Reading with Emotion in the Eighteenth Century

Jeffrey Binder, English
Faculty Advisor: Matthew K. Gold
NML Award: The History and Public Health Award (June 2018)

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, and compare the results of this analysis with the annotations that Burgh himself produced. In addition to shedding light on eighteenth-century notions of emotional expression, this comparative study will provide a historical perspective on contemporary concerns about the emotional effects of reading, especially in relation to the perception that social-media platforms are creating political polarization.

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