Affective Classroom Encounters

Image: The Carte de Tendre or Carte du Pays de Tendre, François Chauveau c 1654. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“All writers are mapmakers—writing is like a map”

(Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer)

Since the Arts Faculty at the University of Melbourne introduced PhD coursework three years ago, CHE has offered a graduate elective class.  While in previous years postgraduates have been able to take a course dealing with emotions and material culture, this year’s offering was focused loosely around cartography and the environment.

Map-making is an emotional and political issue and while maps seek to chart territory in a definitive way, they can be instruments of imperialism, imposing artificial and contested boundaries.  Beginning with a broad overview of emotions theory, students were introduced to some of the many beautiful old maps held at the State Library of Victoria by Dr. Anna Welch of the Rare Printed Collections Department.  As well as thinking about the aesthetics of the map as a material object, Anna introduced students to controversies surrounding mapping and naming, using Matthew Flinders’ circumnavigation of Australia as a case study.  Highlighting the suppression of Flinders’ maps during his imprisonment and the privileging of those drawn up by the rival Baudin expedition, Anna guided us through the fraught process of naming, and thus taking possession, of land.

The appropriation (and at times erasure) behind cartography formed a significant component of Giovanni’s work on the persecution of the Waldensians in the late seventeenth century and the ways in which maps were harnessed as weapons of oppression (see Giovanni’s new article “Mapping Religion (and Emotions) in the Protestant Valleys of Piedmont”, just published in ASDIWAL: Revue Genevoise d’Anthropologie et d’Histoire des Religions 9 (2014).  With a strong environmental thread running through the course, we also devoted a session to natural disasters and the cultural responses that can be evoked by floods, fires and earthquakes, while also thinking about how catastrophic events can change our understanding of the terrain very swiftly.

Key questions underpinning the course involved asking whether we are able to generalize about landscape, cartography and emotions across time and culture.  Students from a variety of scholarly backgrounds asked what it means to ‘discover’ a new territory, particularly when the land is already inhabited, while we also considered how cartography can be connected to ambition.  Other concerns included whether maps can generate a sense of belonging and/or comfort, and we also paid attention to geographies of fear, literary cartographies, as well as mapping, extinction and endangerment.

With student expertise spanning History of Art, Cultural Studies, Indigenous Studies, History, Criminology and Literary Studies, to name but a few, class debates were vigorous and wide-ranging.  Student projects ranged from a study of graffiti in Melbourne’s inner city, to an examination of chariot racing in the ancient world, thus offering a fascinating variety of perspectives on material that included social mapping, spatial politics and ideas of the sublime.  One student, Angelique Stastny, has written an account of her experience of the course (and a subsequent workshop for postgraduates and Honours students), which appears below.  You may also peruse a selection of short film clips in which students round off their experience of the course by applying emotions theory to something connected to their own research projects.  The presentations were universally excellent and while it isn’t possible to include them all here, thanks to CHE’s Lucy Burnett, we are able to offer some examples of the outstanding work by Melbourne’s affective cartographers.

Giovanni Tarantino & Grace Moore


Affective Cartography and Beyond: A Postgraduate Perspective
Angelique Stastny

I first found out about the Centre for the History of Emotions while enrolled in the PhD elective subject “Affective Cartography”, run by CHE researchers Dr. Grace Moore and Dr. Giovanni Tarantino, at the University of Melbourne. I have always been interested in the power of maps to control, colonize, shape emotions, and alter relations to people and to land, but also to reflect people’s worldviews that sparked my interest in this subject.
What I gained from “Affective Cartography” far exceeded my expectations. It introduced me to the thought-provoking history of emotions, of which I was previously unaware, and it opened up exciting new pathways for my research. Using history of emotions theories and methodologies for my PhD research on Indigenous re-empowerment through clan- and community- based education in Australia and New Caledonia has made me consider places as agents of emotional and relational change and explore the emotional legacy of institutions on cultures and people.

With the hope of exploring further the potential of the theory and methodology of emotions for my own research, I subsequently attended the two-day workshop for Prospective Students in the History of Emotions held at the University of Melbourne in December 2014. This gave me the chance to learn more about the Centre and to meet some of its staff. The two days of the workshop comprised informative sessions on the Centre’s research programs and staff (including the enlightening contributions by current postdoctoral and postgraduate members). The time allocated between sessions to mingle with fellow postgraduate students from across Australia was equally enriching. But what made this unique event stand out was the sheer enthusiasm and intellectual excitement of the speakers. Their passionate and energetic presentations pointed to the great dynamism of the Centre and made it very attractive to prospective CHE researchers. Inclusive, eclectic, supportive, and inspiring; these are impressions that many attendees may have shared regarding CHE. The multi-disciplinarity of CHE and its sense of being a work in constant progress are, I believe, among its strongest assets.

With a tremendous impetus for the development of a ground-breaking project and rich in its diversity, the ARC Centre for the History of Emotions has garnered the key ingredients of an academic community with a promising  and vital future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s