Emotions and the Cultural History of the World Wars

24–25 September 2014

University of Helsinki


The history of emotions and the cultural history of war are disciplines that have recently attracted expanding scholarship. During the last two decades the history of emotions has deepened our understanding on changing emotional norms, concepts and experiences and it has contributed to the debunking of the mind–body dualism and invested the emotions with historical agency. The roots of the cultural history of war can be traced a little bit further down in historiography. Since the 1960s and 1970s it has added to our understanding of the interplay between crises and cultural and social change. The topics have included the literatures of war, the remembrance of war, myths and symbols and the traumas of war. Recently also the cultural representations of emotions and the histories of emotional experiences in war have received increasing scholarship, which has led us to rethink the significance of wartime to ever-evolving emotional styles and norms.

This two-day conference is dedicated to the exploration of emotions in the twentieth-century world wars. The conference is premised on the hypothesis that the wartime emotions are not to be studied only as reactions to exceptional events but rather as actions causing these exceptional events. The conference seeks to address the following questions: what are the roles of emotional norms and emotional concepts at the front and in wartime society? How does the war affect the emotional cultures and how is this reflected both in wartime experiences and in the aftermath?  Are the emotional experiences inherently embedded in culture or are there grounds for claiming certain emotional universalism in human wartime experience?

The scope of the conference covers histories of individual and group emotions from numb and unconnected trauma to collective displays of wartime elevation. We welcome especially proposals that address the wartime histories of:

  • love and attachment
  • hatred, aggression and fear
  • honor, shame and mourning
  • war enthusiasm and disillusionment

However, other emotional concepts and experiences are given consideration as well.

Application: Please submit a proposal of a maximum of 500 words to emotionsandwar(at) by 15 April 2014. Please attach a short bio to the proposal. Successful applicants will be notified by 15 May 2014. The presentation of accepted papers should not exceed 20 minutes.

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