Emotions in the gap between past and present

Rosenwein’s piece “Worrying about Emotions in History” reminded me of Evans’ from the first week of class in its attempt to come to terms with the emotional life of the people of the past. Given the significant divide in time and culture between the present day and Rosenwein’s area of study (the Middle Ages), one can ask the reasonable question if the emotional life of a man or woman in the 13th century is readily accessible to a reader today or whether that divide is too difficult to bridge.

One aspect of the text that I found interesting was the author’s condemnation of philosophers who, in the vein of Max Weber, use the Middle Ages as a convenient foil for the present. For another class I have been having to read Weber for the last few weeks and his notion that Western societies have achieved a level of unsurpassed rationality that allows them to manipulate probabilities and attain access to the objective and true, as opposed to people from other cultures (or earlier eras) who lived in superstition. Besides the obvious Euro-centrism of that idea, what this paper reinforces for me is that that notion is very biased toward the present. In an era where we are constantly expanding the boundaries of what it is that we understand (or can be understood), it is too easy to dismiss people from earlier times as backward or fundamentally different from how we are now.

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