The Science of Emotion: Studying Emotions in Germany, France, and the United States, 1860-1920

Abstract : This dissertation about emotion and their scientific study reconstructs a transnational discussion on emotions that unfolded in European and American psychological journals and monographs during the second half of the nineteenth century. Contributing to a growing scholarship on the history of emotion much of this dissertation examines how the conception of emotion shifted in the natural sciences from the moment when emotions were taken out of a moral and religious discourse and introduced into a scientific discourse in the mid nineteenth-century to the moment when emotions were pathologized and eventually dropped as a subject of experimental study in mainstream academic psychology for most of the twentieth century. This dissertation argues that emotion entered science as a creative principle of mind rather then as disruptive force, and that the origins of a "science of emotion" have to be situated both earlier, and the birth of a genuine "science of emotion" later then the 1880s. The conception of emotions shifted before scientists began to actually study emotions experimentally using graphing instruments. And while emotions were widely discussed at the close of the nineteenth century, the creation of a genuine "science of emotion" failed because scientists lacked the ability to study the living human brain. Furthermore, in the early twentieth-century the (at first religious and then evolutionary) notion that emotions were a universal language gave way to explanations that pictured emotional expressions as culturally learned, and that doubted the intelligibility of emotions and expressed a profound distrust of the Other. The argument is based on key texts by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), Théodule Ribot (1839-1916), William James (1842-1910) and Charles Darwin (1809-1882) because the debate about the emotions at the turn of the twentieth century revolved around their works. Techniques of visualization and photographic representations of emotional expressions are the second important venue in the history I try to reconstruct.
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Contributor : Claudia Wassmann <>
Submitted on : Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 2:01:43 PM
Last modification on : Sunday, January 19, 2020 - 6:38:13 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-00791723, version 1


Claudia Wassmann. The Science of Emotion: Studying Emotions in Germany, France, and the United States, 1860-1920. ProQuest, pp.313, 2005. ⟨halshs-00791723⟩



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