Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, ISBN: 9780199655731; 304pp.; Price: £65.00
University of Kent
Date accessed: 27 January, 2023
As Frevert says in introducing this volume, modern-day society is starting to pay increasing attention to emotions and how to manage or understand them. This collected volume reports how emotions have been documented historically in encyclopaedias and reference sources over the period 1700–2000. Published in the Emotions in History series by OUP, the volume is written by authors linked to the Centre for History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. The nine authors involved are a multidisciplinary group of humanists and social scientists at various academic career stages from professorial to postdoctoral level (with a majority of contributions from postdoctoral researchers). The lead author, Ute Frevert, is the director of the above-mentioned Max Planck Institute, with a track record in modern socio-cultural history and history of emotions which makes her well placed to oversee this volume.
The main sources for the book come from a painstakingly thorough compilation of German-, English- and French-language encyclopaedias and reference sources spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The compiled research material is vast in quantity and coverage: a valuable set of resources which Frevert and her colleagues are making available to other researchers on request. Frevert introduces the volume in the first chapter by providing an initial overview of debates, concepts and issues relevant to the documentation of emotions. The book then moves into specialised chapters, each taking quite a different perspective on the source material, and analyses entries in the contexts of those perspectives. Though analysis focuses on the reference source material, arguments are supplemented by relevant related sources to some degree. Frevert concludes the book with a final chapter bringing together the various strands of knowledge that have been covered.
In the introductory chapter, Frevert justifies a fundamental decision underpinning the entire volume: the choice to base the analyses so heavily on reference/encyclopaedic material through the centuries. Encyclopaedias and reference lexicons are seen as superior sources for locating contemporary knowledge about emotions and revealing the vocabularies used to discuss this knowledge. The case for this standpoint can be made if considering such knowledge purely from a scholarly perspective, though I wonder whether the inclusion of newspapers, periodicals or dictionaries would have afforded a broader overall perspective (although greatly increasing the already vast source collection and literature review processes). Being based on European reference material in German, English and French, Frevert also acknowledges the Euro-centric nature of the source material and the resulting limitations on the book's contributions: ‘this book sees itself only as a building block’ (p. 11) rather than a comprehensive coverage of all emotional lexicons. Within the constraints imposed by the choice of sources, the authors (and those who compiled the reference material) are to be commended for the detail in which each chapter investigates its own particular aspect of the reference material.
The first specialised chapter is on ‘Topographies of emotion’, written by Monique Scheer. The location, temporality and depth of emotions are investigated via a contrast of ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ in the context of emotions (p. 32 and elsewhere). Scheer notes a shift in emphasis in the description of emotions, from philosophical introspection on the essence of emotions (‘inner’) towards outwardly displayed, embodied emotions (‘outer’). Here Scheer echoes observations in Frevert's introductory chapter, which also describes how scholarly perspectives on emotions changed over the period of study in this volume, moving from philosophical and theoretical approaches to a more recent cognitive/neurological perspective.
Frevert argues in chapter one that changes in scholarly approaches to the study of emotion have led to a disconnect between the 18th- and 19th-century scholarly work from philosophy, literary theory and art theory and more recent cognitive/neurological work. This is a disconnect that the current volume is intended to address. The volume aims to consider evidence collectively from the three centuries under study, to position modern social debates and reflections in a fuller historical context. Such an aim explains the (in my eyes, welcome) presence of chapters such as those on evolution and on non-verbal expressions of emotion: chapters that may otherwise seem out of place in a volume concentrating on providing a historical account of lexicons used to describe emotions over the centuries.
In investigating how emotions are communicated non-verbally (chapter three), Anne Schmidt investigates aesthetic perspectives, physiological work and analysis of facial expressions. Schmidt contextualises her analyses by highlighting various important scholarly developments prior to the period of study, in the 17th century, setting the scene for the analysis of the 18th–20th-century sources. This chapter interprets the book’s theme of ‘Emotional lexicons’ as lexicons describing emotional communication (verbal and non-verbal), not solely as vocabulary used to describe emotions. While mainly focusing on German-language sources, Schmidt cross-references between different languages on occasion and acknowledges some cultural differences. For example, Theodor Piderit’s work is highlighted in some detail, recognising the influence of Piderit’s work on German sources on the physiological demonstration of emotion. Schmidt does note, though, that Piderit did not exert much influence on British sources.
Eitler (chapter four) considers how human emotions may have originated from animal emotions. Various contrasts and distinctions are discussed, based around the origin and evolution of emotions:
- where are emotions thought to be located: are emotions in the brain, or the mind, or the soul, or the body, or elsewhere?
- contrasts between feelings and rational thinking
- contrasts between human and animals in terms of emotions
- contrasts between physiology (i.e. body/biologically-based perspectives) and psychology (i.e. mental/cognitive-based perspectives
A genealogy of emotions is developed in Eitler's analysis, tracing the history of these above-mentioned distinctions. As well as investigating animal emotions to understand evolutionary pathways through to human emotions, Eitler reports on the source material's information on the extent to which animals actually experience emotions, and on whether people can (or cannot) empathise and feel compassion with animals’ emotions.
Continuing on the theme of physical and mental interactions around emotions, Hitzer investigates the effect of emotions on health, illnesses, pain and healing. In the earlier materials, the reference sources show how the human body was treated as a unification of body and soul. Discussions on emotions and health mostly related to observations on pathology such as blood circulation and on how feelings affected the mechanics of the body. Tracing through the later sources, Hitzer identifies a growing separation between physical and mental health, such that there was less emphasis on links between emotions and physical illnesses and more links drawn between emotions and mental health. This trend developed in distinct ways across Britain, France and Germany (the three main countries represented in the reference material); by the 20th century there were noticeable differences across national borders as to how feelings, emotion and illness were connected. Hitzer identifies and questions these differences and possible reasons behind them. This discussion concludes with observations about the current breadth of treatments involving emotions and feelings in contemporary and alternative health approaches.
Moving topic from health to ageing, Verheyen takes a historical perspective on the variety of ways in which age-related factors and emotions interact (chapter six). Verheyen examines emotional changes throughout life and the ways in which age influences the effects of emotions on people, based on analysis of the German-language reference sources. Encyclopaedia entries relevant to age/ageing were considered as well as emotions. At the start of the 1700–2000 period, people were classified according to their age into different phases of life such as childhood or adulthood, and their emotional behaviour was understood and normalised based on these phases. Verheyen tracks the slow change recorded in encyclopaedia entries over the centuries, towards understanding age-related emotional aspects by accommodating social and cultural factors for a more individualistic, contextualised approach.
In chapter seven, Gammerl investigates spatial aspects of emotions. Conceptions of emotional closeness and/or distance are complemented by phrases such as ‘don’t let it get under your skin’ (p. 177) and the semantic connections of the word ‘feeling’ to physical contact (requiring spatial closeness) as well as to emotions. Gammerl identifies and questions two assumptions: firstly, that feelings are mainly experienced within close interpersonal relationships, and secondly, that changes in emotional patterns over time are dependent on the increased distantiation afforded by contemporary advances. Both of these assumptions are revealed by Gammerl to be inaccurate simplifications of a more complex, constantly changing and contextually sensitive situation.
While Gammerl focuses on interpersonal relationships, Bailey (chapter eight) examines social scenarios in a wider context, considering ‘Social emotions’. Bailey highlights a distinction between group emotions and interpersonal emotions, both in how they are manifested and how they are analysed. During the centuries being examined, various different personal factors have influenced how groups have been constructed from individuals, such as class, ethnicity or (more recently) personality types. Bailey describes various types of communities that have arisen as a result of interpersonal factors and that have demonstrated notable emotions through group behaviour. From here Bailey next considers how such community groupings have engendered and nurtured different types of interpersonal emotions, with particular attention paid to sources from the 20th century.
Considering 'Civility and barbarism', Pernau (chapter nine) addresses the spectrum between these two polar opposites, in the context of emotional and moral behaviour in individuals and across society. Encyclopaedia entries are investigated on civility, morality and ascription of feelings to groups. Pernau connects morals and emotions from two perspectives: how moral norms are derived from and influenced by emotions, and how moral behaviour deals with emotions.
Frevert concludes the volume with a chapter reflecting on contemporary developments in knowledge about emotions. This chapter (chapter ten) asks: 'What have we learned [from the lexical investigation of emotions] about the significance of emotions in the modern world'? (p. 260). Frevert reflects on how the reference sources have changed and evolved over time, highlighting not only the changes in entry contents, but also in what words are chosen to be included as entries. A revealing example of the latter is given: in the 1733 source, discussions of emotions appear under the entry for 'appetite', but during the period of study 'emotion' started to become an entry in its own right. Some key changes and issues mentioned throughout the volume are collectively considered here from a modern-day perspective. Frevert considers the historical treatment of emotions in the individual and society, contrasts universal and specific features concerning emotions and acknowledges relevant moral issues. The chapter concludes the volume by returning to observations from chapter one, on a growing modern-day focus on emotions and their management.
Notwithstanding Frevert's efforts in chapter ten to bring the volume together, occasionally the reader is reminded that the book is a product of several authors working independently, rather than a team working collaboratively or a single author. This allows for a variety of expertises to be involved, but occasionally has negative consequences. For example, we learn in the first chapter that the encyclopaedic entries under examination tended to become more brief and cursive over the centuries under study. In Schmidt’s chapter on ‘Showing emotions, reading emotions’, Schmidt identifies this general trend in the decreasing length of encyclopaedia entries, specifically in the context of terms relating to non-verbal emotional expression. This trend is used as evidence demonstrating how interest in this area is decreasing over time. Without consulting the original sources, it is difficult to see whether Schmidt's observations stand out against a wider trend for shorter encyclopaedia definitions over time.
Reviewing this book with a personal interest in historical linguistics, an issue arises to my mind over the multilingual nature of the sources and, indeed of the resulting chapters (as eight of the ten chapters were originally written in German then translated to English for the OUP publication). To what extent is it possible for emotions-based lexicons in different languages to be collectively treated and analysed? Granted, the languages under analysis (German, English and French, as used in Europe) are relatively close culturally and semantically. It is therefore more difficult to validate objections based around the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that is, objections based on the hypothesis that our experiences and understanding of the world is shaped by the constructs and structure of our native language. Still, though, the translator's notes occasionally report semantic issues encountered during translation in certain cases, illustrating the lack of one-to-one mappings between languages in these cases. For example, the translator's footnote for Eitler's chapter on ‘Sensitive humans, sensitive animals’ reveals the difficulty in finding an appropriate translation for reizbare to reflect the meaning in the original German title of the chapter (italic formatting in the original, my bold formatting added for emphasis):
The German reizbar can be translated as ‘irritable’, ‘stimulatable’, ‘excitable’, or in some contexts as ‘sensitive’. Often the use of these terms was not clear in the reference works. The title of this chapter adopts the term ‘sensitive’, which in German usually translates as empfindungsfahig.
More fundamentally, given that this is a book on describing knowledge about emotions: can an English speaker fully appreciate what a German native speaker means by the words Gemüt (loosely translated as state of mind, soul, disposition/nature, nerves) or Bildung (loosely translated as knowledge, knowledge formation or education)?(1) These issues are important to consider if compiling a cross-linguistic overview of lexicons, but are overlooked in many of the chapters. Take the analyses in the chapters by Scheer, Schmidt, Hitzer and Verheyen: these are based solely or mainly on the German language parts of the source material rather than material in other languages. Additionally, all but two of the chapters in this volume were originally written in German, then translated into English for this OUP publication. The translation was done, not by the original authors, but by a separate translator (Keith Tribe). As an English speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to read the translated chapters in my native language. Given the general prevalence of English in academia, the English translation does make the content of this book available to a wider scholarly audience. If, however, it was not possible to write the chapters in English originally, then it could have also been valuable to publish the original German versions. This would have helped to fully convey the wealth of the scholarly content to German speakers without losing meaning during translation. Admittedly, this is an unrealistic hope for this publication. In the current publication situation, though, the semantic implications of arising from translation and cross-linguistic comparison should have been acknowledged more uniformly in this volume. Somewhat ironically, some chapters demonstrate the value of considering and comparing sources in different languages, to find information ensconced in a particular language or culture. For example in Hitzer’s chapter on emotions and health, ‘[t]he focus is upon the main transnational lines of debate, but … national differences between these three countries are also taken into account’ (p. 120). Similarly, Bailey (chapter eight) directly compares and contrasts German and British sources in his investigation of social emotions. Reasonings for accommodating a variety of language reference sources into analysis apply equally well to argue for the resulting analyses to be available across languages as well (or for resulting semantic issues to be reflected upon more deeply).
Aside from concerns over translation and semantics, this collection of chapters is a comprehensive, rigorously compiled and wide-ranging set of resources for anyone interested in how emotions are described and conveyed. The multi-disciplinary group of authors each illuminate their chapters using their own specialist knowledge and perspectives. What this volume is not, is a definitive general lexicon for describing emotions, nor an outline of such lexicons over the last few centuries. Indeed, it is not intended to be either of these. Instead, it tackles existing debates on knowledge about emotions by providing various specialised, detailed analyses of how emotions have been represented historically in European encyclopaedia entries over 1700–2000. The volume makes a sizeable contribution towards the task outlined in chapter eight by Bailey for historians of emotions: 'to provide historical awareness of how knowledge about emotions has been organized, challenged, and perpetuated' (p. 229).
Although most chapters work better as a standalone reference rather than as part of a cohesive volume, the book does incorporate a broad range of perspectives and the ordering of the chapters means that the volume generally flows well from one chapter to the next. Collectively, this book's overriding strengths lie in its contextual diversity and in the thoroughness of the compilation and usage of the reference sources that form the volume's foundational material.
- Many thanks to Daniel Brenn, Marco Büchler, Heiko Paulheim, Janina Schnick and Norman Wetzig for their comments and assistance in these translations.Back to (1)
The authors are happy to accept this review but would also like to add a short comment. We fully agree with Anna Jordanous’ emphasis on the challenges and limitations of embarking on cross-linguistic analyses and translations – aspects that we intensely discussed within our group during the years of our collaborative work on this book at the Center for the History of Emotions (Max Planck Institute for Human Development) in Berlin. These were also considerations on which we debated intensely when deciding for translating this book, which had already been published in German, into English in order to make its findings accessible to a broader non-German speaking public (see the German edition: Ute Frevert et al., Gefühlswisse: Eine lexikalische Spurensuche in der Moderne, Frankfurt a.M.: Campus 2011).