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Reading with Emotion in the Eighteenth Century

Jeffrey Binder, English
Faculty Advisor: Matthew K. Gold

This project looks at how the “passions and humours” are represented in eighteenth-century elocution manuals—a genre of text that provides an important document of the way people understood the performance of emotion in this period. My primary focus is on the 1761 book The Art of Speaking by James Burgh, an influential text that uses a sophisticated visual representation to tell students how to express emotion while delivering a speech. Alongside sample speeches by authors such as Cicero, Shakespeare, and Dante, the book includes marginal notes indicating what “passions and humours” are appropriate to express at particular points in a speech, along with an index and introductory essay that provides a descriptive typology of emotions. I am producing an online edition of this text that reproduces the full system of annotations. I plan to analyze the annotations quantitatively using sentiment analysis, a computational technique that attempts to determine the emotional content of a text based on the words in contains. In addition to shedding light on eighteenth-century notions of emotional expression, I hope that this analysis will provide a historical perspective on this contemporary technology, which parallels Burgh’s annotations in suggestive ways, but which also rests on a very different notion of subjectivity from the one that was current in the eighteenth century.

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