Professor Ute Frevert’s studies shed light on the role of emotions in history
Faculty of Social Sciences SOC
In 2008, Ute Frevert was working as professor of history at Yale when she was invited back to her home country Germany to organise research on the history of emotions. Frevert established the Center for the History of Emotions at Max Planck Institute in Berlin. In ten years, the Center has grown into a large research community with dozens of researchers. Frevert is the research director of the Center and co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
Frevert’s research topic attracts media attention. A brief glimpse at German media contents shows that Frevert is an expert who tells the public about research on emotions, for example the practices of shame and humiliation in history. Frevert recently commented on trust in politics after German parties negotiated to form a new government.
Professor of Finnish history Pertti Haapala is director of the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX) at the University of Tampere. Research sheds light on experiences and emotions that are traditionally considered private.
“Emotions leave a trace. They are interaction in society. Different moral codes and emotional experiences are also used to govern society,” Haapala says.
For example, anger is used in the search for power. Humiliation or embarrassment are utilised to make individuals unworthy of being members of society. Societies have perceptions of what people should do and how they should behave in the roles assigned to them. Societies also differ in terms of which emotions they allow. The history of emotions is concerned with such emotional control of society.
Academy of Finland Research Fellow Ville Kivimäki, leader of one of the research teams at HEX, talks about the historicity of emotions. Some emotions disappear while others emerge. According to Kivimäki, Frevert was investigating honour in duelling when she started to ponder whether honour was a feeling. For Frevert, that study started the path towards researching emotions.
Frevert’s studies examine emotions that have social significance.
“She does not look at emotions as feelings but is interested in how emotions appear in and influence politics, governance, power, and institutions. She does not stop at the concepts but goes into the practices of emotions and examines their impact,” Kivimäki says.
New social history
Frevert earned her doctorate at Bielefeld University in 1982. During her tenure at Bielefeld, Frevert edited the important “Geschichte & Gesellschaft” journal and she still serves on its editorial board.
In Europe, the new social history that started in the 1960s included groups that were left out of the historical research of power, such as workers, minorities, and the poor. In Germany, social history was developed alongside social history (Gesellschaftsgeschichte), which was influenced by the works of Max Weber.
“With the help of a holistic social theory, Germans began to develop research on a more theoretical basis. They investigated large-scale phenomena, such as social structures, and they often used quantitative approaches,” Haapala says.
However, a new research paradigm of Alltagsgeschichte, the history of everyday life, also emerged in Germany, which Frevert’s early research represented. It focuses on the experiences of the so-called ordinary people in large-scale phenomena.
Ute Frevert has worked as professor of history at Freie Universität Berlin (1991–1992), University of Konstanz (1992–1997), Bielefeld University (1997–2003) in Germany and at Yale in the United States (2003–2007).
Honorary Doctor Frevert talks about her intellectual journey at the celebration symposium organised by the Faculty of Social Sciences.
A pioneer of gender history and the history of masculinity
Frevert added gender history to the topics she investigated. Initially, Frevert combined the women’s history approach with social history. In the 1990s, she was one of the first historians to begin investigating the history of men and masculinity. Kivimäki mentions Frevert’s study on the history of German military service, which looked at how the German military service constructed male citizenship, i.e. political actors, in the 19th to the 20th century while simultaneously creating gender difference. Doing one’s military service duty was used to justify assigning political rights – and vice versa: to deny them to those who did not.
“She was one of the first scholars in Germany to investigate men as gendered actors. Men also act based on emotions,” Kivimäki describes Frevert’s study that has influenced his own research.
Research co-operation intensifies
The research centre Frevert directs is a partner of HEX.
“The honorary doctorate is a tribute to Frevert for her ground-breaking work. In addition, we want to intensify our research co-operation,” Haapala says.
The exchange periods of researchers will increase in the near future. In addition, HEX and its international partners are establishing a new publication series that will be called Palgrave Studies in the Histories of Experience.
Kivimäki visited both Yale and the Center for the History of Emotions in Berlin during Frevert’s tenure. “It is extraordinary that people with offices in two full-length corridors study the history of emotions and everyone has read the same research literature,” Kivimäki mentions.
“Frevert is both a prolific researcher and a very determined research manager who achieves much and takes things forward,” Kivimäki adds.
The Faculty of Social Sciences organises a symposium to celebrate the honorary doctors. Honorary Doctor, Professor Ute Frevert gives a lecture with the title From social history to the history of emotions: An intellectual journey. Venue: Väinö Linna auditorium, Linna-building (address: Kalevantie 5) at 10-12 on Thursday 16 August, 2018.
Honorary doctors of the Faculty of Social Sciences:
Social Counsellor Ristenrauna Magga
Professor Ute Frevert, Max Planck Institute, Germany