Shetland), Aspatria (Cumbria), and Claughton Hall (Lancashire), whilst a Neolithic long-barrow was re-used for two burials at Rampside (Lancashire: it is not known if the church site is older than the Viking burial). The dates of these monuments clearly demonstrate that many of them were extremely old features in the landscape by the Viking Age, and it may be that the immigrants were seeking parallels to the ancient monuments that they were familiar with in Scandinavia. As Britain was Christian by the time of the Viking Age (there are many examples of Scandinavian burials in Christian cemeteries) it is uncertain what the relationship of the local populations was to these ancient burial places. It could even be questioned how bothered they would have been that the new Viking elite were being buried in mounds that had not been used for burial for millennia. However, work by Sarah Semple on the Anglo-Saxon material has demonstrated that in many instances such places remained important in the local psyche, sometimes as part of local folklore, but often as places related to elite, even royal, power. Consequently, the local importance of Viking burial in these ancient monuments should not be underestimated.

The most radical re-fashioning of the environment by Vikings for burial in Britain occurred at Repton. Although some burials took place in the churchyard excavations in the 1980s, there was an uncovering of a mass burial near the church of at least 264 individuals who were placed in a large mound created by cutting down a building. The two-room building had been cut down almost to ground level and the de-fleshed bones were placed in one of the rooms and then covered with a cairn, which in turn was covered by a mound of pebbles and edged by kerb-stones. There was also a pit at the edge of the mound containing four juvenile skeletons, possibly sacrificed to commemorate the closing of the mound. The recycling of a building to create a large burial mound (approximately 14 x 11 metres) would have had a large visual impact on the surrounding environment, especially the potentially dazzling effect of the pebbles used to seal the mound. It is also likely to have had an emotional impact upon the local population who would be reminded of the events that had taken place at the site every time they saw the mound.

In all of these examples, the recycling of ancient non-Scandinavian monuments for Scandinavian burial was a way for incoming elite to appropriate prominent places in the landscape to demonstrate their power and control of the surrounding land. The action would have changed the way in which people interacted with the sites, as whatever associations had existed were now replaced by that of a burial place for the migrant elite.

Image taken by the author.

«I feel. Therefore I am.» Scratch Notes on the Rome Symposium “Feelings Matter: Exploring the Cultural Dynamics of Emotion in Early Modern Europe”

Posted by Giovanni Tarantino

On 30 March 2015, in Rome, Giovanni Tarantino (CHE, Melbourne) and Giuseppe Marcocci (Tuscia University, Viterbo) convened the CHE-sponsored symposium Feelings Matter: Exploring the Cultural Dynamics of Emotion in Early Modern Europe. Hosted by the Istituto Storico Italiano per l’Età Moderna e Contemporanea, the event was held under the patronage of the Giunta Centrale per gli Studi Storici (the Italian National Commission for Historical Studies). Invaluable support was also provided by the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies of the University of Melbourne, by the Department of Humanities at the University of Eastern Piedmont and by the Department of Cultural Heritage Sciences at Tuscia University.

7. the audience

Four leading scholars (Charles Zika, Paola von Wyss-Giacosa, Ulinka Rublack, and Yasmin Haskell) presented their research, placing particular emphasis on the fruitfulness as well as the problems associated with historic inquiry into the emotions. They discussed a very varied range of sources and themes, giving participants a rich cross-section of the interpretative possibilities offered by the history of emotions. In this field of studies, historians are challenged to update their methodological tool kit and to engage with less usual sources (such as the social life of things, clothes, food, the visual and performing arts, or intaglio techniques, to mention just a few of the topics considered). For each paper, an expert discussant made a crucial contribution by highlighting strong points and problematic issues, in order to draw everyone into what proved to be lively, critically informed and intellectually stimulating discussions. Finally, a round table coordinated by Alessandro Arcangeli (University of Verona) helped to bring into focus the themes and problems that emerged during the day, and to pinpoint some further possible lines of inquiry in relation to the early modern age. The event was attended by an international cohort of forty keenly attentive scholars from Italy, Australia, Germany, UK, France, Switzerland, and Brazil.

* * *

Italian colleagues will recall that in a recent debate about the crisis in the discipline, which was on the mailing list of the Italian Society of Early Modern Historians (SISEM), there were calls for historians to show greater liveliness and to make a joint effort to be more receptive to new historiographic lines of inquiry, from global history to transcultural studies, from environmental history to the history of emotions. The Rome Symposium sought to contribute to that most welcome discussion.
5.Giuseppe Marcocci_Fernanda Alfieri

Besides the dense themes dealt with in the four keynote presentations, two more were repeatedly alluded to in both Giovanni Tarantino and Giuseppe Marcocci’s opening remarks and in the lively discussions that followed each session. The first concerns the interrelations of language, cultures and emotions (the studies of the Polish linguist Anna Wierzbicka being a key point of reference) and the pressing need to move beyond the eurocentrism that still prevalently distinguishes and restricts the horizons of historic research into the emotions. This is evident not only in the primary areas of expertise of the historians affiliated to CHE, but also in the framework of the Rome Symposium, and its title, which was evidently an expression of it, though both Paola von-Wyss Giacosa and Marcocci’s reflections evoked at once the importance and the complexity of a comparative approach.

The other theme related to the emotional involvement of the researcher and the need to have “the bodily experience of doing history”. In a stimulating essay entitled “Touching the Void: Affective History and the Impossible,” which appeared in the periodical Rethinking History in 2010, Emily Robinson discusses the “pleasures” of historical work. More specifically, she explores the commonly felt urge of historians to personally visit sites associated with the events they are studying, to actually touch the documents (rather than getting by with digital reproductions), and to savour the dust of archives, almost as if such physical experiences were a necessary prelude to the re-enactment that historical writing seems to involve.

Such considerations prompt further reflections on the supposed “unattainability” of historic objectivity. It is certainly true that the challenge for all historians is how to balance the disciplinary need for objectivity with an acknowledgement of our own subjectivity and personal, emotional reactions to the historical event we are researching.

For example, Carlo Ginzburg has repeatedly described how, when reconstructing the trial strategies adopted by the Inquisitor, he not only identified emotionally with the victims, but also felt an embarrassing intellectual affinity with the Inquisitor, because he too, albeit with different purposes and methods, was trying to understand a culture reluctant to be inscribed within the stereotypes of his own.

Dwelling on the theme of objectivity in history in his essay “Our Words, and Theirs: A Reflection on the Historian’s Craft, Today”, Ginzburg looks back to Kenneth Pike, who coined the terms “etic” and “emic”. An “etic” account is comparative, couched in a language unspecific to any given culture. By contrast, an “emic” account derives from a specific culture. While the questions historians pose are inevitably etic, Ginzburg states, in our answers we should strive for emic responses, deriving from the specificity of the culture or historical period at which our questions are directed.

2.Daniel Barbu_Giovanni Tarantino

And this, we might say by way of conclusion, is even truer for the historians of emotions.


* * *

The following conference report has been generously provided by Lucio Biasiori (from the Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti, Florence), who chaired the final session of the Rome Symposium.

History of emotions or history through emotions? This is the most challenging question that emerged from the Rome conference Feelings Matter: Exploring the Cultural Dynamics of Emotions in Early Modern Europe organized by Giovanni Tarantino of the Melbourne node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE) and Giuseppe Marcocci of the University of Tuscia-Viterbo. In other words, are emotions just to be regarded as a subject of research, or should their study also inform the approach adopted by all historians, whatever their subjects of research? And to what extent are these two perspectives compatible?

These questions received a rich range of answers during the conference, which took place at the Istituto Storico Italiano per l’Età Moderna e Contemporanea at Palazzo Mattei di Giove in Rome. This was undoubtedly a suitable location for a conference devoted to the history of emotions. The palazzo is itself an emotional place (at least for Italians), as it was in Via Caetani (just in front of the palazzo, halfway between the headquarters of the Communist Party and those of the Christian Democrats) that the corpse of the Italian prime minister Aldo Moro, killed by the Brigate Rosse terrorist organization, was found in the back of a car.

It is difficult to summarize the breadth of topics touched upon during the conference. Charles Zika (CHE, Melbourne) showed that figurative representations of the witches’ sabbath concealed the construction of a hostile and negative stereotype of early modern European societies. Analysing the work of a vast number of engravers, Zika set out to highlight collective emotions within visualized action, paying special attention to the representation of dancing witches. In particular, he pointed out that a shift took place in the representation of witchcraft between the sixteenth and seventeenth century: while witches in the sixteenth century were designated as members of a group, in the seventeenth century they appear as members of an alternative community. Artistic conventions certainly played a role in this change, but – Zika maintained – the new style reflected a change in imaginative focus towards communities as forces either for stability and order, or contingency and disorder.

6.Yasmin Haskell The Jesuits, who were masters in eliciting and distinguishing emotions, could not be neglected: Yasmin Haskell, also a project leader at CHE, focused on the figure of the French Jesuit Pierre Brumoy and his reflections on passions and tragedy. Harshly polemicizing against Stoic morals, Brumoy even borrowed some Lucretian passages in order to vulgarize the Jesuit theory of the morally improving effect of the aesthetic emotions.

3.Ulinka Rublack Objects themselves are capable of conveying emotions, as Ulinka Rublack (St John’s College, University of Cambridge) showed by referring to the recent Fitzwilliam exhibition Treasured Possessions, of which she was curator. Calling into question watertight juxtapositions such as the one between Protestants and Catholics, Rublack showed the attitudes of early modern people (from Magdalena and Balthasar Behaim, a sixteenth-century Nuremberg couple who traded in textiles, through to Benjamin Franklin) towards luxurious objects, reflecting on how objects open a window onto a whole early modern emotional universe.
Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (Max-Weber-Kolleg, Erfurt and University of Zurich) focused on the widely discussed Céremonies et coutumes religieuses de tous le peuples du monde (Amsterdam 1723–37) edited by Jean-Frédéric Bernard and illustrated by Bernard Picart (both French exiles and, at the time, members of international Calvinism). She dealt with the emotional role of the images in this encyclopaedia of religions of the early Enlightenment. The authors, she maintained, relied on the intaglio technique’s power of sensual persuasion not for a sensationalistic stimulation of emotion (be it shock or disgust), but instead to help the reader to begin to dwell upon the nature of ceremonies and the essence of religion.

8.Xenia von Tippelskirch

The discussion of the various talks was lively. Three speakers out of four had an Italian discussant. This procedure was successful, as the differences in approach between Italian and English speaking historiography, far from being an obstacle to dialogue, turned into a fruitful bond between the continental sensibility and concern for accuracy in the use of sources, on the one hand, and the capacity of Anglo-Saxon scholarship to freshly interrogate the available evidence, on the other. Vincenzo Lavenia (University of Macerata) considered images of witchcraft as a source for investigating what is a highly elusive historical subject. Rolando Minuti (University of Florence) reviewed the vast recent scholarship on the Cérémonies, taking into account the various aspects of Bernard and Picart’s undertaking. Renata Ago (University of Rome “La Sapienza”) dealt with the methodological aspects of material culture and its heuristic value for the history of emotions, while Xenia von Tippelskirch (Humboldt University, Berlin) indicated some important paths for future research on the Jesuit Brumoy. Even when the debate became sharper, not only was fair play always respected, but the discussion also profited from the contributions of younger scholars.

1.The Symposium venue The final roundtable was an occasion to test the reactions of Italian historians to the outcomes of the conference. Unlike the US, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, and Australia, Italy has no academic centre explicitly devoted to the history of emotions. A lack of funding is certainly a concomitant cause, but this is also a symptom of the present state of health of Italian historiography, standing between a glorious past and an uncertain future.

Fernanda Alfieri (Italian-German Historical Institute, Trent) emphasized the need to broaden and deepen research around emotions, taking into account the Foucauldian question of power. In other words, the history of emotions should deal not only with what an emotion is, but also with who elicits it and why. Furthermore, in her view, more attention should be paid to the question of definition (Tortarolo’s remarks also moved in a similar direction). The comments of Giuseppe Marcocci and Umberto Grassi (who have recently coedited a book on homosexuality in the Christian and Muslim world) encouraged scholars of emotions to move towards a global and gender perspective, in order to write a history of emotions à part entière, which overcomes the boundaries of traditional historiography, according to a tendency advanced, among others, by the Sinologist Eugenia Lean in the 2012 issue of the American Historical Review, devoted to the history of emotions.

Finally, both Edoardo Tortarolo (University of Eastern Piedmont) and Raffaella Sarti (University of Urbino) traced a genealogy of the history of emotions. The former mentioned Johann Huizinga and Norbert Elias as two possible noble fathers of the discipline, whereas the latter recalled the names of Edward Shorter, Lawrence Stone, Hans Medick, and D. W. Sabean. Thus, at first sight, one might readily think that there is a fracture between a cultural and a social history of emotions, according to a dichotomy that has been formulated in the past for microhistory (see Alberto M. Banti, “Storie e microstorie: l’histoire sociale contemporaine en Italie (1972–1989),” Genèses 3 (1991), 134–47, at p. 145). Supposing such a juxtaposition would however be misleading, then as now.

4. Charles Zika_Lisa Beaven

Charles Zika noted that some of the insights into the nature of  emotions,  gained to some extent through neuroscience research but certainly not exclusively so, has demonstrated that “cognition, thinking and ideas, on the one hand,  and emotions, feelings and sentiments, on the other, are not diametrically opposed, as they have tended to be understood (and of course still are by many – historians and others, including popular scientists). To the contrary, emotion is not separate from cognition; cognition and emotion are two different yet related ways of perceiving and understanding the world.”  In Zika’s view this makes for some important differences in the historical approach of historians of earlier periods and those working in this field over the last two decades. It means that “all understanding, decision-making, social action, etc involves emotion as well as cognition.  Emotions therefore are not considered a separate field of research, let alone the domain of culture; they are integral to all human action. Emotion is critical to the fields of politics and society, as well as culture. It is analogous to such categories of historical analysis as gender.”

A possible way both to escape the widely perceived dichotomy between a social and a cultural level, and to acknowledge the presence of predecessors without being oppressed by them, would be to return to an “historian for all seasons” (though he was not mentioned during the conference), namely Marc Bloch. In The Royal Touch (1924) he turned an emotional phenomenon (the belief in the magic-working power of the kings of France and England) into a subject for a political, social, and cultural history of medieval and early modern Europe. On the other hand, in The Historian’s Craft, he outlined a sort of program for the history of emotions as well, when he wrote that “what is most profound in history may also be the most certain”. The future challenge for the history of emotions will thus not only be to make the past resurface, but also to connect with the most intimate spheres of men and women of earlier ages and transform those feelings into a matter of analysis. A demanding task, no doubt – but the Rome symposium was an encouraging signal in this direction.


Symposium Conveners: Dr Giovanni Tarantino (CHE, The University of Melbourne); Dr Giuseppe Marcocci, Tuscia University,Viterbo)

Keynote speakers: Prof Charles Zika (CHE, University of Melbourne); Dr Paola von Wyss-Giacosa (University of Zurich); Prof Ulinka Rublack (St John’s College, University of Cambridge); Prof Yasmin Haskell (CHE, University of Western Australia)

Discussants: Dr Vincenzo Lavenia (University of Macerata); Prof Rolando Minuti (University of Florence); Prof Renata Ago (University of Rome “La Sapienza”; Prof Xenia von Tippelskirch (Humboldt University, Berlin)

Roundtable: Dr Fernanda Alfieri (Italian-German Historical Institute, Trent); Prof Penny Roberts (University of Warwick); Dr Raffaella Sarti (University of Urbino); Prof Edoardo Tortarolo (University of Eastern Piedmont);

Symposium attendees: Prof Guido Abbattista (University of Trieste); Dr David Armando (CNR, Naples); Dr Daniel Barbu (University of Bern); Dr Lisa Beaven (CHE, Melbourne); Dr Lucio Biasiori (Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti, Florence); Dr Benedetta Borello (University of L’Aquila); Dr Maurizio Campanelli (University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’); Maria Anna Chiatti (Tuscia University); Orazio Coco (University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’); Prof Guido Dall’Olio (University of Urbino); Dr Rosanna De Longis (Istituto Storico Italiano per l’Età Moderna e Contemporanea); Prof Irene Fosi (D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara); Dr Umberto Grassi; Dr Davide Grippa (University of Milan); Dr Sabina Pavone (University of Macerata); Elena Lugli (Rome); Dr Chiara Petrolini (University of Verona); Francesco Ronco (Scuola Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa); Dr Camilla Russell (University of Newcastle, Australia); Prof Giulio Sodano (The Second University of Naples); Prof Ann Thomson (European University Institute, Fiesole); Juliana Torres Rodrigues Pereira (UFRY, Rio de Janeiro); Prof Michaela Valente (University of Molise)

‘Say Sorry You Bastard!’: Postcolonial shame, reconciliation and National Sorry Day

'Sorry' painted in the sky during Corroboree 2000. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

‘Sorry’ painted in the sky during Corroboree 2000. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

On a cold Sunday in 2000, two days after National Sorry Day had been commemorated on the 26th May, over 300,000 Indigenous and non- Indigenous people walked together across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Indigenous Australians and Reconciliation. Known as the great ‘Bridge Walk’, for over six hours the tide of walkers formed a ‘human sea of goodwill’, making their way across Sydney’s most iconic bridge together. According to one participant, ‘a huge snake of people moved over the bridge, a giant rainbow serpent wearing a skin of colour, predominantly red, black and gold’[1] The committee that organised the event, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, requested that people bring ‘bells, whistles, drums and colourful dress or other props to add to the fun’ to create a sense of hopeful celebration. The mass Bridge Walk would be a new start. It would inaugurate an affective and powerful national refounding, and participants were to be part of this crucial moment in the life of the nation. There were people in wheelchairs, and children in prams; there were countless Aboriginal flags and banners. The vast number of people and the physical act of walking together provoked charged emotional responses. Evelyn Scott, chairwoman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation described the day as ‘awesome’ and ‘emotional.’ Linda Burney, the chairwoman of the NSW State Reconciliation Committee, was quoted on the day as saying ‘a week ago, I was despairing about living in this country. Today, I feel great.’[2] Many walkers report moments of poignant interaction and friendship with people they had never met before. Australian author Kate Grenville recalls that:

Almost at the end of the walk, on the southern end of the Bridge, I noticed a group of Aboriginal people leaning against the railings watching us. … At the end of the row, a tall handsome woman frankly staring, as if to memorise each face. Our eyes met and we shared one of those moments of intensity- a pulse of connectedness. We smiled, held each other’s gaze, I think perhaps we gestured with our hands, the beginning of a wave.[3]

At the heart of this great tide of walkers was a genuine hope for a new beginning between peoples, for a new moral covenant, and a desire for recognition of past wrongs.

Huge crowd on Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Walk for Reconciliation, Corroboree 2000, by Loui Seselja. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Huge crowd on Sydney Harbour Bridge during the Walk for Reconciliation, Corroboree 2000, by Loui Seselja. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

But for some the Bridge Walk was more protest than celebration. Many people walked in silent reflection. Banners in the crowd declared the word ‘Sorry !’ voicing a demand for an apology. Some marchers sang ‘Treaty’, the top-hit song by Aboriginal rock group Yothu Yindi, which could be heard being played down at the harbour. For some this powerful, en masse and state-choreographed journey of ‘Walking together’ for Reconciliation provided the good feelings of hope, pride and release. Yet for others attentive to the ‘bad feelings’ of national shame and the need for an apology, political redress was absent.[4] For the Reconciliation Bridge Walk addressed a hopeful future, but it did not directly acknowledge the past.

Today, May 26, marks Australia’s seventeenth National Sorry Day. But its origins are for some unclear, and its entanglements with the Australian movement for reconciliation and the highly charged cross-currents of emotion that Sorry Day generated in this period have only partly been explored.

National Sorry Day was first commemorated on the 26th May 1998, on the first anniversary of the day that the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report was tabled in parliament. This key report, produced by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, recommended changes in laws and practices surrounding the forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their parents and communities in the past and today. The report proposed that a ‘national ‘Sorry Day’ should be held each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects.’[5] However, despite people participating in events around the nation for National Sorry Day, it was recognised in a ‘semi-official’ manner only, with events largely state-based and sponsored by various government agencies, churches and business leaders.[6]

Crucially, in 2000 despite there being a national day of sorrow and mourning, no formal apology had been given by the Australian government. Indeed, Indigenous Australians would have to wait another ten years until Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples of February 2008.

The Sydney Bridge walk of 2000 then was a heady emotional mix; Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike reported feelings of intense sadness and shame at past practices, and expressed hope in the future of reconciliation. The eudaimonic emotions of good feeling, unity, hope and celebration were entwined with an intense undercurrent of anger and frustration focused on policies of the contemporary government. Prime Minister John Howard had refused to make a formal national apology to the Stolen Generations, and he would not walk across the bridge. In a packed Sydney Opera house at the ‘Corroboree 2000 – Towards Reconciliation’ meeting, held on the day sandwiched between National Sorry Day (26th May) and the Bridge walk (28th May), highly respected Aboriginal activist and former public servant Charles Perkins shouted at Prime Minister Howard: ‘Say sorry you bastard!’ to great applause.

The Bridge Walk marking a crucial, celebratory national refounding was expected to do an enormous amount of symbolic, affective, and political work. But it became a dense site of performative and emotional contestation concerning Australia’s history. ‘Sorry’ appeared as a subversive moral counterpoint at the Bridge Walk. In the blue Sydney sky the colossal words ‘SORRY’ appeared three times. A plane had been hired by a group of citizens to write in the sky the word that the PM refused to say. Indeed, the word ‘Sorry’ was emblazoned on tee-shirts, hats, banners and placards carried by the walkers. Howard’s refusal to apologise meant that the reasons for saying ‘sorry’ had not only expanded, but that the emotional load it had to bear was even greater. Originally it was to address the National Sorry Day context of apologising to and commemorating the Stolen Generations as an act of political redress and healing, but the broader message of sorry that appeared at the Bridge Walk was an apology and a protest against the history of violence, Aboriginal dispossession of land, past government policies, the separation of families, Aboriginal deaths in custody, as well as John Howard being a ‘bastard’. One walker wrote:

I saw the river of people pouring onto the bridge … Over the railing, I glimpsed the sails of the Opera House and saw the first fleet’s arrival at that very spot. I saw the beginnings of our tragic slaughter and abuse of the indigenous people. And I felt shame; shame for my ancestors in country Australia who introduced disease and appropriated land, who saw themselves with unalienable rights, rights we now recognise they never had. Then I looked up and saw the word ‘Sorry’ being written in the blue, blue sky and I cheered with everyone else.[7]

The interruption then of ‘SORRY’ in the sky emerged as a moment of emotional truth for some walkers. One Aboriginal woman, a member of the Stolen Generations, said that she had not wanted to walk across the bridge because she was felt overwhelmed by bitterness and grief, yet ‘gradually as she walked in this crowd, that sense of bitterness began to recede but it was when the word ‘SORRY’ appeared in the sky that it struck her heart and lifted the veil of hurt and trouble.’ [8]

‘Sorry’ would carry diverse emotional significance for different people. Non-indigenous author Kate Grenville also reflected on how the Bridge Walk’s vague sense of purpose offered a good feeling of camaraderie and triumph that, for her, would turn out to be empty of historical significance. She wrote: ‘The walk itself promised to be another big symbolic thing. Its aims were large and vague enough to make us feel cosy in spite of the bitter westerly wind. Everyone was smiling. We were all pretty pleased with ourselves.’[9] But, like the giant ‘SORRY’ in the sky, her joy quickly faded when she realized that nothing had been risked, sacrificed or properly confronted. She recalls that after exchanging glances with an Aboriginal woman, a ‘sudden blade of cold’ ruptured her good feeling as she began to question seriously her sense of ancestral belonging. Contemplation of who her forebears were and what they might have done cut through any sense of pleasurable affinity, inspiring her to research her own complicit heritage:

I wanted to get away from it all now: the smiles, the benign feeling of doing the right thing, the shuffling crowd of people whose pleasure in the moment hadn’t been sliced open. … The imagery of our walk, across a bridge, suddenly seemed all too easy. We were strolling towards reconciliation – what I had to do was cross the hard way, through the deep water of our history.[10]

The collective emotions of pride, honour, shame, frustration and anger that attend the question of the colonization of Australia as invasion or settlement sat at the very heart of the ‘History Wars’ debates during this decade of Reconciliation.[11] The Bridge Walk carried these many diverse and ambivalent emotions. It also became a space for counter-political narratives demanding apology and treaty that would be reported in the national and international media.

What work did these emotions of good will, unity and togetherness generated by such state-based reconciliatory performances achieve? On one level they did have the potential to build trust and to raise the prospect of an emancipatory future. And for some the sudden appearance of ‘SORRY’ did ‘lift the veil of hurt and trouble’. Such cross-cultural, mass participatory performances had the power of feeling to move people to change. Yet such good feelings were also heavily entwined with the politics of shame and shame’s release, that is, the desire for a new covenant to overcome settler shame.

We must attend more closely to the ‘affective economies’ of sorry and shame in post-colonial settler nations argues sociologist Sara Ahmed. Suggestive is her insightful examination of the ‘Sorry’ books of the 1990s and 2000s, where thousands of Australians signed their name to apologise for past wrongs, and her extended critique of national shame. Ahmed posits ‘shame’ as comprising very much a coloniser presence-to-self dynamic. She argues that settlers work through their shame in order to become reconciled with themselves and the aspired settler nation, thus reinscribing its hegemonies.[12] Here the ‘recognition of shame – or shame as a form of recognition’ she writes, ‘comes with conditions and limits.’ For those who feel shame (eg. the colonisers) ‘shame becomes not only a mode of recognition of injustices committed against others, it is also a form of nation building’.[13] For Ahmed, those ‘who witness the past injustice though feeling national shame are aligned as well meaning individuals, if you feel shame then you mean well’. And, since we ‘mean well’ we can ‘work to reproduce the nation as an ideal’, in other words, the feeling of shame reconciles the coloniser with their preferred idea of themselves. Shame can thus be recuperative of the offender, not of those offended. Shame then can ultimately be transformed in to pride, entailing a reduplication of repressive national norms. Here ‘non-indigenous Australians express sorrow, sympathy and shame in order that they can ‘return’ to their pride in the nation.’[14]

When the national enunciation of ‘Sorry’ finally arrived in 2008 it was to great emotional release; it was a poignant moment of national affect. Prime Minster Rudd’s speech was also threaded with affective crosscurrents of shame, stain, pride, and honour. The Stolen Generations, he stated, represented ‘a blemished chapter in our nation’s history’. Casting not settlers but Aboriginal people as proud and honourable, he apologized for the ‘indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture’. Rudd spoke of the need for the ‘healing [of] the nation’ and, echoing the language of redress, stated that the ‘unfinished business’ was to ‘remove a great stain from the nation’s soul’.[15]

Today, fifteen years after the great Bridge Walk for reconciliation and seven years after the national apology, the political space of negotiation is in some ways closed off. Perhaps ‘sorry’ as Ahmed argues has served largely to recuperate the settler nation as benevolent, rather than promote progressive change. We inhabit now a post-reconciliation and post-apology moment. Pressing arguments around the recognition of Australia’s first peoples in the constitution, and heated debates about the closure of remote Aboriginal communities appear in the news. While the affective power of Australia’s reconciliation movement and the politics of apology have been marked for all in various ways, their substantive effects in terms of real political gains for Aboriginal people remains to be seen.

For National Sorry Day events please visit Reconciliation Australia:

Penny Edmonds is a CHE Associate Investigator, and an ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor in the School of Humanities, University of Tasmania. Her forthcoming book ‘Settler Colonialism and Reconciliation: Frontier Violence, Affective Performances, and Imaginative Refoundings’ (Palgrave Macmillan) is due out 2016.

Dr. Alicia Marchant is an Honorary Research Fellow and CHE Associate Investigator, based at the University of Tasmania.


[1] Margaret Allum, ‘Bridge walk ‘must be built upon’’, Green Left Weekly, June 7, 2000.

[2] Tony Davis, ‘Marching for a Fresh Beginning’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May 2010.

[3] Kate Grenville, Searching for the Secret River, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2006, pp.11-12.

[4] See Sara Ahmed, ‘The politics of bad feeling’, Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association Journal, Vol. 1, 2005, pp.72-85.

[5] ‘Bringing them home: The “Stolen Children” Report’

[6] Mike Head, ‘The Politics of Australia’s “National Sorry Day’, World Socialist Web Site,

[7] Excerpt from a letter to Council Following Corroboree 2000 by Suzanne McCourt, Birrag, Victoria’ in ‘Reconciliation: Australia’s Challenges. Final report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Parliament, December 2000’.

[8] Ronald Wilson, ‘Faith and Ethics in Contemporary Society’, Church and Civil Society: A Theology of Engagement, edited by Sue Leppert, Francis Sullivan, ATF Press, Hindmarsh, S. Aust, 2004, pp.28-29.

[9] Grenville, Searching for the Secret River, p.11.

[10] Grenville, Searching for the Secret River, p.13.

[11] See S. Macintyre and A. Clark, The History Wars, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2003; R. Manne (ed.), Whitewash: On Keith Windschuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Melbourne: Black Inc., 2003; P. Brantlinger, ‘“Black armband” versus “white blindfold” history in Australia’, Victorian Studies 46:4, 2004, p. 655.

[12] Sara Ahmed, ‘Shame before Others’ in The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Routledge, 2004.

[13] Sara Ahmed, ‘The Politics of Bad Feeling’, Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association journal, vol.1, 2005, p.72.

[14] Sara Ahmed, ‘The Politics of Bad Feeling’, p.80.

[15] K. Rudd, ‘Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples’, (accessed 22 May 2015

My Reading Adventure (or when the dots begin to connect)

Posted by Grace Moore

The Aldine Adventure Book.  Public School Collection, Special Collections, University Library.

The Aldine Adventure Book. Public School Collection, Special Collections, University Library.


One of my projects at the moment is a small exhibition, ‘Reading Adventures’, which will open in the Noel Shaw Gallery (the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne) in July. The library holds around ten thousand rare books for children and adolescents, and the exhibition will offer a taster of its many adventure stories, drawing on the McLaren, Morgan, and Public School collections.


This is my first time as a curator, and when I became involved in the project it was mostly because it connects to a long-standing research and teaching interest in writing for children, rather than because it might speak to my CHE work. If I’m truthful, I was also very happy to have been asked! As the weeks have passed and I’ve thought about this work alongside my emotions-based research, I’ve realized that it isn’t quite so removed from that work as I had initially thought. On a basic level, I’ve found a number of books for my fire project that I probably wouldn’t have known about otherwise, but I’ve also begun to think much more about the emotions surrounding books and reading, both in terms of stories, but also in relation to the book as a material artefact.


I first visited the university’s special collections about a month after my arrival in Melbourne in July 2004. Armed with torches, my colleague Jenny Lee rounded me up one afternoon and marched me across to the library’s basement, where, she told me, there were things I ought to see. I’m not certain that the torches were strictly necessary, but they certainly added to the sense that we had embarked upon something intrepid. Having just spent two years at a university with very few library resources, I remember being quite overwhelmed by the array of books, many of which are extraordinarily beautiful.


At various intervals over the intervening years, I’ve ordered books from the collection and they’ve arrived, as if by magic, in the library’s special collections reading room. I didn’t really think to go back to look at the shelves, at least partly because I felt that I knew what was there. Over time, though, my research interests have shifted and (hopefully) broadened. As a consequence, returning to the stacks to select books for the exhibition involved being delighted all over again, and viewing things rather differently than I did a decade ago. It also involved a cascade of recollections—partly through re-encountering works I’d grown up reading, and partly because, in the case of the library’s nineteenth-century holdings, I’d encountered many of the works for the first time at the home of my beloved PhD advisor, Chris Brooks—a passionate collector, and owner of more than 12,000 rare Victorian works. When I hold a volume of Henty in my hands, I can hear Chris reading it to me, even though he died more than a decade ago.




As a Victorian scholar, I’ve always loved working with archives and with rare books. My own relationship with them is both highly affective and visceral., even though I’ve no interest in possessing these objects for myself—it’s their seclusion, their comparative inaccessibility that is part of their draw. Carolyn Steedman notes that we can both fetishize and mystify the experience, while writing with great beauty of how scholars can almost commune with their subjects when working in rarefied environments. In Dust (1992) Steedman invokes the example of Michelet, who wrote of breathing the dust of the dead, ‘and making them live as they had never really done before’, a slightly obsessive process that AS Byatt captures brilliantly in her novel Possession.


Hazel Armitage, With Lucinda in London.  Public School Collection, Special Collections, University Library.

Hazel Armitage, With Lucinda in London. Public School Collection, Special Collections, University Library.

There is little dust to inhale in the Baillieu’s immaculate special collections area, but the books themselves yield lovely moments of connection with some of their original readers. Page-turning can sometimes evoke memories—particularly when working with a collection of children’s books. It can also occasionally yield childish ephemera, including the carefully pressed—but long-forgotten—flowers that slipped out of one adventure volume, or the painstakingly traced design for a portable wireless, tucked into an annual of stories for boys. While I squirm at the fuss of having my own personal page-turner (as I did when I worked on the original Hard Times manuscript at the V&A), I love leafing through books or manuscripts that nobody has touched for decade. I love being in an environment that only a few scholars visit, and I love the spade-work that can sometimes, just sometimes, lead to an exciting find.   On a couple of occasions I’ve had experiences in archives which—without sounding too batty—have almost bordered on the mystical, and these tend to collapse into each other when I begin work on something new.


The nature of the ‘Reading Adventures’ exhibition means that a lot of the work I’ve undertaken thus far has been about the books as objects, rather than about the stories they contain. As a consequence, part of the excitement of this project has been about deferral of pleasures, as I identify things to which I want to return and compile lists of books I want to read over the months and years ahead. The generosity and patience of the team from the library means that I’m learning a huge amount as I go, sometimes about the spatial dynamics associated with displaying objects, and at others about what Dianne Mulcahy calls ‘sticky affect’; the lasting emotional response that can come from visiting an exhibition space. I’ve had to re-think my sense of the aesthetics of the book, trying to anticipate what might look engaging when it is placed behind glass, and inaccessible to readers. At the same time I’ve learned that while for a scholar issues associated with the book’s age, such as foxing, are part of a book’s patina, they mean something very different when the volume becomes an exhibit.


My first discovery was that making decisions about what to exhibit is incredibly difficult and, yes, quite emotional. In the early stages there were weekly and sometimes bi-weekly meetings in which Anthony, the rare books curator, walked me through the shelves, answering questions, making suggestions, and generously sharing his remarkable knowledge of the collections. At the end of this process, I found myself with a shortlist of more than 350 books and an enormous collection of grainy photographs to help me to remember the appearance of the many volumes I’d pulled from the stacks. Some works (like the fabulous Scouts in Bondage and Jancy Scores Again) were, sadly, out before they were in. But reducing the list to around sixty volumes was quite, quite agonizing and, while we’ve now finalized the case content, I still have moments where I find myself thinking, ‘But if only we could make room for…’.


The selection process is inevitably a highly subjective one, and so rich are the library’s holdings that it is possible to configure any number of reading adventures that would be markedly different from my own. While some of my decisions have been informed by a sense of writers who ought to be represented (visitors will, for instance, expect to see books by Enid Blyton), personal taste and nostalgia also play important roles when working with this type of material. I’ve written in the past (with my wonderful co-author, Sue Pyke) about re-reading and the ways that we bring our past selves to favourite books, creating layers of extra-textual narratives that are unique to each of us. Although Sue and I were thinking specifically about the process of (sometimes obsessively) revisiting novels by the Brontë sisters when we wrote the piece, the process of re-reading a book from childhood can be very similar. Our memories of a book’s narrative may be imperfect, but they are often inflected by the context in which we read or re-read the work and, especially for child-readers, recollections of being read to by adults.


W.H.G. Kingston, Snow Shoes and Canoes, or the Early Days of a Fur-Trader in the Hudson’s Bay Territory.  Morgan Collection, Special Collections, University Library.

W.H.G. Kingston, Snow Shoes and Canoes, or the Early Days of a Fur-Trader in the Hudson’s Bay Territory. Morgan Collection, Special Collections, University Library.

And this is where my projects begin to collide. I’m in the early stages of working with a group of musicologists and a psychotherapist, thinking about the therapeutic uses of reading and music in the wake of natural disasters. We’ve been using ventures like Read Me Something You Love and By Heart as springboards to think about the role that the cherished, remembered story or poem can play in helping people to assimilate traumatic experiences into their lives. Books are, of course, often lost in catastrophic events and increasingly, as I’ve been working with these lovingly preserved volumes in one area of my research, I’ve also been thinking about absent books in another. As a Dickensian, this connection makes complete, almost instinctive, sense to me. Dickens had a phenomenal memory and, growing up in a household where money was often short, he recalled walking the streets and reciting classic novels in his head, citing it almost as survival mechanism. Erich Auerbach famously wrote Mimesis while in exile from his library, drawing on his memories of the books that were being burned by Nazis and writing what Arthur Krystal has termed a ‘book about books’ as a kind of fortification against the destruction. When books are no longer present, the memories of their stories live on, just as childhood memories inform our affective encounters with books in museum spaces.


What seems to be emerging here for me is an unwieldy new project about the emotions surrounding books, memories, objects and reading. It’s something for me to chew over as the exhibition planning gathers momentum and I move—very willingly—out of my regular comfort zone to be guided through discussions about colour schemes, book cradles, and a whole host of things I’ve never thought about before in my life. I’m drawn to the tensions between the present and the absent, as I think about these different forms of love for the book, and I’m struck by the forces of memory and nostalgia that bring them together. I don’t have that many answers yet, and need to think carefully about how this work will sit alongside other research programs, such as Andrew Stauffer’s Book Traces.  However I’m conscious that the reading adventure upon which I’ve set sail might turn out to be something of an odyssey for me….




Reading Adventures will open to the public at the Noel Shaw Gallery, the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne on 16 July 2015.





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