Uncertain Hopes, Disrupted Patriotism

Stephanie Olsen

The First World War required total mobilization of citizens’ bodies and minds. Children were certainly not exempt from these appeals, but rather were seen as instrumental to the successful outcome of the war and to the future peaceful rebuilding of communities, nations and empires. To that end, mobilization sought to bolster collective emotions associated with hope and patriotism. This talk will start by asking what we can learn by looking at collective emotions in this context. We know that emotions are formed in the dynamic relation between internalized and embodied feeling and the cultural context in which those feelings are emoted, but to what extent does this lead us to an understanding of emotional collectives? Using the particular case of children and childhood in the First World War in Britain and the Dominions, this paper explores the instability of collective emotions in a context where various authorities understood the high stakes of common feeling as essential to common purpose. Hopes were uncertain: what kind of future should be aspired to? Patriotism was disrupted: to whom or what should such collective love be directed? The sometimes contradictory and conflicting emotional associations of nation and empire put the emotional identities of children up for grabs. Strategies for the collective emotional formation of children in this period therefore shed light on the centrality of feeling – on the careful control of the object of hope – in the instrumental politics of identity formation.

Stephanie Olsen is based in the history department at McGill University (Montreal). She was previously fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Center for the History of Emotions (Berlin) and at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. The author/co-author of two monographs, Juvenile Nation: Youth, Emotions and the Making of the Modern British Citizen (Bloomsbury, 2014) and Learning  How to Feel: Children’s Literature and the History of Emotional Socialization, c. 1870-1970 (Oxford University Press, 2014), and the editor of the collection, Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives (Palgrave, 2015), her new research focuses on children’s education and the cultivation of hope in the First World War. It is supported by a Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada Insight Development Grant. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.