U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Emotions, Morality, And U.S. Intellectual History: Commentary On A Thinly-Related CFP

The CFP below instigated a train of thought about emotions and morals in U.S. history.

I have some familiarity with historians exploring the topic of emotion through my alma mater. The history department at Loyola University Chicago houses a historian, Barbara Rosenwein, who has studied emotions in the Middle Ages/Medieval Period. Even though I’ve never read any of her work, the line of thinking intrigued me a great deal.

What historians have done work on “emotional communities” in the United States? Could this be a fruitful area of exploration for intellectual historians? Has this been an area studied, according to existing stereotypes, in women’s history?

My memory’s fuzzy on this, but didn’t T.J. Jackson Lears explore emotion in his No Place of Grace (1981)? His work is well known by intellectual historians. I know that male emotional life was covered in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Hearts of Men (1983). But I’m reasonably sure that Ehrenreich’s book has never been considered a part of the field of intellectual history.

And what of morality? I can’t think of any works of intellectual history covering a line of ethics (i.e. dishonesty) in the United States. Perhaps some work on this has been done in the ‘history of political thought’?

We could use the comments section of this post to list as many books as possible dealing with emotions and morality in U.S. history. Any takers?

– TL

Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


Publisher: USC Gould School of Law, USC College of Letters Arts & Sciences, USC Annenberg Center

The Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy is a peer-reviewed online journal in moral, political and legal philosophy. The journal welcomes submissions of articles in any of these and related fields of research.

ISSN 1559-3061

Manuscript submission via online system at: http://www.jesp.org/submit.php.

Editor-in-Chief: Andrei Marmor

Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy is available free of charge as an Open Access journal on the Internet.

Abstracts available online. Articles available in PDF format.

Current Issue: Volume II Issue 1 January 2007

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. One book that addresses several of the topics you raise is: John Corrigan, _Business of hte Heart: Religion and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century_ (U of California, 2002).

  2. Russ R,

    Thanks! After adding my post I realized that the history of religion is probably helping fill the void, at least with regard to the history of morality in the U.S. But this Corrigan book you suggest touches on both my areas of concern. I suppose Ann Douglas’ Feminization of American Culture also performs some of this heavy lifting, but my memory is hazy on the details of that work (it was/is one of my “dissertation demons” (studied, crammed into short-term memory, details fuzzy)).

    … It’s so difficult to keep up with all the relevant scholarship out there. I guess media like this USIH site help us all in that regard.

    – TL

  3. Great query regarding USist books on the history of the emotions/affect and ethics and morality in an intellectual history context. These I, I would suspect, issues of real enduring interest and a good place to do research now. For one thing, this topical nexus speaks to the intersection of intellectual and cultural history. For another thing, this topical nexus speaks to some of the “hotter” topics in current critical theory and cultural studies, at least from what I can see…. Books on religious piety quickly get us to that matter of historicizing affective structures, for one thing. Charles Cohen on Puritanism comes to mind, but the list goes on. I was really impressed by Colin Campbell’s neo-Weberian book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism (title?)…. But these matters go beyond the religious history context into broader cultural-intellectual zones. See the work of Peter Stearns on the history of emotions, for example. Or the philosophical musings of the late Robert C. Solomon in defense of sentimentality, and so forth. I also think the Foucaultian disciplinary angle is relevant here as well. See the anthology on affect and colonialism co-edited by Ann Stoler (I think) for example. Some Americanist material there, but not entirely, which is good: it forces us to read beyond our field. See the work inspired by the late “care of the self” Foucault as well. Obviously, that’s inspired lots of work in critical theory and beyond. See, for example, the Critical Inquiry anthology called Intimacies edited by Lauren Berlant (and her own work, by the way). On ethics, I think a lot of intellectual history biographies touch on these matters as well. Ronald Steel’s good bio of Walter Lippmann from a while back comes to mind.

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