Tous les articles par Damien Boquet

Sainte Vergogne (à paraître)

D. Boquet, Sainte vergogne. Les privilèges de la honte dans l’hagiographie féminine au XIIIe siècle, Paris, Classiques Garnier, à paraître le 16 septembre 2020.

Table des matières : ici

Bon de commande : ici



Peut-on imaginer meilleure façon d’éprouver la nouvelle « histoire des émotions », ses propositions et ses méthodes, qu’en questionnant une émotion aujourd’hui éteinte, une émotion historique au sens fort du terme, la vergogne ? Tel est le projet à l’origine de cette étude, qui se veut une contribution à une anthropologie historique de la honte au Moyen Âge, partant du constat que si la honte est à juste titre évoquée dès qu’il est question d’honneur, de réputation, de peine ou de pénitence, elle est rarement historicisée pour elle-même. Or, pour la raison même que les émotions ne sont pas des invariants d’une supposée nature humaine, leur histoire ne peut qu’être enracinée dans des contextes spécifiques – culturels, sociaux, discursifs –, lesquels n’en déterminent pas seulement les usages mais aussi les conceptions. Dès lors, l’objectif de cette étude est de montrer que l’altérité historique de la honte permet d’éclairer sous un nouveau jour la « condition émotionnelle » des saintes femmes au XIIIe siècle ainsi que les modalités de leurs relations avec les clercs.

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The Emotional Turn in the Study of History

Source : Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Emotional Rescue: The Emotional Turn in the Study of History

The History of Emotions. By Rob Boddice (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2018) 248 pp. $120.00 cloth $31.95 paper

Medieval Sensibilities: A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages. By Damien Boquet and Piroska Nagy (trans. Robert Shaw) (Medford, Mass., Polity Press, 2018; orig. pub. in French as Sensible Moyen Âge: Une histoire des émotions dans l’Occident medieval [Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2015]) 350 pp. $69.95 cloth $28.95 paper


For the last twenty years, an “emotional turn” in the study of history has been gathering momentum, building on other disciplines. Fifty years ago, neuroscientists started to trace brain activity that linked reason and emotion. Psychologists—early pioneers in the study of emotions—had already begun investigating the power and universality of emotional drivers. Social scientists took notice first, and historians have followed. The upshot to this trajectory is that the study of emotions in history has become fundamentally interdisciplinary; as a result, historians have become the new pathbreakers.

As the Rolling Stones sang in the title song of their 1980 album “Emotional Rescue,” “I’ll be your savior, steadfast and true/I’ll come to your emotional rescue.”1 This is not to suggest that the authors of the books under review bear any resemblance to Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. However, both books ought to enter the hall of fame of historical writing, for different reasons. They offer rich and exciting new scholarship about the history of emotions that will help a generation better research this complex subject.

“Emotions and feelings are guests who were invited late to the banquet of history.”2 It is a paradox that human feeling in all its guises, arguably the driver of human behavior whether activated or repressed, has been one of the most elusive subjects in historical research.3 For as long as the study of history was the preserve of elite men, the history of the emotions—like social and cultural history, the study of women, or the study of non-white people—had to wait in line. Emotions were considered suspect, irrational, something that stood in the way of proper scientific-based historical enquiry, not hard-fact based, even embarrassing. Intellectual history might concede that rhetorical devices could include emotional levers, but generally emotion was for the down-trodden masses and not worth serious study. Because rulers, the upper-classes, and decision makers kept their emotions in check, or so was the belief, the understanding of important changes and events did not require the emotions; in fact, the need for so called “objectivity” rendered emotion a dangerous subject of inquiry.

In fairness, there was a long tail to the distrust of feelings hardwired into Western thinking from the earliest philosophizing to the master narrative of the civilizing mission. Reason and emotion were in opposition; taming the latter was the mark of progress. It took a long time to square the circle contained in the judgment of Antoine de Rivarol, French journalist, commentator, epigrammatist, and aristocratic defender of the Ancien Régime: “Reason is the historian, but passions are the actors.”

During the last twenty years, however, an “emotional turn” in the study of history has been unfolding. It has been a slow burn, and it took a significant amount of prodding from outside the subject. Neuroscientists started arguing fifty years ago that brain activity showed that reason and emotion were linked. Meanwhile, psychology revealed the power and universalism of emotional drivers; psychologists were early pioneers in the field of the study of emotions.4 Then the social sciences started to take notice. Non-historians responded first, but eventually so did historians. A positive aspect to these developments is that the study of the emotions remains the most interdisciplinary of subjects, as journals such as the Emotion Review attest.5

Consequently, mainstream, orthodox histories and events have recently been getting an emotional makeover.6 Imperial and global histories are the most familiar ones, at least to this reviewer, but urban history and gender studies also show the influence of that new orientation.7 Political movements, modern populism, and electoral outcomes are now enlivened with the awareness of emotion.8 Newspapers, media, and print offer rich sources.9 In 2017, a journal entitled Emotions: History, Culture, Society (ehcs) was launched to focus solely on emotions in history.10

All of those who study emotion have benefited from the success of interdisciplinary collaboration, which has toned down the voices of the skeptics and taken the history of emotions into its more recent phase of a “rocket-ship taking off” (Boddice, 2, fn. 3).11 A number of highly respected academic institutions have been steadfastly generating in-depth research throughout the world—Queen Mary, University of London; Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin; a pan-Australian research group; the Spanish Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales del CSIC, based in Madrid; and the collaborative project between the Université de Aix-Marseille and the Université du Québec à Montréal about emotions in the modern age (more below). Many of us were inspired by books outside our narrow fields, such as Solomon’s philosophical work, In Defence of Sentimentality and Dixon’s history of a blubbing Britannia.12 Furthermore, an increasing number of universities in Europe and North America are offering courses in the history of emotions or including attention to emotion within the “bread and butter” curriculum.

Yet, as the introduction of the two books under review testifies, seasoned historians of emotion still feel that they have to make their case, which is astonishing considering all the achievements in the field.13 One explanation is that some scholars consider emotions to be naturally, and better-, studied as part of a whole, without being dissected in isolation. Like fascia in the body, they are ever-present but part of a moving picture, the importance of which should not be exaggerated. Others remain as squeamish about the study of emotion as they do about human beings who are emotional, distrusting human practices associated with the manipulation of emotions through social media, referendums, popular music, and so on. Historians on the right and opponents of populist leaders and politics evince a particular revulsion for what Ferguson has called the tyranny of today’s “emocracy” (a term coined by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ferguson’s wife).14

Finally, the practical challenges of researching emotions can be daunting. The “trail of the lonesome pine,” to use a howlingly bad pun, is by no means an easy route. It remains difficult to pin down people’s exact feelings at a particular time and their exact motivations for a particular decision. Emotions are volatile, fleeting, and changeable. Words in historical records that look like signifiers of emotion may not have had the same meaning when they were written; a reaction interpreted as sign of feeling may have been something altogether different. What was real? What was affectation? Can we even answer such questions about ourselves routinely?

These two books, however, when taken together, mark the end of the defense of emotional history. One might say that the study of the emotions is now in its adult phase, all grown up. Boddice’s fantastic introduction to the study of the history of emotions is as detailed, wide-ranging, and useful as any brief introduction can possibly be. His background on the subject is impeccable. Boddice has been thinking, talking, and researching about emotions for many years in Berlin while also conversing with the leading figures at all the major centers involved in the study of emotion. Indeed, Rhodri Haward, a Welsh wizard of emotions, at Queen Mary, University of London, encouraged Boddice to write his book.

Thank goodness that he did and that Boddice agreed. Now an introductory text exists that is so readable and well written that nonspecialists will find it hugely accessible, and seasoned historians will be able to “take the temperature of the field as a whole as it now stands,” avoiding the “unnecessary labour” of plodding through a vast field of “extensive bibliographical research” (1–7). Amen to that.

Boddice brandishes what he calls a radical perspective on emotions in history: They change over time; they effect outcomes; and they occupy the center of a “biocultural” view of human beings, as well as the center of the history of morality. To promote his way of thinking, Boddice smartly chooses the themes that he covers (and the order in which he covers them). Chapter 1 summarizes how the history of emotions began and progressed within the field of history. Chapter 2 addresses method, focusing on language to argue against a simplified master category of emotion and suggesting several useful alternatives. Chapter 3 continues with the nuts and bolts of theory and method, but it is no stodgy pudding after a dull main course. Boddice breezily addresses the contributions of key thinkers, aptly preparing for the remaining more practical or action-based topics. The following chapters look at power, politics, and violence; the history of human beings and personal emoting; the history of the senses, brain function, and emotions (his passion); the relationship between public spaces, objects, and globalization with regard to emotions; and the links between emotion and morality.

Boddice’s clear message is that the study of emotions requires collaboration across disciplines, especially history, anthropology, psychology, and neuroscience. Whereas the sciences once put the brakes on the study of the emotions, he is insistent about the universality of emotions and the prospects of neurohistory. He urges all historians of emotion to become literate in the neurosciences. His enthusiasm is infectious; the future study of past emotions never seemed more exciting.

However, Medieval Sensibilities reveals the present state of the history of emotions to be healthy as well. The starting point for Boquet and Nagy’s magisterial milestone is the tension between historical inquiry and neuroscience, but they reach a verdict different from that of Boddice: “Neither universal nor timeless, emotions are whatever the men and women of each era, of each society, of each group make of them. How do they conceive of the nebula of affections and the mysteries of feeling, and what role do they accord to them? As historians tackle these issues, they must by necessity, cast their nets wide. If the focus needs to tighten, the frameworks should not be those of psychology or neuroscience, but the outlook of medieval men and women” (6).

This premise of Boquet and Nagy’s intense, beautifully crafted scholarship covering 1,000 years is difficult to dispute. They have written a history of a term that was not even in use during the Middle Ages! The word emotion first appeared in French, during the fifteenth century, in relation to mass uprisings and peasant revolts. Therefore, as the authors explain, their actual starting point was the concept of the sensible (the French term rather than the English derivative) developed by Lucien Febvre and the Annalist school of history. On this view, sensibility is multifaced, referring to feelings, passions, impulses, and affects; atmospheres, moods, and lasting dispositions; and pleasure, pains, joys, and sorrows. The field of medieval emotions is rich and inviting, with a number of projects underway revising the received wisdom.15

Boquet and Nagy, however, building on work by predominately French authors, including their own research and publications—notably, Emotions au Moyen Age (Paris, 2009)—take the field to another level. Their extraordinary fruitful intellectual partnership has produced an exquisite history, which, even for historians who are neither medievalists nor historians of emotion is a valuable resource. The foreword by Barabara H. Rosenwein (one of Boddice’s heroines in the field), the sophisticated translation by Robert Shaw, the colored illustrations, and the extensive references all testify to the triumphant evolution of diligent scholarship that this partnership has created.

In addition to proving, once and for all, the essential importance of emotions in history and in the Middle Ages, the authors make three major arguments. First, in terms of methodology, they show, through meticulous research, the value and rationale of “affectivity” when applied to the study of emotions: “We try to avoid any distinction between felt emotion and expressed emotion, any frontier between the authentic and the uncertain” (Bouquet and Nagy, 7). They explicitly take their cue from Mauss, who believed that “the ritualization of any emotion and its expression in a pre-defined scenario do not necessarily mean that it is not sincerely felt” (Bouquet and Nagy, 7).16 Secondly, they show that a broad social and cultural history is one of the best kinds of “anthropological history: a history of humankind, of the human being as a whole.” Thirdly, by applying these methodologies, largely through a focus on the monastic laboratories of the patristic era, they thoroughly overturn the tired linear narrative of the civilizing process, which has haunted the study of the Middle Ages in Europe. According to this older scholarship, this era was rife with childish and irrational feelings, uncontrollable rages, temper, and stagnation, which was destined to continue until the modern period with its controlled, rational self-mastery of unruly emotions. Instead, Boquet and Nagy display evidence based on social, economic, and theological changes that suggests a more subtle and nuanced emotional history.

At the heart (literally) of the more sensitive interpretation that Boquet and Nagy champion was a Christian model of affectivity, which was set in motion by a changing theological view of emotions. God was rediscovered as a feeling entity, and Christ’s Passion was an elevated extension of this new perspective. Religious elites upheld a normative Christian view of affectivity that permeated the worlds of monasteries, clerics, hermitages, missionaries, and pilgrims, as well as secular life, gripping the medieval masses as well as the royal courts. In imitation of Christ’s model of love and sacrifice, the value placed on pain and suffering, especially physical torment and mental torture, all increased. Thus, this fundamentally new understanding of God and Christ’s nature shaped how people lived across all levels of European society, laying down key touchstones for the centuries to come.

Only reading the book can do justice to its content. Its nine chapters follow a natural chronology, but they are also helpful thematically. The first three chapters trace the development of a Christian theology of emotions, moving toward a close inspection of the cloister and monasticism and then the laity. Chapter 4 extends Nagy’s previous theological scholarship and sets the direction of the rest of the book. Changes in thinking within monasticism released the idea of people being able to communicate with God by expressing emotion, which could spread out and assume few forms. Chapter 5 treats the feelings of aristocrats in this regard, discussing same-sex love and delving into epic literary texts. Chapter 6 explores the emotive nature of man from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, using medical and scholastic texts, including those by John of La Rochelle, Master of the University of Paris, and Thomas Aquinas, his famous student. Chapter 7 surveys the important area of princely emotion and its politics. The two most elusive and fascinating aspects of this history are addressed in the last chapters—the mysticism of holy women, with its fervent piety, which often involved self-harm and other physical manifestations, and the everyday emotional lives of non-elites, including the performative display of laughter and shame.

Despite the richness and depth of the coverage, the authors will leave readers greedy for even more illustrations, stories about women, and encounters on the frontiers of non-European theology and religiosity. More information about St. Hildegard von Bingen—abbess, mystic, and composer—as well as about medieval music, early polyphony in particular, would certainly have been welcome.17 Music adds an important dimension to the history of emotions, even if it is unlikely to change the overall arguments about the primary drivers of change. We cannot feel past emotions easily, but we can experience them again as conveyed in sound, even though how we hear later might not be precisely how we heard originally, if only because of the context. Mark Williams, the conductor of the choir Index Cantorum, recently told the audience in Winchester Cathedral at a recital including one of the first “grand masses” of the fourteenth century, such music would have been the loudest sound heard at the time, which surely carries some emotional implications.



Music is just one example of the fecundity of cross-disciplinary collaboration when it comes to writing the history of the emotions. One barrier to this collaboration is copyright law, which makes the extensive use of lyrics prohibitive and demanding. Fairness dictates that access be made simpler and cheaper for academic research. Boddice, Bouquet, and Nagy would surely second that emotion (to quote Smoky Robinson). But even without a musical fanfare, these two books announce, loud and clear, that the history of the emotions plays all the right notes.

1  The Rolling Stones, “Emotional Rescue,” released June 1980, on Atlantic Records.

2  Nagy and Bouquet (trans. Greg Robinson), “Historical Emotions, Historians’ Emotion,” 15, available at, orig. pub. as “Emotions historiques, emotions historiennes,” Ecrire l’historie, 2 (2008), 15–26.

3  For a quirky illustration of how terms and feelings have been taken for granted and/or left out of analysis, see Ben Cohen, “S’chadenfreude Is in the Zeitgeist, but Is There an Opposite Term? Word Used for Taking Pain in Another’s Pleasure Is ‘Gluckschmerz,’ or Is It?” Wall Street Journal, 13 June 2015, available at

4  Emotion is one of several psychology journals published by the pioneering American Psychological Association. Launched in 2001, it went from a quarterly publication to a bi-monthly one in 2008.

5  Emotion Review (published in association with the International Society for Research on Emotion) can boast a gargantuan interdisciplinary reach, legitimately advertising itself as being “open to publishing work in anthropology, biology, computer science, economics, history, humanities, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy, physiology, political science, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and in other areas where emotion research is active.”

6  Bruno Cabanes, “Negotiating Intimacy in the Shadow of War (France, 1914–1920s): New Perspectives in the Cultural History of World War I,” French Politics, Culture & Society, XXXI (2013), 1–23; Karin Priem, “Seeing, Hearing, Reading, Writing, Speaking and Things: On Silences, Senses and Emotions during the ‘Zero Hour’ in Germany,” Paedagogica Historica, LII (2016), 286–299; Kathryn D. Temple, “Mixed Emotions: Love, Resentment and the Declaration of Independence,” Emotions: History, Culture and Society, II (2018), available at doi:

7  For global/imperial history, see Ayyaz Gul, Nyla Umar Mubarik, and Ghulam Mustafa, “Emotions, History, and History of Emotions in Punjab: A Historiographical Survey,” Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan, 54, no. 2 (2017), 53–65; Daniela Hacke and Paul Musselwhite (eds.), Empire of the Senses: Sensory Practices of Colonialism in Early America (Boston, 2017); for urban history, Joseph Ben Presetel, Emotional Cities: Debates on Urban Change in Berlin and Cairo, 1860–1910 (New York, 2017); for gender studies, Sigurdur Magnússon, “The Love Game as Expressed in Ego-Documents: A Culture of Emotions in Late Nineteenth Century Iceland,” Journal of Social History, L (2016), 102–119.

8  See, for example, Saeid Golkar, “Manipulated Society: Paralysing the Masses in Post-Revolutionary Iran,” International Journal of Politics, Culture & Society, 29, no. 2 (2016) 135–155.

9  See, for example, Monika Freier, “Cultivating Emotions: The Gita Press and Its Agenda of Social and Spiritual Reform,” South Asian History, 3, no. 7 (2012), 397–413.

10  According to its mission statement, ehcs is dedicated to understanding the emotions as culturally and temporally situated phenomena and to exploring the role of emotion in shaping human experience and the actions of individuals, groups, societies, and cultures.

I have been part of this new movement, more by accident (or osmosis, if one is being generous) than by design. For a number of years, I began undergraduate lectures about the end of apartheid, through histories of pain and suffering, with a video showing a stadium of emotional supporters of the African National Congress singing their freedom anthem in the 1980s. Anticolonial nationalism in Africa was only understandable to me as a highly emotional “ism,” infused with the hurt of racism. Alongside, I was writing a monograph about an unfashionable but famous figure in British imperial history, which led to a theory about emotions and sentimentality running through relations between Africa and Britain to the present day—Lewis, Empire of Sentiment: The Death of Livingstone and the Myth of Victorian Imperialism (New York, 2018) [for a review of this book by Robert I. Rotberg, see Journal of Interdisciplinary History, L (2019) 127–129].

11  The quoted phrase is from Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction (New York, 2015).

12  Robert C. Solomon, In Defence of Sentimentality (New York, 2004); Thomas Dixon, Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears (New York, 2014).

13  See, for example, Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (New York, 2014); Peter N. Stearns, Shame: A Brief History (Chicago, 2017); Douglas S. Massey, “A Brief History of Human Society: The Origin and Role of Emotion in Social Life,” American Sociological Review, LXVII (2002), 1–29.

14  Niall Ferguson, “Feeling Beats Truth in Our Indignant “Emocracy,’” Sunday Times, 27 Jan. 2019, 19.

15  See, for example, Paul Dingman, “Ethics and Emotions: A Cultural History of Chivalric Friendship in Medieval/Early Modern Times,” unpub. Ph.D. diss. (Univ. of Rochester, 2012); Juanita Ruys, “An Alternative History of Medieval Empathy: The Scholastics and Compassion,” Emotions: History, Culture, Society, II (2018), 192–213.

16  See Marcel Mauss, “Les techniques du corps,” Sociologie at anthropologies (Paris, 1966; orig. pub. 1950), 362–386, for a summary of his thought.

17  See, for example, Gustave Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York, 2001); Suzanne Lord, Music in the Middle Ages: A Reference Guide (Westport, 2018). Also of relevance is David Lol Perry’s re-imagined fourteenth-century plainsong, “Three Wings: Plainsong, Reimagined” (Warner Classics, 2017), based on St. Hildegard of Bingen’s “O Virtis Saipientiae”—an attempt to connect emotionally with contemporary audiences.

« Qu’est-ce que l’émotion d’un savant ? »

Source : Centre Alexandre-Koyré

Les Débats du CAK, saison 13 – « Qu’est-ce que l’émotion d’un savant ? »

Mercredi 17 juin 2020, 10h-12h / En ligne

Les Débats du CAK, saison 13 - « Qu'est-ce que l'émotion d'un savant ? »

Débat avec Françoise Waquet (CNRS, CELLF) autour de son ouvrage :

Une histoire émotionnelle du savoir, XVIIe-XXIe siècle
Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2019

Discutants : Damien Boquet (Aix-Marseille Université, TELEMME) et Serge Reubi (MNHN, CAK).


► En raison de la situation sanitaire, cette sera organisée en ligne.

Vous pourrez vous connecter le mercredi 20 mai à partir de 9h45 à la salle virtuelle des Débats du CAK en vous rendant à cette adresse.

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L’ensemble des recommandations de l’EHESS pour une visioconférence optimale est à retrouver en ligne à cette adresse.

The Gender of Emotions

The English edition of the review « Clio. Women, Gender, History », issue 47 (2018),  devoted to « The gender of emotions » has just been published. It is available online via Cairn International.
Our introduction is in open access here :

Damien Boquet and Didier Lett, « Emotions and the concept of gender »

French version : here

Emotions and the concept of gender

Damien Boquet and Didier Lett

translated by Siân Reynolds

Emotions are often considered to be a strong marker for gender, playing a central role in the cultural and social demarcations between masculine and feminine. Starting with the ancient theory of temperaments, the hot and dry emotions – anger, rage, audacity and hate – were seen as masculine, while the cold and wet emotions – modesty, sweetness, fear, shyness, compassion, languor – were feminine. In the western world, it was also thought that emotions in general were more feminine, while reason was more masculine. Women, reputed to be irrational and closer to nature, would by the same token display greater sensitivity than men; would be readier to express their feelings (to the point of being overwhelmed by them); and would pass more quickly from one emotion to another, becoming insane or hysterical. Men, the repository of culture and reason, would exert greater self-control, and be better able to master the expression of their feelings, veering less often between them. In the way in which they have been, or are, judged, expected, and sometimes demanded, emotions – whether manly or womanly – have therefore been gendered.

Although influential in western culture over the long term, this reading of the emotions has become excessively polarized by historiography into two radical oppositions, presumed to structure society: man-masculine versus woman-feminine, and emotion versus reason. Yet these antitheses, especially when expressed in the extreme and rigid forms that we have witnessed in recent times, have not always existed: they date essentially from the eighteenth century. Before that, in western society, as is demonstrated in this issue of Clio by Jean-Noël Allard and Pascal Montlahuc’s article on Antiquity, and Emmanuel Bain’s article on biblical exegesis in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, sex difference was only one method, and often a marginal one, of classifying people. We therefore need to shake off a conception that has come to seem “natural” to us. In the consilia, the collections of studies of clinical cases dating from the end of the thirteenth century, when doctors speak of the symptoms and treatment of melancholy, for example, they pay little attention to the gender of the patient, since they were focusing more on the theory of bodily humours, or of the different parts of the body. [1] And the antinomy between reason and emotion is also relatively recent. [2] It depends on certain forceful and persistent presuppositions – the product of an evolutionist view of history, bolstered in the twentieth century by Norbert Elias’s theory of the process of civilization [3]   – as well as on an absolute antagonism (retrospectively attributed to Descartes) between affectivity and reason, to be found also in other social sciences (whether Durkheimian or Weberian sociology, Freudian psychoanalysis, etc.). Yet since Aristotle, and throughout an intellectual tradition running from the teachers of the medieval university to Spinoza and Rousseau, it has been abundantly clear that emotions, transcending all schools of thought, have engaged in a constant dialogue with reason, even if they can be unreasonable. In the way in which emotions were socially perceived, the point was not to suppress them, but to apply them in a measured way, adapted to circumstances, and to make proper use of them, according to the principles of virtue and justice. Anne Carol has shown in her study of the accounts of capital executions in nineteenth-century France, for example, that representatives of the public authorities, often marked by their Christian background, were not opposed to a display of emotion by the condemned person. [4] If the man or woman facing death trembled and wept, these were signs testifying to the due and proper process of the judicial ritual, serving to inspire horror for the crime and rightful fear of the punishment. But there was a risk that the scenario might get out of hand, if the condemned person did not express the expected emotions, or indulged in them to excess – collapsing and begging for mercy, or shouting words of hate. A watershed was reached in about the 1870s, no doubt because the Christian model was in decline in France. Displays of emotion by the offender facing capital punishment became progressively unacceptable. Losing its function of exemplarity and edification through emotion, the ritual itself was slowly becoming less coherent, preparing the way for the ending of public executions in France in 1939, and the eventual abolition of capital punishment there in 1981. [5]

De-naturalizing emotions through gender

In seeking to move away from these a priori ideas about the nature of emotion and its gendered constructions, this issue of Clio sets out to revisit the articulation between emotion and the difference between the sexes by historicizing these concepts; by contextualizing and identifying the relevant actors socially; by taking into account the whole gamut of emotions; by questioning both the masculine and the feminine at the same time; by scrutinizing the documentary context that produces emotions and renders them visible; and lastly by observing what gender does to emotions and what emotions do to gender. In these two fields of study, there is a new willingness to deny their “natural” character, an associated refusal to accept universal categories, and a similar openness to the social sciences.

Despite Lucien Febvre’s much-quoted pioneering article, or Marcel Mauss’s work on “the techniques of the body”, [6]  sociologists, anthropologists and historians have long regarded emotions as lying outside their remit, leaving them to psychologists, or these days to neuro-scientists. [7] Only in the 1990s did studies of emotions begin to be developed in the humanities and social sciences as a whole, but since then they have become widespread (some people have spoken of an “emotional turn” or an “affective turn”), as can be seen by looking at the way the field has been institutionalized in many countries. [8]  In historical studies, the study of emotions has made it possible to revisit something previously seen as the domain of historical anthropology, namely men’s and women’s bodies, in order to demonstrate their central role in social life, to the extent that emotions are seen as revealing an internal state through a bodily manifestation. [9]  Does history, as an academic discipline and a method of posing questions, have a specific role to play in this re-evaluation of the social uses of emotions? As was the case in the early days of gender studies, the history of emotions today is able to benefit from a dialogue with the humanities and social sciences, if only to dislodge the prejudice long current among historians (of both sexes) concerning the irrationality and spontaneity of emotions. But it would be naive to think that historians have a unified approach to this new field of research. Unlike gender, which was from the start conceptualized as a heuristic tool, emotion is above all a territory where the very landscape needs to be invented. While nobody would now deny that emotions have a cultural character, there is a considerable range of approaches concerning the depth and extent of the constructed component. Are emotions intangible facts of human nature, or are they attached to a psychology or biology that governs their existence and to some extent their expression? If the latter, the historian would need, as a preliminary step, to find some basis in a “scientific” theory of emotions (derived from cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis or the neurosciences). In that case, historical analysis would remain dependent on other disciplines. There is another way to approach it, the one we have chosen in this dossier, opting for the historicity of the emotional phenomenon, and therefore not starting from any pre-existing category, but basing the analysis on the affective anthropologies of the particular cultures and social groups under observation. [10]   The very word “emotion”, used to delimit the territory of inquiry, is the product of an empirical consensus, and also of the internationalization of research, as was once the case for the notion of “mentality”, which had the advantage of being easy to translate into the languages in use in the academic community. In the western sphere, but also in many other cultures, it makes sense to question the feelings, the affects, the whole complex of joys and sorrows, disgust and attraction. All the same, there is such diversity of conception and usage that it would be risky to attach the historical exercise to any theory of emotion taken from the present day. Emotions exist, are of value, and operate according to how they exist, have value and operate for the relevant agents in their socio-cultural environment, whether temporal or spatial.

Feminine, masculine: the fluid nature of emotions

What can gender contribute to the historical study of emotions? In the first place, it makes it possible to revisit fields of research and events previously considered to be well known. Thus we can ask how Christian thinkers, over time, have evaluated the two first emotions of Adam and Eve, following on original sin: concupiscence and shame. The “vertical reorientation of affectivity” [11]   to be witnessed in the early Middle Ages seems to be identical for both sexes, with the axis flesh-spirit (vice-virtue) taking precedence over the male-female distinction. So Augustine of Hippo in The City of God (early fifth century), explains that the first man and the first woman both felt the same degree of shame: shame on account of their nakedness and shame from realizing the sin they had committed. [12]  But later representations of this scene show an evolution. The celebrated fresco by Masaccio representing Adam and Eve (The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden), painted in the early fifteenth century in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, gives a clearly gendered form of shame to each sex: Adam, without masking his naked body, is hiding his face, while Eve conceals her breasts and private parts with her hands, allowing her face to be seen twisted with the pain of remorse. The man is shown with moral shame, the woman with bodily modesty, in a differentiation of types of shame, thus establishing a de facto hierarchy between the sexes. Does this evolution reveal changes in the history of emotions, or a modification peculiar to the history of gender in the late Middle Ages, an era which seems readier than previous ones to assume sexual difference? [13]   Taking this into account makes us aware of the need to consider the interplay of reconfigurations between gender and emotion over the long term. That is why this issue of Clio questions the norms and representations of stereotypes across a series of different periods, and seeks to identify change and evolution. In Antiquity and most of the Middle Ages, for example, friendship, which was not only a question of alliances but of affection, was a social connection seen as manly and proper to men. Then progressively it becomes more neutral and open to both sexes from about the thirteenth century, notably in Christian literature, before returning to “masculine territory” during the Renaissance, only to explore once more the delights of mixed-sex friendship at the time of the Enlightenment. [14]

The supposed inability of women to control their emotions did not always relegate them to an inferior role, and could sometimes confer on them a specific form of authority, as is proved throughout history by the role played by female mystics, who attain the same status as “men of God”, thanks precisely to their excess of emotion. [15]Such women had/have visions, go into spasms, weep, fast, or seek rapturously to have ever-closer union with God, go into ecstasy, levitate, and experience a loving fusion with God. In their accounts, they describe these extreme experiences with delight, sensuality and enjoyment. The fusion with God gave them ascendancy over men and institutions: one example is Juliana of Cornillon who in mid-thirteenth century successfully established a Feast of the Eucharist which soon spread throughout Christendom. But are we right to attribute a “sexual identity” to this affective feminine spirituality, when it developed within male clerical milieus? The vitae of these women were written down by men who were often their confessors. As for the writings of the mystics themselves, which are few in number, they appear much less emotional and psychosomatic: while the hagiographers insist on the intensity of physical suffering, women mystics say more about their union with the divine lover. [16]  The idea that the body was the privileged site of female piety was no doubt exaggerated by the hagiographical male-authored sources, and corresponds to a slow evolution starting essentially in the thirteenth century, in which the feminine aspect of spirituality gradually became a matter for women. [17]   Consequently, as Barbara H. Rosenwein reminds us in this issue, a propos the confessional narratives in Puritan milieux in the seventeenth century, we need to establish a distinction between forms of female spirituality and the gendered expectations of society, paying attention to the gap between religious experience and the way it has been recounted. This can be observed elsewhere in the articles we have included here, in both Western and Eastern societies, in the poems and correspondence expressing love between a man and a woman. Love is indeed often a domain in which gendered differences are most visible. As Monica Balda-Tillier points out, in medieval Arabic literature, it is only women who declare that they would not wish to survive the death of their beloved, and the expression of their last emotion is codified in rules more strict than those imposed on men. Sylvain Piron shows that in their exchange of letters, Abelard and Heloise offer quite distinct philosophies of love. Abelard presents himself as the victim of the blind forces of love, and seeks in the beloved gentleness, rest and consolation, while Heloise associates her amor to the dilectio based on the virtues embodied by her lover.

Over the course of history, man appears to be a creature of emotions too, which must be accounted a good thing, since it means men can weep or show embarrassment in a virile way. For example, in the late fourth century, St Ambrose, bishop of Milan, made of modesty (verecundia) a major virtue of churchmen, while at the same time urging his clerics to be manly in their way of walking and singing. “The voice, too, should not be languid, nor feeble, nor womanish in its tone […] It should preserve a certain manly quality, rhythm, and vigour.” [18]  Tears may well tend to be more closely associated with women and the female sex, but it is clear from a multiplicity of sources, across the centuries, that men, from Achilles to Obama, have wept just as much as women, and that they have wept in a manly fashion. [19]  Emotions – and the bodily signs revealing them – have played a key role in history in the construction of gendered stereotypes, while at the same time being a privileged instrument in reconfigurations and fluidities between the sexes.

“Emotional communities” and “gender regimes”

Setting out to identify the principal factors of change in the history of the emotions, in the modern, and particularly in the contemporary period, William Reddy has proposed the concepts of the “emotional regime”, “emotional suffering” and the “emotional refuge”, the first term referring to the dominant norms of a given society, the second to the manner in which groups or individuals are obliged to adopt imposed emotional codes, and the third to the release from suffering that allows people to escape from over-rigid norms. [20]  He explains consequently that the France of Louis XIV was subjected to a code of aristocratic honour which imposed strict control over the public expression of emotion. In reaction, during the eighteenth century, a culture of sentiment was progressively developed in places of emotional refuge: salons or private correspondence. Sentimentalism then soon spread through literate circles, bringing with it a new vision of society which the Revolution attempted to apply. Thus the emotional culture of a minority, originally an “emotional refuge” for the educated elite, had in course of a few decades become a new “emotional regime” in post-revolutionary France. [21] 

Although the schema suggested by Reddy allows us to historicize emotions, he proposed a top-down model, in terms both of state domination and of resistance or accommodation to it on the part of the individual, putting forward a reading of society as a whole at the macro-historical level; it seems to us that this is a more operative view for modern societies, where the State is very present. In order to decipher what was going on in societies over the longue durée, we prefer the idea of “emotional communities” suggested by Barbara H. Rosenwein, defined as “groups in which people adhere to the same norms of emotional expression and value – or devalue – the same or related emotions.” [22] 

This concept, which makes it possible to observe men and women on various scales, has been used by several contributors to this issue, since the list of emotional communities and situations could be extended indefinitely: from Church and State to the conjugal couple, by way of monasteries, fellowships, guilds, businesses, clubs, sports, the family, etc. In that sense, “emotional communities” fit very well with the notion of “gender regime” which we have elsewhere defined as “a particular and unique configuration of relations between the sexes in a given historical, documentary and relational context”, [23]   since this concept also allows us to observe in dynamic form, sex distinctions within social relations and in close contact with the sources, thus departing both from an identity approach to gender and from the macro-historical study of societies. This approach will enable us, in this issue of Clio, better to perceive the “multitude and diversity of styles of affective communication existing within a given society”. [24] 

It is therefore essential to consider carefully the differentiated expressions of emotions according to social status: emotions in peasant, worker, bourgeois or aristocratic society, at the same time keeping our distance from the system suggested by Elias, which posited a hierarchy of emotions and a top-down model of their diffusion, with emotions trickling down to the lower reaches of society. In Athens and Rome, as Jean-Noël Allard and Pascal Montlahuc show here, an individual’s social status mattered at least as much as his or her sex, when it came to determining the social legitimacy of expressing a given emotion.

The value of a sociological approach, stressing situations rather than states of mind, identifying the expression of emotion in the process of interaction, allows us to underscore the plasticity and fluidity of the way emotions are distributed between the sexes. The pioneering work of Arlie Russell Hochschild has opened the way towards a “sociology of the emotions” [25]   which is always concerned to demonstrate (and to criticize) the persistence of gender stereotypes in the world of work. Not only are social relations marked by a “competition of sentiments” as between men and women [26] (authority is masculine, mediation feminine), in contemporary commercial societies, where the manipulation of emotion itself is a major economic issue, [27] but women are also assigned a sexed identity in their professional lives, based on their supposedly “innate” qualities. That is why it represents a risk for the historian to embark on a linear grand narrative of the civilizing process, seen in the tradition of Weber and Elias as a movement towards rationalization in western consciousness and society. Rather than this teleological grand narrative, we have preferred the complexities of several time-frames and changes of scale. In the Sudanese press of the 1950s, as Elena Vezzadini explains in this issue, a new emotional regime emerged, aiming to break with the past and create a “modern woman”, who would be capable, like a man, of controlling her emotions. A given emotion to which a feminine value is conventionally attached may, in a specific context, shape virility: men’s grief can display all the stereotypes of women’s grief without any loss of virility, as Didier Lett shows in his analysis of a thirteenth-century miracle narrative portraying the reactions of a man and a woman, in their role as father and mother, on the death of their three-year-old son. Even if certain emotions are expected from one or the other, the expression of parental grief to be found in this kind of source, which gives much space to pathos, ending in this case in an emotional cataclysm, tends to homogenize the reactions of parents, of either sex.

In many contexts, women may become more masculine and men more feminine by the attribution of an emotion not habitually assigned them: a man who does not demonstrate aggressivity during a fight may be seen as feminized, whereas a fearless woman is masculinized, as can be seen in the case of the famous Merovingian queens Fredegunda and Brunhilda, depicted by Gregory of Tours as furies, whereas they were merely displaying princely anger in order to govern. The tears of Francis of Assisi have never been an obstacle to the construction of his authority, on the contrary they helped to cement it in early thirteenth-century society, which was marked by a feminization of religious feelings. [28]   However, these “transgressions » are not given any a priori value. The man who is “unmanned” by emotion may well suffer by being down-graded or even become a pariah to his gender and sex community.

Lastly, men and women, in most cases, share the same emotional communities, but without occupying the same position within them. The study of emotions during “major events” (wars, revolutions, etc.) has confirmed that reconfigurations of gender do not disturb the way both men and women may cling to the same emotional codes and age-old assumptions. Clémentine Vidal-Naquet’s article on the expression of feelings in letters exchanged between spouses during the First World War, and Sophie Wahnich’s discussion of revolutionary emotions, both show that exceptional situations may shake the emotional order of the sexes, without necessarily destroying its foundations. The soldier at the front describes his tears to his beloved, whereas she restrains her own: but the tears he refers to are not of fear in battle but tears of joy or melancholy, arising when he thinks of life outside the war zone, of the child soon to be born, or the absent wife. But even if the emotional order of the sexes is not seriously challenged, extraordinary events may lead to a better knowledge of the others, and an awareness of his/her subjectivity. Similarly, during the early years of the French Revolution, the fatherland (patrie) became an emotional community in which emotions no longer seemed to have a sex. Yet women citizens remained above all wives and mothers who, within the shared love of the homeland, had to praise fathers and husbands, helping to construct the masculine image of the revolutionary hero. Women, even during the most profound historical upheavals, have shown themselves to be the most fervent gatekeepers of gendered emotions: even Théroigne de Méricourt found it hard to imagine that men could be capable of gentleness.

Certain emotions can appear to be shared, while still varying by sex. In traditional societies until well into the twentieth century, both men and women might be equally exposed to shame, but women’s shame is above all attached to the preservation of their sexual innocence, whereas men’s shame relates to the defence of their social prerogatives. Here, it is the social object of the emotion that is sexed or gendered, rather than the emotion itself. [29] And yet the persistent attribution of emotions to one or other sex may lead to the emergence of a gender identity of an emotion: the very term pudeur, (modesty) which appears in France in mid-sixteenth century, [30]  gradually comes to absorb the whole field of social constraints imposed on women, relating to the covering of their bodies, the basis of social honour in Christian culture, as Emmanuel Bain explains. When in 1791, the French National Assembly defined in a decree the notion of “attentat à la pudeur”, this was assumed unquestioningly to refer to “outrages against the modesty of women”. From the moral diversity of honourable forms of shame in ancient and medieval societies, a legal category emerges which is specifically attached to women. The public authorities would from then on assume responsibility for protecting women’s honour: by taking the place of male domination, they turned woman’s gendered body into an object in law. [31] 


There is still only a fairly limited body of literature using the concept of gender to explore the recent history of emotions, and existing research is no doubt rather too exclusively concerned with the construction of stereotypes, thus paying scant attention to the porosity of gender frontiers and the fluidity of exchanges. The history of emotions has, in recent years, provided unity to a subject essential for understanding the organization of societies, but which has hitherto been dispersed across several historiographical fields (the history of the body, of sensibility, of the family, of thought systems, etc.) and often considered of secondary interest. By naming that subject “emotion” or “the emotions”, whereas the meanings we give these terms do not appear before the nineteenth century, that approach has opted to problematize the present, with which one may disagree, but which immediately obliges the historian to question his or her own concepts, and then re-configure them, through contact with the sources and cultural and social environments of the past. This critical approach is no doubt an advantage, but it can also become a weakness, precisely because there is a risk of being trapped into seeing emotions as “natural”. Today, even if historians of the emotions do stress their fundamentally cultural and socially constructed aspect, most writers nevertheless still see them as based in some kind of universality, forgetting the tautology represented by this presupposition, which remains the basis of contemporary views of emotion. The answer is not to give up on the attempt, but on the contrary to make strenuous efforts to denaturalize emotions while never losing sight of the overall unity of the subject. Faced with this challenge, gender, an excellent critical tool of analysis, which is well used to unpicking the cultural and social processes that have affected the naturalization of sexed identities, can be a valuable ally in the work of historicizing emotion. In return, the replacing in context of emotional concepts and practices can question the logics of gender, revealing their complexity and malleability, confirming frontiers over the long term in some cases, but elsewhere pointing out discontinuities and variations from one milieu to another. By questioning gender about its frontiers, the history of emotions is working towards its own scientific legitimacy.


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  • Boquet, Damien. 2014. Corps et genre des émotions dans l’hagiographie féminine au xiiie siècle. Cahiers d’études du religieux. Recherches interdisciplinaires 13 [].
  • Boquet, Damien & Piroska Nagy. 2009. Pour une histoire des émotions. L’historien face aux questions contemporaines. In Le Sujet des émotions au Moyen Âge, ed. Piroska Nagy & Damien Boquet, 15-51. Paris: Beauchesne.
  •  2011. Une histoire des émotions incarnées. Médiévales 61: 5-24.
  • — 2015. Sensible Moyen Âge. Une histoire des émotions dans l’Occident médiéval. Paris: Seuil. [English translation 2018: Medieval Sensibilities. A History of Emotions in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Polity.]
  • — 2016. Una storia diversa delle emozioni. Rivista storica italiana 128(2): 481-520.
  • Brancher, Dominique. 2015. Équivoques de la pudeur. Fabrique d’une passion à la Renaissance. Geneva: Droz.
  • Bray, Alan. 2003. The Friend. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.
  • Bynum, Caroline W. 1987. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: the religious signifiance of food to medieval women. Berkeley: The University of California Press.
  • Carol, Anne. 2017. Au pied de l’échafaud. Une histoire sensible de l’exécution. Paris: Belin.
  • Coakley, John W. 2006. Women, Men, and Spiritual Power. Female saints and their male collaborators. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Cohen-Hanegbi, Naama. 2008. The emotional body of women: medical practice between the 13th and the 15th Century. In Le Sujet des émotions au Moyen Âge, ed. Piroska Nagy & Damien Boquet, 465-482. Paris: Beauchesne.
  • Dalarun, Jacques. 2009. Dieu changea de sexe, pour ainsi dire. La religion faite femme, xiexve siècle. Paris: Fayard.
  • Daumas, Maurice. 2011. Des Trésors d’amitié. De la Renaissance aux Lumières. Paris: Armand Colin.
  • Dixon, Thomas. 2003. From Passions to Emotions. The creation of a secular psychological category. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Elias, Norbert. 1973, 1975 [1939]. Über den Prozess der Zivilisation soziogenetische und psychogenetische Untersuchungen, Band 1: Wandlungen des Verhaltens in den weltlichen Oberschichten des Abendlandes. Band 2: Wandlungen der Gesellschaft. Entwurf zu einer Theorie der Zivilisation Basel: Hauszum Falken. [English translation: On the Process of Civilisation, 2012, ed. Stephen Mennell et al., 2 vols. Dublin: UCD Press. NB: previous editions give the title as The Civilizing Process].
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  • — 2013. Hommes et femmes au Moyen Âge. Histoire du genre, xiiexvsiècle. Paris: Armand Colin.
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  • Newman, Barbara. 1995. From Virile Woman to Woman Christ. Studies in medieval religion and literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Plamper, Jan. 2012. Geschichte und Gefühl. Grundlagen der Emotionsgeschichte. Munich: Siedler.
  • Pitt-Rivers, Julian. 1977. The Fate of Schechem or The Politics of Sex. Essays in the anthropology of the Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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  • Rey, Sarah. 2015. Les larmes romaines et leur portée : une question de genre ? Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire 41: 243-263.
  • — 2017. Les Larmes de Rome. Le pouvoir de pleurer dans l’Antiquité. Paris: Anamosa.
  • Rosenwein, Barbara H. 2002. Worrying about emotions in history. The American Historical Review 107: 821-845.
  • — 2006. Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.
  • Solomon, Robert C. 1993. The Passions: emotions and the meaning of life. Indianapolis: Hackett.
  • Vincent-Buffault, Anne. 1986. Histoire des larmes (xviiiexixsiècle). Marseille: Rivages.
  • Wu, Tianyue. 2007. Shame in the context of sin: Augustine on the feeling of shame in De civitate Dei. Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales 74(1): 1-31.


[1] Cohen-Hanegbi 2008.

[2] Solomon 1993; Dixon 2003.

[3] In Elias’s analysis, the control of instincts, the capacity to tame one’s desire and to repress feelings, emotions and bodily signs of the same, were the result of a very slow process, hastened in particular by the extension of the practices of the French court (essentially Louis XIV’s Versailles) before eventually trickling down to the rest of society. See Elias 2012 [1973-1975]. For a critical evaluation of this theory, see Rosenwein 2002.

[4] Carol 2017.

[5] Ibid.: 235.

[6] Febvre 1941 and Mauss 2004 [1936].

[7] Mandressi 2011.

[8] In Germany, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development has a research programme on the history of emotions:; In the UK, there is the Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions:; in France there is the EMMA programme “Emotions au MoyenÂge” directed by Piroska Nagy and Damien Boquet:; in Australia, the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, specializing in research on Europe 1100-1800:

[9] Rosenwein 2006; Boquet & Nagy 2011 and 2015.

[10] Boquet & Nagy 2016.

[11] Boquet & Nagy 2015: 66.

[12] Wu 2007.

[13] Baschet 2007 and Lett 2013: 213.

[14] Bray 2003; Daumas 2011.

[15] Fraeters & de Gier 2014; Bynum 1994 [1987]; Hollywood 2001; Coakley 2006; Newman 1995.

[16] Boquet & Nagy 2015: 287-297.

[17] Hollywood 2001; Boquet 2014.

[18] St Ambrose On the Duties of the Clergy, chapter 19.

[19] Monsacré 1984; Vincent-Buffault 1986; Nagy 2000; Rey 2015 and 2017.

[20] Reddy 2001: 129.

[21] Ibid.: 141-333 and Plamper 2012: 307-309.

[22] Rosenwein 2006: 2.

[23] Lett 2012: 565-566.

[24] Nagy & Boquet (eds) 2009: 39.

[25] Hochschild 2017 [1983].

[26] Bernard 2017.

[27] Illouz 2006.

[28] Dalarun 2009.

[29] Pitt-Rivers 1977; Frevert 2017.

[30] Brancher 2015.

[31] Labrusse-Riou 1992.

Compte rendu : « Entre le coeur et le diaphragme. (D)écrire les émotions dans la littérature narrative et scientifique du Moyen Âge »

Source : Francia Recensio (2020/1)

version pdf : ici

Ce volume collectif, qui réunit douze contributions introduites par une brève présentation des éditeurs, est le fruit d’un colloque qui s’est tenu les 8 et 9 novembre 2016 à l’université catholique de Louvain. Le projet tel qu’il se présente – mettre en lumière »les interactions entre l’écriture narrative et l’écriture scientifique« (p. IX) des émotions au Moyen Âge – répond à un enjeu important de l’histoire des émotions. Celle-ci semble désormais avoir atteint l’âge de la maturité. Elle délaisse heureusement les interminables débats sur la »nature réelle« de l’émotion, qui constituaient il y a quelques années encore un passage obligé, pour se concentrer sur l’utile et l’essentiel: expliciter la complexité des anthropologies affectives des médiévaux eux-mêmes et la mise en situation de celles-ci dans les pratiques sociales.

Pour cela, il est en effet nécessaire de décloisonner les discours et donc de faire travailler ensemble les spécialités qui les étudient. Comme le soulignent les éditeurs: »Au Moyen Âge, la science et la littérature parlent la même langue, abordent les mêmes sujets et recourent aux mêmes concepts« (p. IX). Cet énoncé est particulièrement vrai à partir du XIIe siècle qui voit naître un processus de convergence des savoirs, parfois dans une visée encyclopédique. Il reste que tous ces discours ne parlent pas, au sens propre, la même langue. Dès lors, il est indispensable de dégager aussi bien les effets de convergence, voire d’intégration, que les effets de singularité, comment les langues infléchissent les concepts ou comment les savoirs orientent les représentations.

Ainsi le couple »honte«/»vergogne« en français entraîne-t-il une construction originale de cette émotion que ne connaissent ni le latin, ni les autres langues romanes, comme le laisse envisager l’article d’Amandine Mussou sur les figures allégoriques de Honte et de Peur dans le »Roman de la Rose« et ses épigones. De même, le concept médical d’»accident de l’âme«, qui implique une emprise directe du corps sur l’émotion, n’est pas interchangeable avec celui de »mouvement de l’âme« des philosophes et des théologiens. C’est donc un travail méticuleux de reconnaissance conjointe des traditions spécifiques et des rencontres entre les différents savoirs et genres discursifs qu’il convient d’entreprendre. Une mission que ce volume remplit avec un réel succès.

Les éditeurs ont conçu le recueil selon un triple mouvement. Le premier est le plus ample, il englobe la moitié des articles du volume et se donne pour objectif de percevoir »l’entrelacement parfois subtil des traditions médicale et littéraire« (p. X). Cette perspective – explorée déjà par Naama Cohen Hanegbi dans »Caring for the Living Soul. Emotions, Medicine and Penance in the Late Medieval Mediterranean« (2017) – donne des résultats très probants que l’on doit notamment à Jean-Marie Fritz qui s’intéresse aux portraits de sanguins dans les textes latins et vernaculaires de diverses natures.

Le sanguin s’y révèle l’incarnation d’un tempérament jovial, tantôt compagnon idéal, tantôt figure un peu niaise qui souffre de n’être qu’un »mélancolique inversé« (p. 13). Par l’amplitude des sources qu’il convoque et par sa démarche comparatiste, l’article de J.-M. Fritz pourrait aisément servir de base à une étude générale des tempéraments émotionnels dans la culture lettrée. Dans la même veine mais centrée sur une source unique, la contribution de Claire Donnat-Aracil questionne la place de la théorie des humeurs dans la spiritualité de la première »Vie des Pères«, un recueil de contes pieux rédigés à partir de 1215, en particulier les relations entre la mélancolie et l’acédie.

On se délectera également des enquêtes d’Isabelle Draelants et de Béatrice Delaurenti sur la physiologie du rire de chatouilles, à la croisée de la médecine, de la philosophie naturelle et de la littérature (chez Albert le Grand, Nicole Oresme et Évrart de Conty), et plus spécialement sur le rôle du diaphragme, cette fine membrane qui fait office d’interface entre les deux organes des émotions, le cœur et le foie. C’est le mouvement du diaphragme, associé à l’échauffement ainsi produit dans le corps, qui explique que l’on rie sous l’effet des chatouilles.

L’article de Mattia Cipriani sur le »Liber de natura rerum« de Thomas de Cantimpré permet d’aborder le genre encyclopédique. Même si les émotions ne font pas l’objet d’un traitement spécifique dans le »Liber de natura rerum«, M. Cipriani démêle méticuleusement les fils des savoirs que Thomas de Cantimpré noue, entre théologie, médecine et psychologie aristotélicienne. Dans l’esprit du projet qui guide le recueil, il aurait été intéressant alors de confronter ce texte avec les autres écrits de Thomas, ses récits hagiographiques ou son recueil d’exempla, le »Livre des abeilles«, afin de percevoir chez un même auteur cette circulation des savoirs dans des genres variés.

Le deuxième volet du volume traite des émotions dans les traditions épique et romanesque. Les articles d’Anatole Pierre Fuksas, portant sur le rôle narratif des émotions pour signifier l’authenticité du sentiment amoureux, et de Giovanna Perrotta, traitant de la physiologie de l’amour dans les monologues nocturnes de »Cligès« et de »Jaufre«, tout en mettant l’accent sur l’incorporation de l’émotion, offrent moins de prise à la question de la convergence des savoirs, sans doute parce que celle-ci est moins présente dans ces œuvres.

Camille Carnaille, qui se concentre sur l’éthique de la colère, dégage quant à elle l’étendue et les limites des convergences entre la littérature encyclopédique à vocation didactique ou médicale, qui légitime un usage modéré et contrôlé de la colère, et la littérature romanesque qui, par défense des valeurs chevaleresques, exalte parfois une colère héroïque.

Le dernier volet compte seulement deux articles mais il n’en est pas moins essentiel à l’équilibre de l’ensemble dans la mesure où il décale la perspective. Dans l’article de Gioia Paradisi sur les émotions de l’éros dans les réécritures françaises de l’»Ars amatoria« d’Ovide et dans celui de Guillaume Oriol sur la palette émotionnelle des troubadours dans les citations du »Breviari d’amor« de Matfre Ermengaud, ce sont les émotions elles-mêmes qui servent de matière à l’élaboration d’une casuistique amoureuse. G. Oriol montre ainsi avec beaucoup de subtilité comment les recompositions dans les chaînes émotionnelles, les jeux d’oppositions et les glissements, non seulement font dialoguer les 266 citations de troubadours que rassemble le »Breviari d’amor« mais élaborent les règles d’une dialectique de l’amour qui confère une »une dignité philosophique à la culture qui avait engendré cet amour«, capable de »guérir la société méridionale par une thérapie« (p. 206–207).

Même si l’on peut regretter l’absence d’une véritable introduction et d’une conclusion, lesquelles auraient conféré au volume une armature épistémologique et méthodologique plus solide, les éditeurs ont ouvert une voie féconde pour l’histoire des discours sur les émotions. Les contributeurs et les contributrices de ce volume ont relevé le défi, laissant espérer d’autres enquêtes à venir tant le territoire à explorer est immense.

Damien Boquet, Rezension von/compte rendu de: Craig Baker, Mattia Cavagna, Grégory Clesse (dir.), Entre le cœur et le diaphragme. (D)écrire les émotions dans la littérature narrative et scientifique du Moyen Âge, Turnhout (Brepols) 2019, XIV–214 p. (Textes, études, congrès, 30), ISBN 978-2-39037-001-7, EUR 35,00., in: Francia-Recensio 2020/1, Mittelalter – Moyen Âge (500–1500), DOI:


Conférence : Sainte Vergogne. Les privilèges de la honte dans l’hagiographie féminine au XIIIe siècle

En ces temps de confinement, vivons la diffusion de la recherche autrement. Voici l’enregistrement d’une conférence que j’ai donnée le 12 mars 2020 au séminaire GeFeM (Genre, Femmes, Méditerranée) à la Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aix-en-Provence : ICI

Les émotions ont-elles une histoire ?



Les émotions ont-elles une histoire?

Samedi 29 février 2020, Salle Marc Bloch (17, rue de la Sorbonne, 75005 Paris) de 14h00 à 17h00

Coordinatrice: Sahra RAUSCH

Introduction de Laure CICCIONE, Marie GAUSSERON, Vincent LETHUMIER, Sahra RAUSCH et Emmanuelle REIMBOLD

Laure CICCIONE, Les émotions et l’automobile à la Belle Époque, un nouvel imaginaire de l’action

Dans l’introduction du troisième volume de l’Histoire des Émotions, Jean-Jacques Courtine dénombre trois types d’orientations paradigmatiques agissant à partir des années 1880: le trauma, le contrôle et l’autonomisation de l’individu. L’objectif de cette étude est de comprendre –à partir de la presse, de la littérature, des correspondances et des témoignages écrits de l’époque–comment les discours sur l’automobile à la Belle Époque orientent ou fabriquent des émotions, pour mettre en rapport contrôle et phénomènes d’autonomisation de l’individu.  Comment les émotions interviennent-elles dans la construction d’un imaginaire de l’action? L’étude, même partielle, des émotions et de l’automobile entre 1875 et 1907 permet de montrer que l’automobile, mobilisant un lourd effort en termes d’innovation technique et capitalistique, apparut au moment où se produisait un renouvellement de l’imaginaire de l’action –auquel elle participa–incluant dans l’espace industriel une série de forces culturelles, sociales et politiques.

Marie GAUSSERON, Ennui et histoire

Les récits historiques n’ont pas toujours considéré l’ennui comme objet d’étude pertinent voire même comme sujet existant. Longtemps absent des récits, il est,à partir du XVIIIe siècle, raconté par la littérature, la poésie et plus tard par la médecine. La permanence de son existence –les hommes s’ennuient à toutes les époques–contraste avec la singularité de l’expérience –l’ennui est intrinsèquement personnel et ne peut être raconté que par le «je». Le sujet ennuyé s’inscrit toujours dans un espace, un lieu, une époque et contextualise ainsi son ennui. Ce dernier peut être le symptôme d’un mal-être social ou, au contraire,en être la cause. Distinguer ce qui relève de l’expérience individuelle de ce qui relève de la pathologie sociale est sans doute impossible. En revanche, il est possible de s’extraire du caractère purement métaphysique de l’ennui pour le traiter comme objet socialement construit. Les discours d’ennui à travers l’histoire révèlent,en outre,les questions psychosociales sous-jacentes de l’ennui. La philosophie, ainsi appuyée par les récits d’histoire,peut faire le pari d’une définition des formes modernes d’ennui.

Vincent LETHUMIER, Les émotions épistolaires des princes ligueurs de la Guerre folle(1485-1488): les stratégies discursives d’une dissidence

La Guerre Folle (1485-1488) oppose les époux Beaujeu, chargés de la garde du jeune Charles VIII, et les partisans du duc d’Orléans cherchant à retrouver une proximité avec le corps du roi dont ils se disent éloignés. Ce conflit motive l’écriture de missives dans les deux camps. Nous étudierons ici les lettres des Orléanistes qui entonnent une mélodieuse rhétorique de l’émotion pour légitimer leur engagement. L’expression de l’affect sert à inverser le rapport traditionnellement dépréciatif à la sédition politique comme vectrice de désordre. Mieux, son exaltation façonne une identité collective parmi les dissidents reconstituant une unité émotionnelle symbolique ne coïncidant pas toujours avec l’exacte réalité de leur association. Les lettres parviennent, néanmoins, à contractualiser deux sentiments qui répondent aux attentes socio-politiques du temps: l’amour dû au roi comme manière de dépouiller la dissidence de sa charge subversive et l’amitié censée régner entre les princes et les villes que les Orléanistes cherchent à enjôler. Un cas particulier se dégage du registre émotionnel: la peur. Les rebelles en font le stimulus qui les pousse à agir. Ce metus principis ne serait-il qu’un expédient rhétorique propice à la victimisation?

Sahra RAUSCH, L’«amnésie coloniale» comme unordre émotionnel?

Penser l’émotion dans les débats sur les rapatriements de restes humains en France et en Allemagne. En 2017, Emmanuel Macron s’est dit «prêt» à rapatrier les crânes des Algériens qui ont été tués lors de la bataille de Zaatchaen1849. En Allemagne, le premier rapatriement de restes humains a eu lieu en 2011. Avec le débat sur les restitutions à partir de 2018, l’attention a été attirée à nouveau sur les innombrables restes humains qui sont conservés dans les musées et les universités. Alors que les rapatriements ont fait la une dans les médias en Allemagne et mis en question la relation de la société au passé colonial, la France se distingue par son silence, notamment à l’égard de l’Algérie. Je postule que le concept d’amnésie coloniale, auquel on recourt fréquemment des deux côtés du Rhin, renvoie à un ordre émotionnel transnational, négociant ainsi la place du souvenir ou de l’oubli. Tandis qu’en France les crânes d’Algériens sont séparés de la recherche sur la «race» et donc émotionnellement placés «en dehors»de l’histoire coloniale, en Allemagne la référence à l’amnésie est un moyen pour engager la réflexion de manière volontairement provocante de la politique mémorielle actuelle. Les processus de mémorisation et d’oubli dépendent de l’attribution des émotions et des affects pour créer ou défaire leur importance dans le présent.Bien qu’elle maintienne les sociétés occidentales dans une culture affective de l’oubli, la dénomination de l’amnésie coloniale comme énonciation performative permet aussi la remise en cause de cet oubli.


Emmanuelle REIMBOLD, Les émotions: éléments du discours revendicatif des anciens combattants, 1919-1925

Le retour des soldats et leur réintégration dans la société, après l’armistice du 11novembre 1918, s’avèrent délicats. Tandis que les combattants pensionnés bénéficient de la reconnaissance de la nation, les autres redeviennent des civils anonymes et attendent, de la part d’une société qui leur semble amnésique, des marques de reconnaissance pour ces années passées au front. Pour justifier leurs attentes et rendre compréhensible leur frustration, les anciens combattants non pensionnés et les prisonniers de guerre développent, dans les journaux combattants, un discours revendicatif appuyé sur leurs émotions connues au cours de la guerre. Au-delà des résultats contrastés, l’expression de ces émotions constitue une démarche fédératrice assurant l’unité de leur groupe social mais également revendicative,en les rendant visibles aux yeux de la société.

Conclusion de Damien BOQUET, Maître de conférences à l’Université d’Aix-Marseille


L’odeur du sang et des roses

Source : Presses universitaires du Septentrion

É. Lecuppre-Desjardin (dir.), L’Odeur du sang et des roses. Relire Johan Huizinga aujourd’hui, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2019.

Pour la première fois en France, des chercheurs spécialistes de la fin du Moyen Âge se sont rassemblés pour discuter et proposer des clefs de lecture permettant de saisir l’essence d’un classique au succès international : L’Automne du Moyen Âge de Johan Huizinga. Toujours d’actualité pour son impressionnant pouvoir de suggestion, le chef-d’œuvre du grand intellectuel néerlandais, paru en 1919 et traduit en français en 1932, s’adresse à tous ceux – littéraires, philosophes, historiens et historiens de l’art – qui ont su repérer dans ce livre une autre façon de penser et d’écrire l’histoire du XVe siècle septentrional. S’attachant particulièrement aux formes de vie et de pensée, l’écriture de Huizinga peut se révéler déroutante pour un public de chercheurs attachés à une méthodologie plus rationnelle. Les réflexions rassemblées ici permettent de faire le point sur les raisons qui font de cette œuvre, si controversée soit-elle, une référence mais aussi un trésor d’inspirations et d’intuitions toujours aussi stimulantes après un siècle d’existence.


L’Automne du Moyen Âge, ou la modernité d’une écriture esthétique au service de l’Histoire

Élodie Lecuppre-Desjardin


Le laboratoire de Huizinga : les archives de son Automne et l’édition française

Anton van der Lem


Johan Huizinga et les fondateurs des Annales : rencontre manquée ou opposition des paradigmes ?

Christophe de Voogd


Johan Huizinga et la « morphophilie » des années 1920

Jelle Koopmans


Un Automne impensé.

Johan Huizinga et l’histoire littéraire française aux XXe-XXIe siècles

Estelle Doudet


Les primitifs au prisme de Johan Huizinga : « l’art des Van Eyck est une fin »

Bertrand Cosnet


La cour ou le théâtre de l’esprit de Johan Huizinga

Thalia Brero, Élodie Lecuppre-Desjardin


« L’idée de chevalerie » : Du crépuscule de la chevalerie à l’histoire des représentations chevaleresques

Benjamin Deruelle


Religion, culture et communication. Les « intuitions » de Johan Huizinga

Nicole Bériou


L’émotion comme désir de vie

Damien Boquet, Laurent Smagghe


Présentation des auteurs


Laughter and Power in the Twelfth Century

Source : OUP

Peter J. A. Jones, Laughter and Power in the Twelfth Century, Oxford University Press, 2019

Towards the end of the twelfth century, powerful images of laughing kings and saints began to appear in texts circulating at the English royal court. At the same time, contemporaries began celebrating the wit, humour, and laughter of King Henry II (r.1154-89) and his martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, Saint Thomas Becket (d.1170). Taking a broad genealogical approach, Laughter and Power in the Twelfth Century traces the emergence of this powerful laughter through an immersive study of medieval intellectual, literary, social, religious, and political debates. Focusing on a cultural renaissance in England, the study situates laughter at the heart of the defining transformations of the second half of the 1100s. With an expansive survey of theological and literary texts, bringing a range of unedited manuscript material to light in the process, Peter J. A. Jones exposes how twelfth-century writers came to connect laughter with spiritual transcendence and justice, and how this connection gave humour a unique political and spiritual power in both text and action. Ultimately, Jones argues that England’s popular images of laughing kings and saints effectively reinstated a sublime charismatic authority, something truly rebellious at a moment in history when bureaucracy and codification were first coming to dominate European political life.

Introduction: Laughter and Power in Medieval Europe
1: The Making of Powerful Laughter, c.1100-1200
2: Powerful Laughter in Twelfth-Century Narrative
3: Laughter and Power at Henry II’s Court
4: Thomas Becket, The Laughing Saint
5: Henry II, The Laughing King
Conclusion: Between Laughing Saint & Laughing King
Appendix: Henry’s Courtiers


Honte et Vertu dans l’Antiquité (appel à communication)

Source : Centre Gilles Gaston Granger (UMR 7304), Centre Paul-Albert Février (CPAF-TDMAM UMR 7297), Aix Marseille Université, CNRS.

Appel à communication : colloque international « Honte et Vertu dans l’Antiquité »

15-17 juin 2020, Aix-en-Provence, France

Institutions organisatrices : Centre Gilles Gaston Granger (UMR 7304), Centre Paul-Albert Février (CPAF-TDMAM UMR 7297), Aix Marseille Université, CNRS.

La philosophie morale est aujourdʼhui marquée par un intérêt pour les questions de psychologie et dʼanthropologie des comportements, et pour lʼéthique des vertus plutôt que pour lʼéthique des devoirs. Ce contexte a mis au premier plan la question des émotions : le paradigme dominant nʼest plus celui dʼune opposition entre raison et désirs ou passions, mais celui dʼune interaction complexe entre les principes normatifs et rationnels de lʼagir et les émotions quʼéprouve lʼagent moral, non en tant quʼelles seraient seulement des entraves ou des perturbations de la moralité des comportements, mais en tant quʼelles jouent aussi un rôle positif et moteur à cet égard. Dans la philosophie antique, ce tournant sʼatteste dans lʼessor des études consacrées aux émotions, sentiments, passions relevant du registre éthico-social. On citera, parmi les travaux majeurs dans ce domaine, ceux de Douglas Cairns (1993) et de Bernard Williams (1994) sur la honte, de William Harris (2004) sur la colère, de David Konstan sur la peur, la pitié ou la haine (2006). Tous ces sentiments ont une dimension morale manifeste, qui sʼélabore au sein dʼune anthropologie dont le sujet central est un individu social, membre dʼune communauté constituée par un partage de valeurs et de croyances, source à la fois de normes et dʼattentes. De ce fait, ces états émotionnels entretiennent un rapport ambivalent avec le comportement moralement droit ou vertu.Le colloque Honte et vertu dans lʼAntiquité a pour but de questionner cette ambivalence en prenant pour objet la honte, émotion particulièrement riche à cet égard. La honte est une émotion sociale fondamentale dans les cultures méditerranéennes, qui (encore aujourdʼhui) accordent une valeur forte et structurante à lʼhonneur, et la littérature antique en porte lʼempreinte. Elle est aussi dès le départ une émotion ambivalente, aux visages contrastés, comme en témoignant les écarts et les recouvrements sémantiques du doublet αἰδώς/αἰ σχύνη. Le champ historique visé est large, là où les études existantes sʼattachent de façon préférentielle aux textes poétiques archaïques (Homère, les tragiques) et aux auteurs classiques (Platon et surtout Aristote). Le colloque Honte et vertu se propose, à partir et au-delà de cette période, dʼélargir lʼenquête aux écoles hellénistiques, au monde romain et au christianisme ancien. Dans ce champ qui articule divers types de pluralisme (historique, politique, linguistique, religieux), les travaux présentés contribueront à explorer la relation ambivalente entre honte et vertu.

Conférenciers invités :

Douglas Cairns (University of Edinburgh)

Christopher Gill (University of Exeter)

Carlos Lévy (Université Paris-Sorbonne)

Les projets de communication, de 500 mots maximum, peuvent être rédigés en français ou anglais. Ils seront adressés, accompagnés dʼune courte bio-bibliographie, au plus tard le 31 décembre 2019, à et

Lʼacceptation de la proposition sera communiquée par le comité scientifique le 31 janvier 2020. Informations complémentaires : Durée des communications : 30 minutes, dont 10 minutes de discussion. Frais dʼinscription : 30 €. Les frais dʼinscription ouvrent droit aux pauses café, au déjeuner et aux dîners. Les frais de déplacement et dʼhébergement des participants ne pourront pas être pris en charge.

La traversée des sentiments – Un cadre pour l’histoire des émotions (1700-1850)

Un événement ! La traduction française d’un des livres fondateurs de la nouvelle histoire des émotions

Source : Les presses du réel

William Reddy, La Traversée des sentiments. Un cadre pour l’histoire des émotions (1700-1850), Les Presses du réel, 2019.


À partir d’une lecture critique de la recherche sur les émotions en psychologie et en anthropologie, William Reddy propose une approche pionnière des émotions qui évite à la fois le réductionnisme des conceptions des psychologiques et l’image figée, en dehors du temps, de l’interprétation culturelle.
Les documents historiques montrent sans la moindre ambiguïté que l’expression affective peut explorer et transformer les émotions, en fonction du choix des expressions pour les « représenter ». De ce fait, il découle que les groupes humains, des plus petites communautés aux plus grands États, peuvent et doivent chercher à gérer le vocabulaire, les expressions idiomatiques, tout le style adopté par les individus pour exprimer leurs émotions. La coopération nécessite de partager un style émotionnel ; sinon, la communication devient obscure, incertaine, voire impossible. Les émotifs (terme que l’auteur propose pour désigner ces expressions qui sondent et transforment les affects) revêtent évidemment une importance politique primordiale. Dans une seconde partie de cette étude, Reddy applique cette théorie à un tournant de l’histoire française. Peu d’épisodes historiques illustrent mieux que la Révolution française la manière dont les changements de style émotionnel peuvent accompagner et même canaliser le cours de l’histoire. De la sensibilité des Lumières, à la vertu républicaine, au romantisme du début du XIXe siècle, les femmes et les hommes français ont cherché de nouvelles façons de s’exprimer, de découvrir et de gérer l’émotion, avec des répercussions sans précédent sur le monde réel de la politique et de la vie sociale.

« Brillant et merveilleux : il s’agit d’un ouvrage d’une profonde érudition qui deviendra un élément central de l’intérêt croissant que suscite l’interdisciplinarité dans l’émotion. Reddy jette un pont entre la psychologie, l’anthropologie et l’histoire pour explorer l’idée fascinante selon laquelle l’émotion est le processus qui gère les préoccupations les plus intimes avec l’humanité. »
Keith Oatley, Université de Toronto

« Une histoire pionnière des émotions (…). Cet ouvage à la fois érudit et sensible a fait date. »
Pierre Karila-Cohen, Le Monde des Livres

« Ce livre a largement contribué à faire des émotions un objet pour l’histoire. »
Dominique Kalifa, Libération
William M. Reddy est professeur émerite de l’histoire à Duke University, membre de l’American Academy of Arts and Sciences, et auteur de plusieurs ouvrages sur l’histoire des émotions, dont The Invisible Code: Honor and Sentiment in Postrevolutionary France (1997) et The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE (2012).