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Emotion and Subjectivity 1300-1900


Dr. K.A. (Kristine) Johanson

Faculty of Humanities

Capaciteitsgroep Engelse taal en cultuur


This group takes an historical, sociocultural and literary approach to the study of emotion and subjectivity. While critics, such as Sara Ahmed, Sianne Ngai, and Eve Kosofksy Sedgwick, have offered important recent studies of feeling and affect, we look to the past to understand the contradictory and surprising ways in which emotion has been placed in dialogue with sociocultural values and political discourse in the period 1300-1900. We explore, further, the role of emotion in the formation of subjectivity. Questions that inform and represent our research include: How does this historical approach impact our discourse or vocabulary of emotions? Do we need to rethink and historicize the terms in which we cast our language of emotion? How do we theorize emotional responses to literature, theatre, music and visual art, and how have these responses changed throughout history? How has the relationship between the emotions and the physical subject been constructed? That is, how has emotion been medicalized or gendered in history? How have emotions been organized into ethical categories of right and wrong (virtues and vices) and what were the proposed strategies of controlling emotions? How have people understood the ethical value of emotions such as sympathy, empathy or anger? What is the perceived role of emotion in constructing the citizen/subject? What are the consequences of the fluctuating sociocultural values attached to various emotions for social, ethnic or gendered groups’ agency? The current group members share an investment in such queries but are also working on individual projects. Kristine Johanson works on early modern literature, temporal constructions, and rhetoric, attending currently to how the emotion of nostalgia functions as a dramatic political discourse in English Renaissance drama. Krisztina Lajosi’s research focuses on emotional citizenship and the role of music, specifically within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century opera and the performing arts. Tara MacDonald explores the impact of discourses of emotion on nineteenth-century reading practices and gender formation, especially in relation to ‘sensation’ fiction of the 1860s. Claire Weeda’s research addresses the development of medical theory in the late middle ages and the humoural categorization of ethnic, religious and social groups in light of socio-cultural values and political discourse. Finally, Marjolein Platjee’s PhD thesis explores death and cultures of mourning in nineteenth-century literature, art, religion, and medicine.

Relevant publications

Review: Harriet Phillips. Nostalgia in Print and Performance, 1510-1613: Merry Worlds.

Modern Philology (forthcoming)

In progress:

Shakespeare’s Golden Ages: Resisting Nostalgia in Elizabethan Drama. This 90,000-word monograph is complete, and the book proposal has been approved by the editorial board of Edinburgh Critical Studies in Renaissance Culture (published by Edinburgh UP) to be included in that series. The board consists of Lorna Hutson, Katherine Ibbett, Joe Moshenska, and Kathryn Murphy (all at Oxford). It is currently under peer review and a book contract will be awarded following positive reviews. 

‘A Lost “Pair of Stainless Maidenhoods”: Eradicating Female Desire in Adaptations of Romeo and Juliet’ (7,000-word article under review at Shakespeare Bulletin)

‘The Maid’s Part: Proverbial Consent in Early Modern Drama’ (article in progress)

“‘I’ve all the World in Thee”: Emotion, Time, and the Making of New Political States in Katherine Philips’ Poetry’ (article in progress)

Relevant conference papers & speaking engagements

‘The Maid’s Part: Proverbial Consent in Early Modern Drama’ submitted to the ‘Early

Mod cons’ seminar at the (cancelled) Shakespeare Association of America conference, Denver, April 2020.

Invited speaker for Nostalgia and the Early Modern World Workshop, Cambridge University, 11-12 January 2020.

Invited speaker. ‘The Lessons of Nostalgia in Julius Caesar and Sejanus’, Shakespeare’s

Rome International Summer School, Roma Tre University, Rome, 12 September 2019.

“‘I’ve all the World in Thee”: Emotion, Time, and the Making of New Political States in Katherine Philips’ Poetry’, ‘Gender, Crisis, and the Politics of Time’ conference, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, 5-6 November 2019.

Societal relevance

Our research outcomes are invested in understanding the historical development of emotions and the subject, concerns which continue to impact and shape Western culture as we know it today. The way in which we understand and theorize emotion continues to impact political decisions; socially-constructed gender, class, racial, and national attributes; and what kinds of literature, art, and music is culturally valued. By examining to the myriad of ways in which emotion and subjectivity have been understood from the middle ages to the turn of the twentieth century, we also ask a contemporary audience to reconsider the ways in which we value and categorize specific emotions in the twenty-first century. Consequently, the outcomes of our research have a social relevance that will be made accessible through public lectures, through publications in English and in Dutch, and through collaborations with ACCESS and other cultural institutions in the Netherlands. Moreover, the international nature of our outcomes will ensure that they have a global reach and impact.


Gaston Franssen
Jan Rock 
Krisztina Lajosi-Moore
Claire Weeda
Sudha Rajagopalan
Marjolein Platjee

Associated members

Arjen Noordhof (UvA) 
Kristine Steenbergh (VU)
Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes)