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Science and Emotions after 1945

A Transatlantic Perspective

Through the first half of the twentieth century, emotions were a legitimate object of scientific study across a variety of disciplines. After 1945, however, in the wake of Nazi irrationalism, emotions became increasingly marginalized and postwar rationalism took central stage. Emotion remained on the scene of scientific and popular study but largely at the fringes as a behavioral reflex, or as a concern of the private sphere. So why, by the 1960s, had the study of emotions returned to the forefront of academic investigation?

In Science and Emotions after 1945, Frank Biess and Daniel M. Gross chronicle the curious resurgence of emotion studies and show that it was fueled by two very different sources: social movements of the 1960s and brain science. A central claim of the book is that the relatively recent neuroscientific study of emotion did not initiate – but instead consolidated – the emotional turn by clearing the ground for multidisciplinary work on the emotions. Science and Emotions after 1945 tells the story of this shift by looking closely at scientific disciplines in which the study of emotions has featured prominently, including medicine, psychiatry, neuroscience, and the social sciences, viewed in each case from a humanities perspective.

384 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology

Cognitive Science: Neuroscience

History of Science

Psychology: General Psychology


Science and Emotions after 1945 is animated by an effort to integrate work in the humanities and the sciences, especially the very recent social neuroscience of emotion, a body of research increasingly hard to ignore even if one sits in a humanities department. . . . One valuable contribution of many of the essays in Science and Emotions after 1945 is the integration of categories of analysis established in the history of emotion with scholarship in the history of science. The history of emotion emerged in the 1980s from social and women’s history, and only recently have historians of science looked to pioneering work in this area.”


"This collection brings together a variety of leading scholars from different academic backgrounds, including history, literature, sociology, rhetoric, and neuroscience. Through each essay, the authors explore the influence of emotions within their particular field of study. Individually, the essays represent well-written, well-researched articles of high academic value. The collection also includes a lengthy introduction by the editors that provides historic context, historiographic background, and an organizational and methodological explanation for bringing the selected essays together."

The Quarterly Review of Biology

"Our concept of emotion is in large part shaped by the science of emotion, especially the experimental psychology of emotion that emerged in the nineteenth century. The history of modern emotions since the nineteenth century should, then, in large part be a history of science. For an orientation in this field, Biess and Gross have gathered the sharpest thinking being done by the smartest people. But this trail-blazing book does more than survey the psychology, neuroscience, economics, or sociology of emotion: it also puts emotion back into science. Emotions take center stage—as lived realities that motivated and puzzled the scientists who studied them. Anyone seeking perspective on the ’emotional turn’ in the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences cannot afford to miss Science and Emotions after 1945."

Jan Plamper | Goldsmiths, University of London

“In this book of lively essays, the 1950s, with its cold war panic; the 1960s, with its women’s movement; and the 1970s, with its totalizing market economies are here shown--along with many other historically salient moments--to be the unexpected catalysts of today’s scientific culture.  Science and Emotions after 1945 tells us not only why the sciences today are so interested in emotions but also how humanists can critique, use, and transform such insights in their own work on emotions.”

Barbara H. Rosenwein | Loyola University Chicago

“The history of the science of emotions is here brilliantly outlined, both by locating experimental science in its historical context, and by simultaneously challenging how emotions are treated by science and the humanities.  The result is a book rich with the kind of constructive controversies that produce new understandings and new roads to follow.”

Nigel Thrift | University of Warwick

Table of Contents

Introduction: Emotional Returns

Frank Biess and Daniel M. Gross

PART ONE   Neuroscience

1  Humanists and the Experimental Study of Emotion


2  “Both of Us Disgusted in My Insula”: Mirror-Neuron Theory and Emotional Empathy


3  Emotion Science and the Heart of a Two-Cultures Problem


PART TWO   Medicine

4  What Is an Excitement?

Otniel E. Dror

5  The Science of Pain and Pleasure in the Shadow of the Holocaust


6  Oncomotions: Experience and Debates in West Germany and the United States after 1945

Bettina Hitzer

PART THREE Psychiatry

7  The Concept of Panic: Military Psychiatry and Emotional Preparation for Nuclear War in Postwar West Germany

Frank Biess

8  Preventing the Inevitable: John Appel and the Problem of Psychiatric Casualties in the US Army during World War II

Rebecca Jo Plant

9  Feeling for the Protest Faster: How the Self-Starving Body Influences Social Movements and Global Medical Ethics

Nayan B. Shah

PART FOUR Social Sciences

10  Across Different Cultures? Emotions in Science during the Early Twentieth Century

Uffa Jensen

11  Decolonizing Emotions: The Management of Feeling in the New World Order


12  Passions, Preferences, and Animal Spirits: How Does Homo Oeconomicus Cope with Emotions?


13  The Transatlantic Element in the Sociology of Emotions


14  Feminist Theories and the Science of Emotion


15  Affect, Trauma, and Daily Life: Transatlantic Legal and Medical Responses to Bullying and Intimidation


Coda: Erasures; Writing History about Holocaust Trauma

Carolyn J. Dean

List of Contributors


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