What is the history of anger a history of?

Thomas Dixon

The last two years have seen an upsurge of political anger around the world, if journalists and cultural commentators are to believed. According to the new received wisdom, phenomena including Trump, Brexit, and terrorism, are all expressions of this rage. This would seem an opportune moment, then, to revisit the history of anger. However there are various problems. This talk suggests that we do not in fact live in an ‘age of anger’ and uses insights from philosophy, psychology and anthropology, as well as a range of historical sources, to argue that there is no stable, basic emotion corresponding to the modern English word ‘anger’. So, what is the history of anger a history of? I will compare Seneca’s De Ira with Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animalsto seek out continuities and discontinuities in the Western intellectual history of rage, wrath, and revenge, and refer to existing historical works on anger by Barbara Rosenwein, Carol and Peter Stearns, and William Harris.