Tous les articles par Piroska Nagy

Cool, Calm and Collected The Dutch and their Emotions in Pre-Modern Times

Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag
4 November 2011

Registration by way of an e-mail to:, or by telephone: +31 (0)70 3140363

The conference ‘Cool, Calm and Collected’ aims to enhance the burgeoning History of Emotions in the Netherlands. Speakers at the conference will present their current research, integrating the study of emotional standards in advice literature with the study of actual emotional practices in ego documents, chronicles and archival sources. The fields covered will range from politics, philosophy and the urban feud to religion, the stage and the visual arts. The conference will not only be of interest to specialists in the history of emotions but also to the greater historical community.

Although the history of emotions was already suggested as an interesting topic by Lucien Febvre and Johan Huizinga it has been taken up seriously as a subject of historical study only fairly recently. Initially, historians limited themselves largely to the study of documents that prescribed emotional ideals and standards. Researchers are now going beyond such texts. They are currently identifying transformations in emotional ‘communities’ and ‘styles’ on the basis of letters, autobiographies and memoirs, as well as a variety of narrative, archival and visual sources. Historians are also emphasising performativity, i.e. what emotions actually do. At the institutional level, in Europe two important research centres have been started: in London the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions (Thomas Dixon, director); in Berlin the ‘Forschungsbereich Geschichte der Gefühle’ (Ute Frevert, director). This conference seeks to establish a more solid footing for the history of emotions in the Netherlands and join in with these international trends.

The speakers at the conference will discuss the emotional styles of the Modern Devouts and the cult of pugnacity in Late Medieval feuds. Focusing on the seventeenth century, they will reconsider the performativity accorded to the emotions in painting, the theater, and pietist religious movements. For the eighteenth century, speakers will analyse the Dutch ‘cult of sensibility’, the contemporary appreciation and navigation of the sentiments. The day will be closed with a lecture by Dorothee Sturkenboom. She is a pioneer in the study of emotions in the Netherlands and will relate the emotional history of the Dutch to contemporary and more recent views on their ‘national character’.

The conference’s keynote lecturer, the well-known British historian Thomas Dixon, will discuss the latest developments in the field.

The organisers: Wessel Krul, Herman Roodenburg, and Catrien Santing.

The conference will take place in the National Library of the Netherlands (KB) in The Hague.

The conference fee is € 30,- (€ 25,- for members of the KNHG and € 15,- for students and PhD students) and includes lunch. The conference fee should be transferred to account number 6934391 (IBAN: NL25 INGB 0006 9343 91, BIC: INGBNL2A) of Koninklijk Nederlands Historisch Genootschap in The Hague.

Registration by way of an e-mail to:, or by telephone: +31 (0)70 3140363.


09.45 – 10.00 Welcome Catrien Santing (University of Groningen), chair
10.00 – 10.15 Introduction Herman Roodenburg (Meertens Institute – KNAW)
10.15 – 11.00 Keynote lecture Thomas Dixon (Queen Mary, University of London) History in British Tears: Some Reflections on the Anatomy of Modern Emotions

11.00 – 11.15 Coffee and tea

11.15 – 11.45 Mathilde van Dijk (University of Groningen) ‘Just some silly Beguine’: being pious and showing it in the Devotio Moderna
11.45 – 12.15 Matthijs Gerrits (Leiden University – Fryske Akademy) Anger and Feuding in the Late Medieval Northern Low Countries

12.15 – 13.30 Lunch

13.00 – 13.30 Annual Meeting Koninklijk Nederlands Historisch Genootschap

13.30 – 14.00 Kristine Steenbergh (VU University) Vondel and the Role of Emotions in the Public Sphere
14.00 – 14.30 Eric Jan Sluijter (University of Amsterdam) The Changing Representation of the Passions in History Paintings by Rembrandt and his Amsterdam Colleagues
14.30 – 15.00 Fred van Lieburg (VU University) The Use of Emotions by the Hotter Sort of Protestant

15.00 – 15.15 Coffee and tea

15.15 – 15.45 Wessel Krul (University of Groningen) Phlegmatic Excitement. The Dutch and the Discovery of the Emotions in the 18th Century
15.45 – 16.15 Edwina Hagen (VU University) The Passionate Politics of Rutger Jan and Catharina Schimmelpenninck: Dialogue between the Head and the Heart
16.15 – 16.45 Dorothée Sturkenboom (independent scholar) The Dutch Temperament: An Enigma to be Explained…

16.45 – 17.30 Reflections by Dixon, Roodenburg and Santing, followed by Plenary Discussion

17.30 – 18.00 Drinks

L’émotion historique en tournée de conférences cet automne


Plusieurs conférences sont consacrées à l’émotion historique cet automne.

Et pour commencer … mieux vaut tard que jamais! Il y a précisément un mois, s’est tenue à Istanbul la 2e conférence sur l’histoire des émotions dans la prémodernité, avec pour thème “Est et Ouest”. Vous pouvez lire un

Compte rendu de la conférence par Kristine Steenbergh

et visualiser le  Programme de la conférence ici.

EMMA était présente avec les communications de Patricia Prost et Piroska : résumés à venir

Par la suite, dans quelques jours s’ouvre une conférence à la Bibliothèque Royale à la Hague, en Hollande : Cool, Calm and Collected: Cultural History of Dutch Emotions



Ouverture de postes de recherche en histoire des émotions en Australie


The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions in collaboration with The University of Western Australia, The University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and The University of Queensland, seeks to appoint nine exceptional postdoctoral researchers to contribute to research projects in the history of emotions in Europe, c. 1100-1800.

The Centre addresses big questions: to what extent are emotions universal? How, and to what extent, are they culturallyconditioned and subject to historical change? What are the causes andconsequences of major episodes of mass emotional experiences? How areemotions created and conveyed through the arts? How does Australia’s emotional heritage influence today’s social and cultural patterns?

The Centre draws on advanced research expertise at five nodes in Australia (the universities of Western Australia, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland), plus research partnerships in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. Our approach is strongly interdisciplinary, with researchers spanning the fields of social and cultural history, literature, art history, museology, Latin studies, history of medicine and science, musicology and performance practice.

These prestigious research positions (with additional $16K pa research support) offer an exciting opportunity for innovative and enthusiastic scholars with demonstrated track records in medieval and/or early modern studies and a capacity to engage in interdisciplinary research.
Benefits include 17% superannuation and generous leave provisions. Some relocation allowance for successful applicants will be considered. These and other benefits will be specified in the offer of employment.

The University of Western Australia

· Research Associate (Interpretations and Expressions of Emotion) (Ref: 3449)
For position information go to:

The University of Adelaide
· Research Fellowship in Medieval or Early Modern Europe, (Position number 16567),
· Research Fellowship in the Emotional History of Law, Government and Society in Britain, 1700-1830, (Position number 16568),
For position information go to:


The University of Melbourne
· Research Fellowship in Emotions and Sacred Sites
· Research Fellowship in Texts describing Emotions
For position information and to apply online go to:

The University of Queensland
· Research Fellowships: Reason and the Passions in English Literature, 1500-1800 (2 positions)
For position information go to:


The University of Sydney
· Postdoctoral Research Associate in Emotions related to Suicidal Impulse (Ref 160/0111)
· Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Emotional Responses to Public Death (Ref 161/0111)
For position information and to apply online go to:

Piroska Nagy – Damien Boquet : Historical Emotions, Historians’ Emotions

This article was first published in French, « Émotions historiques, émotions historiennes », in Écrire l’histoire, 2 (2008), p. 15-26. We are grateful to Greg Robinson for his English translation and to John Drendel for his valuable suggestions.

Emotions and feelings are guests who were invited late to the banquet of history. Even today, when they seem to have earned a legitimate place at the table, there are those who would prefer to feed them only a few crumbs. We should note that there is a dialectic that exists between history of the emotions and other more traditional areas of the historical field that matches the opposition of cooked and raw, or hard and soft. In spite of the appeals of Lucien Febvre, as well as a few others, in spite of the pioneering studies which were as brilliant as they were without successors, we are not far removed from a time when professional historians considered emotion only in the realm of the anecdotal or as the foundation of irrational human actions, a sort of secondary causality which one had to try to flesh out by reference to more serious and tangible motivations. While cultural historians, as good disciples of Foucault, privilege discourse among representations, the history of emotions appears rather like a history of mentalités, of “relooked” sensibilities which are at the same time blurry and rather marginal, and in any case as a minor kind of field. Yet now we are present at the moment of its emancipation, historiographically speaking. While all around us the search for authentic emotion persists in a desert of solitude ever more severe, people speak more and more of emotion in both society and in the social sciences, as if the very difficulty of finding affection in daily life not only makes the need to think about it in the present more imperious, but also reveals the need to interrogate the past. Amid such conditions, though they only explain the phenomenon in part, what is it that grounds the current interest in the past experience of emotions within the historical discipline, and on what is its legitimacy based? Conversely, why does it remain so dubious for so many people? To these epistemological questions must be added others concerning the practice of history. Indeed, there is no escape from a slew of questions regarding our own emotional investment in regard to the historical object: Why emotions, and why me? What are we really seeking in emotions, what can we find, and how do we express what we have found? What emotions, in turn, does the material excite within us, and how do we handle them in such a way as to share them with our readers? In sum, to what extent does emotional material, once put under a microscope, modify the practice of our profession—or does it instead reflect a recent shift in conditions? Each of these questions deserves, and has already inspired, numerous pages of discussion. Between the Scylla of an overly cold history, done in the name of rationality and scholarly objectivity, and the Charybdis of a manipulative emotiveness that substitutes for clear argument, the passage seems quite narrow. Nevertheless, we will try to thread it in four steps.[1]

Resistance to historical emotions

A continuing trend, set in motion with the founding of the Annales school and then by the growth of the New History, validates the efforts of historians to extend their researches to other forms of reality than strict historical fact. These so-called mentalités—now supplanted by cultural history and the history of representations—earned a place beside that of canonical realist forms of history. However, the history of emotions, whose birth dates back to a similar period,[2] still seems to lie on the periphery of professional research. Almost ten years ago, Alain Corbin underlined the “trepidation of academic history” in regard to this field,[3] even as the demand for it remained—and still remains today—strong. Why is there such scholarly resistance?

The first reason reflects the very volatility of emotional material, a volatility which renders it particularly resistant to any historical treatment. Even today, many people consider emotion to be that which is most separate from fact, or worse yet—the height of embarrassment—as constituting a sort of nuisance or disturbance that alters facts. Generally speaking, emotional reality, in spite of the fact that it fairly pulses in the texts of yore, seems like a tricky thing to analyze with the classic historian’s tools, all of which were developed for use in working with facts. Polymorphous and many-sided, these emotions often resist the kind of fundamental harmony sought for in scientific language, and even defy logic itself. What is more, the profession of history, which turned itself into a science between the 19th and 20th centuries, prides itself on having elaborated scientific methods—criticism of sources, different scholarly tests for dating documents, procedures of inquiry and interpretation—whose proper application, however individually applied in each case, assures the quality and reliability of the historian’s conclusions. The (re)constitution of historical truth—a truth which the actors of the past, embroiled in their own stormy life histories, could not see themselves—takes place by means of an ensemble of methods, carefully applied. As a result, historians too long treated emotions as so many rhetorical flourishes, which one had in the end to strip away in order to examine the essential bare bones of texts.

A second reason, which underscores the salience of the first, even as it covers perhaps more territory, is the old belief that emotion is par excellence a-historical, and a universal property of men. It was the American medievalist Barbara Rosenwein, a figure well known in France, who, according to the philosopher Robert Solomon, called the attention of historians to what she described as the “hydraulic conception” that our culture had—and still has in popular opinion—of emotions. Feelings get described as if they were a sort of liquid under pressure, which each person was supposed to contain inside, with the aid of reason.[4] This conception is nourished by the opposition between reason and emotion, a familiar idea in Western thought dating back to Descartes.[5] It represents as well the base of modernist visions of history, from the Renaissance until at least the 20th century, which confuses historical evolution with the progress of reason, a vision that that has fed Norbert Elias’s description of the civilizing process of custom.[6] The approach of Johan Huizinga is different, as he sees in the Renaissance instead a period of nostalgic replaying of the raw passions of the high Middle Ages.[7] Still, these two paradigms connect in supposing that Western civilization has moved from a childlike state of nature and emotion to a state of reason and culture—in sum toward adulthood and modernity. This approach, which handily matches the conception of feelings in the psychoanalytic theory of Freud, can be found more or less explicitly stated in the work of numerous great thinkers who inspired the development of the social science during the 20th century, including Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to mention only two. The consequence of this opposition of pure reason and emotion has been a distrust of all feelings, menacing yet obscure.

A Change in the Landscape

Yet, over the last fifty years, a profound change has taken place in the landscape of the science of emotions, although many historians have not yet taken it into account. The main pressure has come from outside social sciences: starting in the mid-20th century, neuroscientists were the first to demonstrate the indissociable character—in the decision-making process for example—of rational and affective factors. Little by little it became clear that, in the great economic or political decisions as in the most intimate choices in daily life, feeling motivates reason more than opposing it. Reason is thus a sensitive power. These last twenty years, several high-quality works of popular science[8] has taken up the task of convincing the public at large of the reality that even in the core of the brain, reason and emotion are joined. In parallel fashion, the most diverse studies in cognitive psychology have come to similar conclusions,[9] such that philosophers, well in advance of historians, have grown interested in this newly remodeled reality.[10] But it is only very recently that a very few historians have tried to draw any conclusions from these changes in the framework of their historical thought.[11]

As a matter of fact, even if historians of Antiquity and of Middle Ages have always had certain reservations about Elias’s theory of the civilizing process, in the wake of this paradigm change, his theory seems dead even under its own terms, in the same manner as outdated progressive and ethnocentric visions of history. It is not by chance that it was the anthropologists and ethnologists who studied non-western societies that were the first to grow interested in feeling as social reality, even as they strove to consider it in other terms.[12] They discovered in language, imagination and social customs the absence of a gap between reason and emotion, between soul and body—and in the same way, additional proof of the specifically western and ethnocentric nature of out classic representation of feelings, and more largely, of the entire subject. This fact explains why cultural constructivism and cognitivism have become epistemological reference potions for studying feeling and its social importance.[13] Without necessarily bringing in neurological science, which remains difficult to handle in our culture and field, the conjunction of cognitivist and constructivist theory presents a new scientific platform which allows us to get past the stale dualistic conceptions we have grown up with, despite their profound roots in our everyday language as well as our scholarly practices. However, if language and words are easily to analyze, it is much more difficult to question classic scientific methods and tool because this challenges the very foundations of our methodology.

In sum, it is no doubt because of this inherent difficulty connected with practicing or even considering the history of emotions, that this new field is so vulnerable to being dismissed as a fad of the postmodern era: first sexuality, then the body, and now emotions…! The accusation is even easier to make because emotion is exalted in our times: advertisements work on our feelings to sell the latest brand of yogurt, and politicians and the media for mobilizing public opinion. One need only go to the “psych” section of the bookstore to note the powerful impact of sentiment in our society. Questions if intimacy, individual identity and the place of feeling have great currency.  As Marc Bloch said long ago, all history is contemporary history: our interest as historians in emotions is certainly fed by the discussions of it in the society in which we live. Conversely, the study of emotion in past epochs can certainly help us to look into the reality of the senses today, and the discourses which surround them.

The Elusive Trail of Emotion

The primary difficulty of studying the history of emotions, and one which certainly contributed to its marginality, resides in the very definition of the subject. This, medieval emotion poses a problem even as one defines it: the exact term that we use, “emotion,” was unknown to medieval people, who themselves spoke of “passions” and “sentiments.” These terms are not self-evidently equivalent. If we do have a morally neutral term whose modern emergence had been brilliantly analyzed by Thomas Dixon, in the medieval world the word “passions” had rather a negative connotation as compared to “the passion of the Christ” while virtuous emotion was considered in the realm of affectus.

Another problem with emotion, in the sense that the word is used in French, is that it changes very rapidly, by definition, as psychologists still remind us. As a result, studies tend more often to stuffy lasting emotional states, which are more readily analyzable.  If we recognize the multi-sidedness of an emotion-event, a sudden fear or a spate of rage, a fleeting embarrassment or a hidden shock, what can the historian say about it beyond giving a physical and occasionally psychic description? How can emotion be grasped in its momentary nature by the sources? Difficult to define by their very nature, affective realities conceal themselves behind words or signifiers which are just as difficult to circumscribe within the sources. What is the meaning of a given word from some bygone age that has a completely different meaning now? Once again, a medieval example: compunction, compunctio in Latin, is the religious emotion par excellence in the medieval West, at the root of (and the heart of) the gift of tears—something that our era only can grasp with great difficulty.  Furthermore, what is the meaning of the gesture of blushing or going pale, in an image over 500 years old? Can a word or action reflect necessarily the same emotional meaning in such widely different contexts?

The historian must also confront the question of the evidence of the senses which he may or may not be able to touch, for the bulk of documents available come form elites, more clerical than secular, which are increasingly less numerous the further back one goes into the Middle Ages. What sense comes out of the emotions described when we remember that literacy in the Middle Ages represented above all a social ideal that clerics projected in their writings? The phrase “mute masses” of history is particularly apt in this case. We certainly can relate to what the American couple Peter and Carole Stearns, who in the 1980s were the first to attempt a history of the emotions, referred to as “emotionology,” that is, ‘The attitude or standards that a society, or a definable group within a society, maintains toward basic emotions and their appropriate expression [and] ways that institutions reflect and encourage these attitudes in human conduct.’[14] Furthermore, we might argue, in tune with contemporary sociologists, that reality is not only perceived but actually lived by people within the terms that they use to conceptualize and describe it. However in the Middle Ages, the clerical elite, in describing emotion, sought as well to propose a model of society which would prescribe to everyone the proper manner in which to live emotion, as opposed to other condemned ways. As has been demonstrated in the studies collected by Barbara Rosenwein on anger, an emotion may be considered honorable among elites, who make proper use of it, at the same time that it is forbidden to the common people, of even welcomed among laymen but forbidden to clerics.[15] This does not mean, for example, that a medieval peasant never got angry–only that the sources will speak less often about it, and when they do it will be to condemn a passion so dangerous in political terms.

Obviously, in such circumstances, what we might call the “real-life experience of people” seems hardly available to the historian. The diary was not a genre that existed at the time; correspondence was rarely couched in very personal terms. All we might compare to them, perhaps, are spiritual poetry, prayers and meditations. Thus, what the texts reveal most often is the fundamentally foreign nature of the medieval subject compared to the present day. The medieval subject carried within him- or herself the otherness represented by the figure of the divine, which could fill it with meaning, but at the same time, this special intimacy was directed towards Heaven.[16] In any case, in a society where the identity of individuals was tied up so intimately with their social status and function, the sources let us perceive only very tiny differences between emotional norms and actual practices—the two reflect each other in medieval evidence. In this way, the question, often put to medievalists, whether they have access to what the sources reveal beyond the norms, leads to an impasse.

Emotional Contagion

Emotion, when shared among people, is highly contagious, as everyone knows. In the Middle Ages, it frequently happened that a preacher brought his listeners to tears, or a saint in tears brought on sobs from his admirers, or that joy spread among all those who were present at a miracle, or then head the news of it. Various authors, such as Aelred of Rievaulx in the 12th century, referred to the ancient figure of the hypotypose in order to involve their potential recipients of information in the scenes related, and thus to inspire the very emotions they described in them.[17] Artists in the late Middle Ages sought the same effect in representing the donor among the figures depicted in the cycle of the passion.[18] This type of device raises a whole series of historical questions concerning on the one hand his emotional investment in his sources, followed by that of the reader, and on the other hand the means by which to guide or accompany it.

In back of all this, the historian must inevitably face the question of his own personal interest in the phenomenon of emotion, even before it comes to a discussion from a historical angle, and of the existential benefit he receives form such a commitment. As for all forms of history, or even writing, the history of emotion says a lot about the people who write it.

(Piroska Nagy) For me, the origin of my interest in medieval tears[19]—apart from the inspiration of Jacques Le Goff, who was then running a seminar on laughter, and than the phrase of Roland Barthes, pondering in Fragments d’un discourse amoureux, “Who will write the history of tears?”—comes out of a question by a young woman student about the limits of human freedom in the medieval period. To what extent, in Western Christian society, where social ties were forged largely within the Church, could there have been any freedom of feeling, an inner life similar to ours? Since the Church sought above all to Christianize emotion—God is love—faith was necessarily an emotional act, internal, even before it was connected with any social action. Did the Gospels, which declared that tears could lead to blessedness, leave any room for freedom of individual feeling, to cry otherwise? Naturally, when posed in such a fashion, the question was naïve and rather ahistorical; nevertheless, my multiyear voyage on the sea of shed past tears has brought me some answers. They were of course elsewhere than where I expected to find them. Above all, I have become aware of the culturally defined character of the emotion expressed in my sources. What is more, I cannot count the streams of tears it has taken me to do it, though they have permitted me to test myself the emotional benefit of tears. The answer to my original question resided in the gradual emotional Christianization of the medieval West. By my interest in the intimacy of tears, I was able to understand several different models, each belonging to a given milieu, and each radically different from our own; the mystic intimacy with God, friendship between men, courtly love… My work on historical emotion has also led me to enlarge the study to surrounding emotions, including those of my own. It has broadened, little by little, my own emotional culture, my capacity for emotional communication and even perhaps (I hope!) my emotional intelligence in life. Finally, I could not avoid being confronted by the limits of rational discourse and approaches to matters of the senses whose meaning cannot be readily categorized, since historians of feelings, like human beings in daily life, must meet without fail the question of the transmission and sharing of emotions, even as he/she must try to conceptualize them.

(Damien Boquet). At the start of the 1990s was the triumph of studies on gender and emotional identities. Having started two decades previously in a context of political affirmation of feminist and Gay/lesbian movements, the phenomenon took on a new vigor, urgent and dramatic, with the AIDS pandemic. How could we do medieval history in a time of AIDS? It seemed to me absurd and unthinkable not to take off from this question, first because the scandal of the disease had managed to strip bare the great poverty of emotional models and discourses of love that society had already legitimated. The seminar of Paulette L’Hermite-Leclercq at University of Paris-IV Sorbonne had taught me that gender history could not survive its 15 minutes of fame unless it was a history of human genders, of masculine and feminine mixed, where the paradigm of masculine domination, however undeniable, could not cover everything. That is why I began working on masculine friendship among monks from the angle of intellectual history—the same intellectual history that Alain Boureau was then emancipating from dull history of ideas—which turned the concept, once placed into a proper textual and contextual frame, revealing of representations, but also of behavior. The genealogical search into the medieval Christian notion of emotion that I was then leading, confirmed my belief in the inadequacy of modern transpositions coming out of “Gay studies”, as well as the originality of monastic anthropology which supported such a specific emotional sociability, a homo-emotionalism unique to the 12th century[20]. The question of origins was fundamentally contemporary, personal and intimate as well (and how else?) but the answers themselves were not reducible to the specific sources studied. The broader questions that actuated the inquiry in the first place retain their currency. Contemporary societies, thrown out of sorts by a social use of emotion of which they can master neither the codes nor the operation, swing back and forth between privation and bulimia; art best they witness an awkward projection of the sphere of the intimate, the only one in which we have at least some reference points in terms of feeling. By exploring periods of the past in which emotion had not yet contracted and in which it enjoyed full social effectiveness, the historian sheds indispensable light on a subject, which would otherwise be missed within the social sciences.

Anyone who finds, in our joint writing, beyond the intellectual convergence in the subjects of our respective studies and in our methods of inquiry, a determination to practice the historian’s craft differently, to nourish emotionally a history of feelings rather than to fight to exclude them, is quite right. How then can the back-and-forth between past and present help us to sum up the past for contemporary readers? Familiarity creates sensitivity: by reading ancient authors, we grasp their culture and their psychology. Not only do we understand them, but we also feel them better. To transmit emotions which spread and circulate around all the manifestations of life in society, which define the contours of lasting emotional states as well as social status, which delimit what is acceptable and that which is condemned in relations between human beings,  we must carefully master the context of each historical configuration. At the same time, we must make use of an intuitive reading of sources, where we use our empathy, something particularly useful for understanding hat which exists beyond words, the existential significance of an event, an action, or a connection. The sensitive reader can flush out the emotional content of ancient documents, even when it is implicit, as Sylvain Piron suggests it in his reading of the Epistolae duarium amantium or Letters of two lovers, probably the original correspondence between Eloise and Abelard at the very time of their romantic passion.[21] Piron draws forth, from the interstices of assembled words, across tenderness and coldness, hidden reproaches and silences, the stages of the liaison. In fact, in our daily life, we often deduce meanings from a speaker’s tone of voice, from their gestures rather than the agency of the words by themselves. We are well aware that a person may say one thing and yet, by the gestures and tone of voice accompanying it, alter the meaning, or even reverse it completely. None of this language of the body has come down to us: using linguistic or figurative signifiers, we are reduced to guessing the meta-linguistic meaning, and to reconstructing it meticulously from the tiniest signs. For the emotion evoked by the text is not always felt, the same way that an emotion that is not explicitly formulated can offer mute testimony to a mood… Henceforth, it is hardly possible to reduce the emotions present in the sources to a study of vocabulary, even though it is a fruitful and indispensable stage of the inquiry. Just as the markers of emotion do not automatically designate the emotion that is actually felt, the part played by performance, ritualization, or emotional manipulation cannot be exaggerated. This is why we can’t agree with Gerd Althoff that expressed emotions, especially in relations of power among the aristocracy, are all ritual, performative, without any feeling in them.[22]

Conversely, when we make an intuitive reading, the use of empathy can naturally carry with it its own dangers, as well as its own benefits. The methodological issue here is a dual one: how can we say with scholarly assurance that we suspect an emotion is at play in the course of a source when the source does not say or show this explicitly? How, then, do we use in our historical discourse this emotional communication (that is, the emotional echo of the source within us and the capacity to transmit this emotion to the reader)—while the evocative power of emotions is known by everyone, even if the “serious” historian pretends to forbid it to himself? The protocols of approaches to work must take off from a narrow analysis of vocabulary, but in order to better grasp the meta-language of the work, they must also include the study of the narrative process itself, the “screenplay” and the actors, according to the proposition of Robert Kaster, under the inspiration of cognitive science.[23] It is only by this kind of broad-based approach that a historian can even hope to restore the emotional system that is present beyond the resistances and silences.

Questions remain concerning the expression of emotion in a historical work itself, in its social distribution. Certainly it is in part a question of rhetoric and style. The goal of historical discourse is to convince and, since Thucydides, historians have used the art of emotion to do it. As Carlo Ginzburg recalls, Aristotle himself made the exciting of passions among the audience a distinct element of the art of rhetoric.[24] There is no question of replacing comprehension with an attempt to make people feel the same things the author does or his heroes did, in the name of an illusory catharsis, as Ramsay MacMullen would have it[25], but rather of using emotion transposed alongside explanation within the same historical discourse. This approach can be justified by the exchange of feelings, one that can be considered as analogous to the benefits accruing from transference in the psychoanalytic process: emotion helps, by the participation of feelings that it stirs, sharpen the process of comprehension. Thus the approach we are proposing here simply integrates into the historical approach itself, and into the writing of history, the achievements of cognitive science, which underscore the anthropological findings: emotion thinks and reason feels. We might verify the possibility of such a history by reading the recent work by Sophie Wahnich devoted to the coming of the French Republic in 1792, La longue Patience du peuple[26], which starts with a powerful address to the reader. Wahnich takes up precisely the political emotions of the revolutionary people as a “specific mode of judgment” and not as a succession of revolutionary warm-up exercises. She elaborates the conviction, taken from the work of Georges Lefebvre, that the collective sharing of emotion presupposes and reveals a community of interpretation. The strength of the book lies in the choice, which can’t be reduced to the personality of its author, to let the “voice” of the people be heard, in the same way that in a baroque opera the affeti “are not simply ornaments, but give meaning to the positions of the different characters”:

“Yes, dear reader, I am coming to it; the point is to recount the voice of the people, to try to reconstitute it, to show how it arises and how it gets hidden or surges forth to be replaced by the text of a libretto where the law must be made to speak.”

Five hundred pages and a few acts later, Wahnich sets down both her pen and baton by agreeing with Georges Duby that a passionate history is also a true one.

Both classical texts and our own productions are thus meeting points between author and reader, but also between ages; there is where emotion comes in. It is useful here to distinguish among the levels of its manifestation. The first level is that of the study of words, contexts, scenarios and the narrative processes which relate and perform emotion. At a second, higher level, we reap the emotional advantage inspired by readings of the ancient author, according to his own designs— and just like his erstwhile recipient. In the third stage, the intended emotion must be separated from that which the historian reader of the source himself feels. Finally, at the highest level, the historian must transpose the emotion into his own discourse—thereby building a bridge between the source and the contemporary reader, that secondary beneficiary—but only on condition that he likewise demonstrates lucidity in his approach, associating means of rhetoric and of analysis to make the emotions felt. Without such lucidity, it is to easy to be (over)taken by emotion alone, whether it be ours or ancient emotion, and then the historian runs the same risk of  failure as a psychotherapist who falls in love with his patient.

To speak of emotions as a historian today requires an intelligence that is sensitive to sources and that can come to terms with the implications of the very exercise of our scholarly practice. It is difficult and risky to give up our ancient certitudes, yet such is the condition that must be met in order for us to do a modern history of feeling. At the same time, we must be attentive to the danger of manipulation of historical memory that is done in the name of legitimizing the use of emotion in history.[27] In a world devoted to the cult of immediate emotion, and which tends to deny social links and the role of mediation, it is all the more important to remember, when we try to consider society, the multiplicity of mediations and the involvement of feelings in each historical operation as in each act of communication.

[1] These ideas arose in the framework of the research project EMMA, EMotions au Moyen Age, financed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche in France (2006-2008).  Part of the questions considered here are dealt with in D. Boquet – P. Nagy, ‘Pour une histoire des émotions: l’historien face aux questions contemporaines’, in D. Boquet – P. Nagy (eds), Le Sujet des émotions au Moyen Âge (Paris: Beauchesne, 2009), pp. 15-51.

[2] L. Febvre, ‘La sensibilité dans l’histoire: les courants collectifs de pensée et d’action’, in La Sensibilité dans l’homme et dans la nature, 10e Semaine Internationale de Synthèse, 7-12 Juin 1938 (Paris: PUF, 1943), pp. 77-100 (discussion pp. 101-6). Another version: ‘La sensibilité et l’histoire: comment reconstituer la vie affective d’autrefois ?’, Annales d’histoire sociale 3 (1941), pp. 221-38.

[3] A. Corbin, Historien du sensible. Entretiens avec Gilles Heuré (Paris: La Découverte, 2000), p. 182.

[4] B. H. Rosenwein, ‘Worrying about Emotions in History’, American Historical Review 107 (2002), pp. 821-45; R. C. Solomon, The Passions. Emotions and the Meaning of Life (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993).

[5] T. Dixon, From Passions to Emotions, The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[6] N. Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and psychogenetic investigations (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) (original edition 1939).

[7] J. Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) (original edition 1919).

[8] A. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Penguin Books, 2005, c1994); J. LeDoux, The Emotional Brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life (New York: Simon & Schuster, c1996).

[9] See now A. Piolat et R. Bannour, ‘Émotions et affects: contribution de la psychologie cognitive’, in Le Sujet des émotions médiévales, pp. 53-84.

[10] Among many others, see Solomon, The Passions. Emotions and the Meaning of Life; R. de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotions (Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 1987); J. Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

[11] D. L. Smail, On Deep History and the Brain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

[12] M.Z. Rosaldo, Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980); R. Harré (ed.), The Social Construction of Emotions (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986).

[13] Cf. The Social Construction of Emotions.

[14] P. N. Stearns and C. Z. Stearns, ‘Emotionology. Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards’, American Historical Review, 90 (1985), p. 813.

[15] B. H. Rosenwein (ed.), Anger’s Past. The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages (Ithaca-London: Cornell University Press, 1998).

[16] P. Nagy, ‘Individualité et larmes monastiques: une expérience de soi ou de Dieu ?’ in G. Melville – M. Schürer eds., Das Eigene und das Ganze. Zum Individuellen im mittelalterlichen Religiosentum (Vita regularis. Ordnungen und Deutungen religiosen Lebens im Mittelalter, Bd. 16), (Münster: Lit Verlag, 2003), pp. 107-30.

[17] Voir A. Boureau, ‘La mise en scène du divin’, in Id., L’Événement sans fin (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1993), pp. 43-4.

[18] B. d’Hainaut-Zveny, ‘L’ivresse sobre: Pratiques de “rejeu” empathiques des images médiévales’, in Le Sujet des émotions médiévales, pp. 393-414.

[19] P. Nagy, Le don des larmes au Moyen Âge. Un instrument spirituel en quête d’institution (Ve-XIIIe siècles (Paris: Albin Michel, 2000).

[20] D. Boquet, L’Ordre de l’affect au Moyen Âge. Autour de l’anthropologie affective d’Aelred de Rievaulx (Caen: Publications du CRAHM, 2005).

[21] Lettres des deux amants, attribuées à Héloïse et Abélard, Traduction et présentation par S. Piron, (Paris: Gallimard, 2005).

[22] See for instance G. Althoff, ‘Du rire et des larmes. Pourquoi les émotions intéressent-elles les médiévistes ?’, Écrire l’histoire, 1/2 (2008) : Les Émotions, pp. 27-39; and beyond: G. Althoff, Die Macht der Rituale. Symbolik und Herrschaft im Mittelalter (Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 2003), and G. Althoff (ed.), Formen und Funktionen öffentlicher Kommunikation im Mittelalter (Stuttgart: Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 2001).

[23] R. Kaster, Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

[24] C. Ginzburg, History, Rhetoric, and Proof, “The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures” (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1999), chapter 1.

[25] R. MacMullen, Feelings in History, Ancient and Modern (Claremont, Calif.: Regina Books, 2003).

[26] S Wahnich, La longue patience du people. 1792: Naissance de la République (Paris: Payot, 2008).

[27] Voir C. Prochasson, L’Empire des émotions. Les historiens dans la mêlée (Paris: Demopolis, 2008).

Appel à communications : Émotions pré-modernes entre Occident et Orient à Istanbul, Septembre 2011

The Cultural History of Emotions in Pre-modernity II

Emotions East and West

İstanbul, Sept. 29-Oct. 01, 2011

Building on the momentum of the successful 2008 workshop held at Umeå University in Sweden, a new conference on the cultural history of emotions is now being organized, this time in İstanbul, Turkey. Developed jointly by historians at Sabancı University (İstanbul), Bilkent University (Ankara), University of Washington (Seattle) and the Network for Cultural History of Emotions in Pre-modernity (CHEP) at Umeå University, the program will run over three days and include six invited keynote talks and a full calendar of talks by established scholars, post-graduates and advanced graduate students in the arts and humanities, in addition to providing opportunities to sample life in one of the world’s most fascinating cities.
The conference’s general theme is Emotions in East and West.  So far the history of emotions has been dominated by a western and European perspective. Our aim is to organize a first conference on this theme in Turkey which we hope will attract new scholars and students into the field and bring researchers from east and west together for discussions on how to develop comparative and multicultural analyses in the future. We welcome contributions on all aspects of the cultural history of emotions from as many disciplines and diverse approaches as possible, including (but not limited to) history, the history of ideas, art, literature, musicology, politics, philosophy, cultural anthropology, religion, and gender studies.  The conference will continue to explore the broad themes of the Umeå gathering: for example, emotions as a historical concept, emotions in religious and political contexts, visual representations of emotions and emotional gestures, the language of emotions and its literary manifestations, music and emotions, the gendering of emotions, sensibility, sentimentalism, love, melancholy, and despair. In addition we will especially welcome papers dealing with inter-cultural representations of emotions (Easterners and Westerners representing each other’s emotions), emotions and cultural identities, multi-cultural and comparative perspectives.
The organizing committee is inviting submissions of one-page abstracts of papers to be summarized as 20 minute talks at the İstanbul conference.  The papers should, in general, treat the topic of the history of emotions in the pre-modern period.  For the Umeå workshop the “pre-modern period” was presumed to end at the turn of the 18th century, which is acceptable from a strictly western perspective but questionable when the focus of the conference broadens to take in the East, where the nature of “modernity” and the broad moment of its inception are contentious issues.  Accordingly, papers dealing with non-western emotions in the 18th century (and even later) will be considered when a compelling argument is made for the “pre-modernity” of the emotional context. The language of the Conference is English. Please send one-page abstracts before Dec. 01 2010, to:
To download this announcement, please click here.
Conference Organizers:

Walter G. Andrews, University of Washington

Tülay Artan, Sabancı University
Mohammad Fazlhashemi, Umeå University, CHEP
Mehmet Kalpaklı, Bilkent University
Jonas Liliequist, Umeå University, CHEP

Vient de paraître: Francis Dupuis-Déri, Lacrymos

Lacrymos comme bombe lacrymo, gaz lacrymogène…

“J’avais vu tant d’activistes verser des larmes dans les nuages de gaz lacrymogène, que les policiers lançaient sans retenue contre les contestataires du néolibéralisme et du capitalisme… Mais il y a aussi toutes ces larmes dont la source se cache dans l’expérience sensible, dans une vision du monde qui se heurte à un monde sans vision”, écrit Francis Dupuis-Déri, professeur de sciences politiques à l’UQAM, analyste des mouvements radicaux anticapitalistes et militant lui-même. Ce sont ces larmes politiques, les larmes de la colère, de l’injustice, dont nous rend compte l’enquête qu’il propose dans ce petit livre, où l’auteur propose à des dizaines de militants de ce bord-ci et de l’autre de l’Atlantique, de réfléchir sur leurs larmes. Le livre témoigne, de la sorte, du fait que pour les anarchistes – ces hommes et femmes mobilisés par révolte contre un ordre du monde qui ne se laisse changer par une  parole de raison tranquille – “la politique et la raison de l’engagement sont pensées en lien avec les émotions”.

À la lecture de ces témoignages souvent émouvants qui dévoilent à quel point la pensée politique se nourrit autant d’émotion que de raison, on ressent le même élan de vie que dans l’engagement pour une histoire sensible de l’historienne Sophie Wahnich, qui écrit dans son dernier livre : “Pour rompre avec cette politique de la pitié qui fonde une histoire neutralisée, il faudrait savoir si, après la faillite des grands récits, des valeurs politiques sont à nouveau mobilisables pour transmettre une histoire critique qui serait sensible en tant qu’elle serait justement porteuse de ces valeurs.  Réclamer une histoire sensible, ce serait alors renouer avec Rabelais et affirmer : science historique sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme ! ” (voir notre billet  : )

« Amour et désamour du prince du haut Moyen Âge à la Révolution française » (compte-rendu)

Amour et désamour du prince au Moyen Âge

Compte-rendu de la journée d’études qui s’est tenue à l’université de Nanterre le 20 mai 2010, par

Piroska NAGY et Laurent SMAGGHE

Pour voir le programme complet et le lieu précis de la journée, cliquez ici

La journée d’études proposée par le Centre d’Histoire Sociale et Culturelle de l’Occident et organisée par Josiane Barbier, Monique Cottret et Lydwine Scordia à l’Université de Paris Ouest-Nanterre le 20 mai avait pour sujet d’examiner l’émergence et le sens du thème de l’amour mentionné par les sources tardo-médiévales et modernes, mais aussi de s’interroger plus largement sur la place des sentiments dans la relation entre le roi et ses sujets. La journée proposait une progression chronologique : en partant des Mérovingiens, nous en sommes arrivés, avant midi, à l’époque de Philippe le Bel ; l’après-midi a suivi la progression de la fin du Moyen Âge à l’aube de la Révolution française. Les communications ont toutes embrassé l’espace franc puis français avec des incursions dans les anciens Pays-Bas bourguignons.


La communication de Régine Le Jan sur « Entre amour et haine du roi : quelques réflexions sur les relations politiques au Haut Moyen Âge » s’est intéressée successivement à trois types de relations affectives au roi : amor regis, timor regis et odium regis, à partir surtout des chroniqueurs de l’époque (mis à part Venance Fortunat qu’on ne peut guère catégoriser de la sorte, Grégoire de Tours et Frédégaire). Ainsi l’amour public, qui traduit encore un idéal tardo-antique chez Venance Fortunat, apparaît avant tout comme réciproque, moteur du circuit contrôlé des richesses dans les élites franques. Il gomme la compétition accrue par la circulation des honneurs, qui est au contraire très présente chez Grégoire de Tours, dont les histoires sont pleines de crainte et de vengeance, bien que l’amour soit toujours présent. Enfin, à la fin du VIIe siècle, la haine traduit les luttes politiques du moment. De manière générale, les liens affectifs au roi traduisent sa place exceptionnelle dans la société : il doit être craint, comme Dieu ; alors que le maire du palais et la reine continuent, tout en la dirigeant, à participer à la circulation de l’amour dans les élites.

Yves Sassier, dans sa communication intitulée « Inspirer l’amour, inspirer la crainte », a étudié la constitution de l’idéal chrétien en termes de relations affectives entre le prince et ses sujets, et son devenir entre le IXe et le XIIe siècle dans les miroirs des princes, en s’appuyant sur une très large gamme de sources depuis la Bible jusqu’au-delà du Haut Moyen Âge. Il a pris pour point de départ l’alternative crainte / amour dans la pensée politique, telle que la pose Cicéron et Machiavel tout en y donnant des réponses opposées, pour montrer qu’elle doit être écartée pour cette période. La littérature chrétienne constitue au contraire un idéal de relation au roi où crainte et amour apparaissent comme complémentaires. Cet amour-crainte, dû au roi, permet la reconnaissance de sa toute-puissance, du contenu sacré de son pouvoir, qui se façonne à l’image du pouvoir divin, seul placé au-dessus et en modèle. Cette crainte-amour est alors une force positive, confiance dans la force et la justice du roi (et de Dieu), qui offre protection et sécurité. En effet, l’alternative n’apparaît jamais dans la littérature interrogée (qui va de la Bible en passant par la littérature parénétique jusqu’aux miroirs de l’époque carolingienne au XIIe siècle), à la seule exception de Jean de Salisbury. Les miroirs (de Smaragde, de Jonas d’Orléans, de Sedulius Scottus, de Hincmar de Reims, enfin d’Hugues de Fleury)  font une place, en fait, non pas à l’affectivité dans le comportement royal mais avant tout aux vertus qui doivent être celles du prince : prudence, clémence, miséricorde et justice, vertus qui constituent la perfection royale dans l’exercice du service permettant de consolider la royauté.

Les deux communications portant sur le haut Moyen Âge ont permis de suivre, dans sa constitution et son incorporation, la pensée politique chrétienne dont les éléments, présents dans les textes interrogés par Régine Le Jan, se déploient entre la Bible, la littérature d’exhortation haut-médiévale et les traités de bon gouvernement proposés aux princes. La progression des deux communications a permis de saisir les points d’ancrage en termes d’affectivité de la christianisation du pouvoir à l’époque carolingienne. À les considérer ensemble, il importe de noter que les deux communications se sont distinguées par le type de source interrogée : alors qu’Yves Sassier s’est appuyé sur la littérature d’exhortation et les miroirs, donc avant tout sur des sources normatives, ainsi que sur la Bible qui est devenue source de norme pour le Moyen Âge, Régine Le Jan s’est servie de sources narratives ou poétiques, porteuses certes d’un idéal mais moins formellement constituées dans ce but.

Les deux communications suivantes se sont intéressées à la question entre la seconde moitié du XIIIe siècle et 1300. D’abord, à propos d’un sceau de 1303, proposant la première représentation de Saint Louis en saint et représentant la dévotion que lui voue la ville de Pézenas dont Jean-Luc Chasset a étudié la naissance et la datation dans le contexte politique local. Au-delà d’une démonstration serrée de l’originalité et de la datation du sceau en question, la figuration en dévotion au roi des bourgeois de la ville a permis de se demander si la dévotion relève bien de l’amour du roi.

Lydwine Scordia a ensuite proposé une lecture du traité politique aristotélicien écrit pour le jeune Philippe le Bel aussi durablement célèbre qu’à l’impact immédiat qu’est le De regimine principum de Gilles de Rome, afin d’y étudier les concepts et registres de l’amour et du désamour du roi – tout particulièrement puisque l’amour, dont les termes et les acceptions, les usages et les sens varient, est un concept clé du traité. Dans la continuité des questions posées plus tôt, l’étude comme la discussion ont permis de réfléchir sur la nature même des termes désignant l’amour et du lien d’amour politique. De fait, amor, dilectio, caritas peuvent relever, selon le contexte et l’auctoritas cités, tant du domaine psychologique qu’éthique, des passions de l’âme ou des vertus : cette catégorisation, opaque pour le lecteur moderne mais claire pour les contemporains de l’auteur, prescrit des questionnements et des traitements différents dont l’historien de l’affect doit tenir compte.

Les communications de la matinée ont permis de poser une question essentielle, au cœur du sujet de la journée : l’amour du prince dont parlent les sources narratives ou littéraires relève-t-il, de fait, de l’affectivité, et dans quelle mesure ? S’agit-il de « relation d’amour » au sens propre, entre le prince et ses sujets ? Les éléments apportés par les communications permettent de répondre à ces questions dans deux sens opposés. Si l’on tente de répondre à ces questions du point de vue des sources, la réponse serait négative. L’amour public dû au roi est formulé à l’image de l’amour-crainte dû à Dieu : il s’agit d’une relation hiérarchique, dans une structure dionysienne, qui n’a rien de la réciprocité. L’amour dont il est question alors ne se comprend que relié à l’ensemble des vertus chrétiennes que le prince doit observer pour bien exercer sa fonction, qui est avant tout une fonction de service, celui de Dieu et du peuple à guider vers le salut. En revanche du point de vue d’une anthropologie de l’affect médiéval, nous devons essayer de comprendre les registres affectif et éthique, les passions de l’âme et les vertus côte à côte, faisant partie de la même construction anthropologique, normative et comportementale. Un des acquis de l’histoire de l’affectivité des dernières années consiste précisément à inclure dans le champ d’étude tant l’affect public ou politique que les émotions collectives; l’affect vertical ressenti envers Dieu tout autant que l’affect horizontal engagé dans la vie quotidienne, dans la mesure où ils constituent les facettes complémentaires d’une vision de l’homme, du monde et de la société, et composent ensemble les moyens sensibles d’être au monde à la disposition de chacun.


La communication présentée par Laurent Smagghe avait pour sujet la dualité observée entre le « plaisir » de châtier et la joie de pardonner, observable dans les réactions princières face aux révoltes urbaines au sein des Pays-Bas bourguignons de la fin du Moyen-Âge. Elle a permis d’établir que la colère constitue un moyen de gouvernement et fait partie de la communication symbolique entre le prince et ses villes, au même titre que l’amour auquel elle est indissolublement liée et qu’elle ne contredit pas. Le prince ne doit céder à cette émotion, source de possibles transgressions, qu’en tout dernier recours et de façon modérée. Il doit en conséquence s’entourer de conseillers dont la sagesse lui permet d’éviter autant que possible les passages à l’acte violents et hors de proportion qui portent préjudice aux vertus essentielles que sont la clémence, la bénignité et la débonnaireté. Un temps de réflexion qui est aussi celui de la négociation doit permettre à la ville de se rétracter ou de plaider sa cause, et au prince d’évaluer la juste réaction à adopter. Faire régulièrement la démonstration de sa force pour mâter les rébellions ne doit pas le faire verser dans la haine et la cruauté qui relèvent de la tyrannie. L’amour du prince est donc perceptible dans l’exercice de sa justice, mais se révèle plus encore dans son pardon, formalisé par le rituel de l’amende honorable, qui fait de la colère une émotion strictement délimitée dans le temps, voire réversible, cédant la place à l’amour contractuel.

Jean Hubac a abordé le thème de l’amour et du désamour à travers l’exemple des Huguenots dans leur rapport au monarque pour la période du premier XVIIe siècle. La légitimité divine du roi, image vivante de Dieu, explique le respect et l’amour qui lui sont dus, qui relèvent de l’attachement au « roi-père ». Comme à plusieurs reprises au cours de cette journée, il a été mis en évidence les fondements bibliques à l’origine de la relation d’amour du roi envers ses sujets et de ceux-ci envers leur monarque. Le caractère intéressé de ce sentiment amoureux a également été établi, après que la question d’un amour gratuit après 1629 ait été posée comme l’un des axes problématiques de l’intervention. Les protestants prétendant à une relation directe et exclusive avec Dieu, ils se posent donc en conseillers privilégiés du roi mais également en intercesseurs. Mais la question récurrente de la journée portant sur l’existence d’un amour comme sentiment spécifiquement politique est restée sans réponse possible, et cela d’autant plus que le mot n’apparaît pas directement dans les quelques 300 sources étudiées.

Avec Monique Cottret, c’est l’historiographie des journées d’octobre 1789 qui a été revisitée. Après un rappel des événements, l’intervenante a montré la corrélation patente entre le roi, le pain et l’amour dans ces journées. Le désamour pour le monarque né sous le règne de Louis XV est dû à une dégradation de l’image du souverain. A l’origine de celle-ci, la déréglementation du commerce du grain et ses répercussions sur le prix du pain, de même que l’absence de piété du roi et les rumeurs dont il est l’objet. Cette désacralisation et ce désamour n’entraînent pas cependant la défaveur pour son successeur qui demeure très longtemps populaire : il est un roi vainqueur, proche de son peuple et rassurant, au moins jusqu’à Varennes. Le mécontement du peuple est patent mais le roi en est longtemps préservé. Cet amour est cependant désacralisé, ce n’est plus un amour avec révérence. Les cris de la foule ne s’adressent pas au roi, à l’inverse de Marie-Antoinette qui est la cible de nombreux cris de haine et d’écrits pornographiques. Les journées d’octobre ne signalent donc pas plus la fin de l’amour porté au roi que celui de la monarchie. Il s’agit seulement de s’élever contre la monarchie absolue.

Anne Quennedey a développé la notion de « communauté des affections » empruntée à Saint Just, pour y voir en l’occurrence une définition des sentiments que les citoyens ont envers la république, et en conséquence la haine éprouvée à l’endroit du tyran. Ce sont donc des ressorts affectifs qui fondent la République. Saint Just établit que Louis XVI a trahi et opprimé le peuple et le représente comme un criminel endurci. Le peuple a aimé le roi malgré cette oppression mais a fini par le haïr, mais ce peuple est versatile par nature et il risque de se laisser amollir dans sa haine par un sentiment de pitié. Contre cela, il faut lutter et cultiver la haine du peuple pour le roi car de celle-ci naît la haine pour le régime monarchique. Saint Just, contrairement à l’opinion des historiens romantiques, n’est pas animé par la haine cependant : son acharnement est fondé par son désir de justice qui doit ignorer la pitié, et il prône l’indifférence aux malheurs qui peuvent advenir au roi car seul le bien commun importe. Supprimer le roi, c’est supprimer un régime injuste. L’intervenante s’inscrit également en faux contre la supposée xénophobie de Saint Just et apporte des arguments pour la nuancer sensiblement. En conclusion, le surnom donné à Saint Just d’Archange de la terreur est exagéré, d’autant qu’il s’oppose à la peine de mort et critique la Terreur.

Conclusions de F. Hildesheimer

F. Hildesheimer s’est d’abord félicitée que l’ensemble des communications ait évité de tomber dans une lecture contemporaine des émotions, source d’anachronismes. La chronologie formée par les interventions de la journée est fort large mais limitée, et de nombreux espaces doivent encore être comblés.

Ce thème de l’amour et du désamour du prince relie, c’est une évidence, à l’histoire du pouvoir et donne envie de relire P. Hazard.

Au-delà de l’intérêt évident de ce sujet, plusieurs problèmes se posent qui ressortent de cette journée d’études et qu’il faudrait creuser davantage. Parmi ceux-ci, la question de l’opposition entre l’idéal que dessinent les sources et la réalité du temps, question à laquelle il est évidemment difficile d’apporter des éléments de réponse définitifs. Une approche scientifique nécessite en outre que l’on établisse des corpus plus systématiques. Vient ensuite le problème du sens à accorder aux mots, encore biaisé par la traduction des termes latins en langue vernaculaire. Des thèmes ont également été effleurés qu’il serait bon de creuser : la paternité, la rébellion, le pardon, la salut, la raison, de même que la question des femmes. De plus, on s’est aperçu, avec les nombreuses occurrences de l’entourage du roi, que celui-ci n’est pas seul et qu’il faut sans doute étudier ce thème de l’amour-désamour en prenant en considération son entourage. Plus largement encore, on peut se demander comment cette théorie de l’amour du roi est vécue sur le terrain par ses représentants que sont les juges.

Rire et pleurer dans une perspective interdisciplinaire

Überraschendes Lachen, gefordertes Weinen. Gefühle und Prozesse. Kulturen und Epochen im Vergleich (Rire impromptu, pleurs obligés. Sentiments et procesus. Cultures et époques comparées), August Nitschke, Justin Stagl, Dieter R. Bauer eds.,Wien-Köln-Weimar, Böhlau Vlg, 2009, 55

Le gros ouvrage ci-contre (768 p.), qui contient une trentaine d’articles embrassant des aires spatio-temporelles aussi différentes que la Mésopotamie antique, le monde des Mayas, l’Europe médiévale et le Bénin, et des approches scientifiques allant de la neurobiologie à la sinologie, de la musicologie à l’archéologie, est une tentative très ambitieuse, comme le sont souvent les produits collectifs allemands, pour élaborer une vision interdisciplinaire donnant des bases pour une anthropologie aussi bien culturelle qu’historique, concernant l’expression des émotions concernées.

Table des matières

Compte rendu en allemand