HST3166/3167: Emotions and identity in Twentieth-century Britain: from stiff upper lip to Facebook emotions

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr Chris Millard


A pass in at least two history modules at level two.

Module Summary

This special subject will introduce you to a relatively new area in social and cultural history: the emotions. In the early twentieth century, Britain was confronted by the emotional disorders of warfare, the repressed and sexualised emotions of Freudian theory, and the prevailing culture of 'stiff upper lip'.

In the present we have just seen social media site Facebook expand the reactions to a post from a simple 'like' to a range including 'love', 'sad' and 'angry'. The shifts in attitudes towards emotions have been spectacular and far-reaching, and have centrally involved psychology, psychiatry, medicine and biological science. This module will help you to understand how this has happened.


This module aims to familiarise you with cutting edge scholarship in the history of the emotions, and to apply insights in this field to the history of Britain in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. You will discover how public schools, psychoanalysts' couches, scientific laboratories and anthropological expeditions all helped to shape our ideas of what emotions are and what they do. In sickness and health, in pain, grief, trauma, happiness and love, emotions are crucial to how we understand ourselves and our pasts: from narrating our biographies to national identity. The module seeks to put emotions into detailed historical context, to understand how language, culture, institutions and assumptions all fundamentally shape our emotional lives, both now and in the past.

Teaching and Assessment

Twice-weekly seminars over two semesters. This will involve group work, presentations and analysis of primary material, as well as secondary reading to contextualise the primary texts.

Seminar Themes (20) (Two seminars per theme: one focused upon secondary works, the other on primary texts)

  • What are emotions? How to write histories of emotions.
  • Neurasthenia, Shell-Shock and Emotional Disorder
  • Psychoanalytic Theory – Emotions and Neuroses
  • Child Guidance and the Emotions of Children
  • Behaviourism, Emotions and Scientific Measurement
  • Sex Surveys and Laboratories – Kinsey, Masters and Johnson
  • Domestic Service, Hierarchy and Emotional Labour
  • Stiff Upper Lips – Emotional Training and Public School
  • Emotional Control, Emotional Contrast – Empire and Race
  • The Myth of the Blitz – Stoicism
  • Subcultures, Moral Panics and Anger (Teddy Boys, Rock Around the Clock)
  • Free Love? Exploitation, Feminism and Counterculture
  • Advertising, Persuasion and Happiness: Emotional Capitalism?
  • Death and Dying: rituals, counselling, and stages of grief
  • Basic Emotions, Emotional Faces and Anthropology
  • Depression, Psychiatry and the ‘Loss of Sadness’
  • Recovered Memories, Multiple Personalities: Child Abuse and the New Emotional Repression
  • From Social Distress to Internal Emotions – The Example of Self-Harm
  • Neurological Feelings: Emotions and the Brain
  • Social Networks: The Internet and Emotions

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3

Selected Reading

  • Thomas Dixon From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (2006)
  • Barbara Rosenwein 'Worrying about emotions in history' American Historical Review 107(3) (2002): 821-45
  • William Reddy The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of the Emotions (2001)
  • Jan Plamper The History of Emotions: An Introduction (2015)
  • Constantina Papoulias and Felicity Callard 'Biology's Gift: Interrogating the Turn to Affect' Body and Society 16(1) (2010): 29-56.
  • Tiffany Watt-Smith The Book of Human Emotions (2015)
  • Arlie Russel Hoschild The Managed Heart: Commercialisation of Human Feeling (1983)

Intended Learning Outcomes
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