Emotional Communities: Functional or Otherwise

In the introduction to Rosenwein’s novel Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages, she investigates the nature of the social and personal expectations for expressions of emotions in the Middle Ages. In this investigation, she discovers that previous conceptions about the how individuals expressed emotion in the Middle Ages have led to misunderstanding in the scholars that later studied it. In particular, she cites Johan Huizinga’s approach, which stated that the “Middle Ages was the childhood of man” (Rosenwein 5). Huizinga believed that emotions ran rampart in the Middle Ages, with little regard to restraint and temperance. However, Rosenwein soon finds this to be untrue, as Huizinga’s approach attempts to discern meaning in the expressed emotions of the citizens of the middle age through the context of contemporary society. Without understanding the vastly different and complex social systems that made up the Middle Ages, it is easy to misinterpret the behaviors of some social classes as unreasonably restrained, and others as unreasonably expressive. However, the reality of the these differences lies in a multitude of different “emotional communities,” defined by features like socio-economic status, religious involvement, and the nature of the subject that inspires the emotion. Though the breadth of information required to correctly discern the motives behind expressed emotion in the Middle Ages is expansive, it is necessary in order to correctly interpret the motives and reasons for the expression.

One thought on “Emotional Communities: Functional or Otherwise

  1. This part of the Rosenwein article especially stuck out to me. Not only had we briefly covered Huizinga’s theory in the pervious Rosenwein article “Worrying about Emotions in History,” but it also it reminded me a lot of how I previously perceived the Middle Ages. Huizinga’s childlike depiction of the Middle Ages relates to many modern day representations of the time period. Like Huizinga, who attributed the change from the childlike emotions to modern emotions to the civilizing process, many modern day representations also portray this. Rosenwein’s article overthrows this idea as well as the hydraulic model.

    This article was a more in-depth extension of the piece “Worrying about Emotions in History” which helped clarify some of the models and theories about emotions, especially her theory of emotional communities. Through Rosenwein’s emotional communities we can understand that just like today, the people of the Middle Ages did not simply fit into one box, rather they experienced and portrayed emotions differently depending on the context. These communities are not characterized by only one or two emotion, instead by an abundance of emotions. Similarly, we can see varying emotional communities in our lives.

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