Appetite for Discovery

Sense and Sentiment in the Early Modern World

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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  • 1 University of Chester j.hillman@chester.ac.uk

Lucien Febvre’s 1941 call for historians to recover the histoire des sentiments is now routinely evoked by scholars in the wake of the recent “emotional turn” in the historical discipline. Historians would regain their “appetite for discovery” (goût à l’exploration) once they delved into the deepest recesses of the discipline, where history meets psychology, Febvre predicted. His plea followed the aims of a generation of scholars working in the early twentieth century—Johan Huizinga and Norbert Elias among them—who sought to recapture the affective lives of the past. Yet the history of sense and sentiment perhaps owes its greatest debt to Febvre and his colleagues in the Annales School, who, via the study of mentalités and private life, made the study of emotions a serious object of historical inquiry. Some four decades passed before Febvre’s challenge was taken up with any rigor. In the 1980s, the work of Peter and Carol Z. Stearns sought to chart the emotional standards and co des of past societies—something they termed “emotionology.” Since then, over the past three decades the history of emotions has been pioneered by scholars such as Barbara H. Rosenwein and William Reddy in seminal works that introduced us to now classic interpretative frameworks such as “emotional communities” and “emotives.” This burgeoning of interest in the history of emotions has now also found expression in a number of institutional research centers and publication series devoted to the subject.

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