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Emotion and Subjectivity, 1300-1900

Emotion and Subjectivity, 1300-1900


dr. Kristine Johanson

Members of the research group

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

PhD student:

Marjolein Platjee

Associated members from UvA and other universities: 
Arjen Noordhof (UvA) 
Kristine Steenbergh (VU)
Katharine Craik (Oxford Brookes)

Description of the research programme of the research group

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.

Recent activities

Group activities: 

Members have been very busy on individual research projects this year, and their commitments made it difficult to organize group activities such as lectures or other events. However, I organized 3 events this year around members’ research: 

  1. Member research workshop (October) – members read and gave feedback on 1 article and 1 grant proposal by fellow members [This resulted in a published article by Jan Rock and Gaston Franssen]
  2. Member research workshop (November)  – members read and gave feedback on 1 article and 1 PhD dissertation chapter
  3. Networking meeting and borrel with ACCESS (Amsterdam Centre for Cross-Disciplinary Emotion and Sensory Studies) – making connections and discussing future collaborate plans with this Centre, based at the VU 

Coordinator activities/results: 


Written and awaiting copy. “Regulating Time and the Self in Shakespearean Drama” in Staged Normality in Shakespeare's England, eds. Rory Loughnane and Edel Semple (solicited by Palgrave for their Shakespeare Studies Series, anticipated 2018). 6,000 words, invited by the editors.

“‘Our brains beguiled’: Ecclesiastes and Sonnet 59's Poetics of Temporal Instability” in The Sonnets: The State of Play, eds. Hannah Crawforth and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (solicited by Arden-Bloomsbury, published in 2017). 6,000 words, invited by the editors. 

“Melancholy without the Melancholy? New Directions in Emotions Studies.” Renaissance Studies. 3,000 words, invited by the editors. 

Editor, “Approaches to Early Modern Nostalgia” special issue, Parergon, 33:2. 

“On the Possibility of Early Modern Nostalgias”, in “Approaches to Early Modern Nostalgia”, pp. 1­-15.

“In the Mean Season: Richard IIand the Nostalgic Politics of Hospitality”, in “Approaches to Early Modern Nostalgia”, pp. 57-78.  

“Shakespeare and Self-Help” in Cambridge World Shakespeare Encyclopedia, ed. by Bruce R. Smith, et al (Cambridge University Press). 3,000 words, invited by the editors.

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.