7th Oct 2014 5:30pm
Bridget Millmore, PhD candidate, University of Brighton.
In his 1941 essay Sensibility and History: How to reconstitute the affective life of the past, Lucien Febvre encouraged scholars to study ‘la vie affective et ses manifestations’. Over half a century later the history of emotions is a burgeoning field. However one of the issues historians have grappled with is how to ‘get at’ the emotions of the poor where records are scarce. Indeed Claire Langhamer comments, in her recent book on love in the twentieth century, ‘the history of emotion has often looked more like history from above than from below, privileging cultural and intellectual history approaches and neglecting lived experience.’
My PhD research considers what a history of emotions looks like from ‘below’ in the eighteenth century. It explores the material form that sentiment can take by analysing a group of emotional objects produced by those traditionally marginalised from historical accounts. The thesis discusses what we can learn from these artefacts about the feelings of the poor.
My paper for IOTA focuses on part of that research. It introduces the love tokens at the core of my study. They were produced to mark expected events such as birth and betrothal, apprenticeship and trades. They also marked unexpected events such as imprisonment and transportation. On an initial reading, love tokens convey expressions of love and affection. Yet when viewed from the perspective of popular literature it becomes clear that they were crafted in the knowledge that not all hoped-for promises of love, fidelity, loyalty and remembrance would be fulfilled.