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Distributed for Reaktion Books

A History of Feelings

What does it mean to feel something? What stimulates our desires, aspirations, and dreams? Did our ancestors feel in the same way as we do? In a wave of new research over the past decade, historians have tried to answer these questions, seeking  to make sense of our feelings, passions, moods, emotions, and sentiments. For the first time, however, Rob Boddice brings together the latest findings to trace the complex history of feelings from antiquity to the present.

A History of Feelings is a compelling account of the unsaid—the gestural, affective, and experiential. Arguing that how we feel is the dynamic product of the existence of our minds and bodies in moments of time and space, Boddice uses a progressive approach that integrates biological, anthropological, and social and cultural factors, describing the transformation of emotional encounters and individual experiences across the globe. The work of one of the world’s leading scholars of the history of emotions, this epic exploration of our affective life will fascinate, enthrall, and move all of us interested in our own well-being—anyone with feeling.

240 pages | 19 halftones | 6 1/4 x 9 1/4 | © 2018

History: General History

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"To what extent are the things we feel—happiness, sadness, anger—the result of the world around us? How much would the emotions of someone from, say, the seventeenth century, be recognizable to us today four hundred years on? These are the kind of fascinating, if complex, questions posed by this original and ambitious book, which combines the latest research to explore centuries of feelings and how they related to wider society across centuries and continents."

History Revealed

"Boddice has undertaken a task that he readily acknowledges may raise more than a few questions: to further understanding of how place and time affect the expression of human feelings. His 'episodic' approach leads readers through classical literature, rhetoric, and even the works of Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen to illustrate that the expression of feelings depends on words and audience, and that the history of how these have changed over time is evident and important. Perhaps the best illustration of this is Boddice’s examination of the Age of Reason, a time when 'Passions of the soul [were] framed outside the realm of reason,' leading to a bifurcation of thought and feeling that remains an important part of human expression today. With his witty examination of how words and language change over time and his lament that the twenty-first-century reliance on emoji and phrases such as 'all the feels' are wholly inadequate to fully express emotion, Boddice has written a book that will make readers ponder why the road from the past is littered with useful expressions for communicating how they feel. Recommended."


"We can only understand emotions in the context of their culture and their time. . . . According to [Boddice], emotionally charged concepts cannot simply be translated from one language, time, or culture to another. . . . Critical and political. . . . Boddice rages against the emphasis on happiness in the policies of many countries."

Dutch Review of Books

"A History of Feelings is an incisive, innovative, provocative book of unequaled scope. In it, Boddice shows his fluency and facility not just with multiple languages, archaic and modern, but also with a vast body of scholarship distributed across several disciplines, including psychology; neuroscience; the history of medicine; rhetoric; and, of course, the history of emotions. This impressive volume should interest intellectual and emotional historians and historians of science. One would hope it would also attract the attention of psychologists, who would gain much from it."

Susan J. Matt | History Journal

"This novel and ambitious survey of emotions history will be a real boon for teachers in the field and a springboard for further research. The take on the current state of emotion in relation to the past is particularly challenging."

Peter N. Stearns, university professor of history, George Mason University

"[A] fascinating book."

Thomas Dixon, director, Centre for the History of the Emotions, Queen Mary, University of London

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