Welcome to the Fall 2016 issue of the TEAMS online journal for teachers!
At the 2015 meeting of the International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, TEAMS held an intriguing session on “Teaching Feeling.” The innovative quality of the papers led The Once and Future Classroom to plan a Special Issue devoted to the teaching of the history of emotions for the medieval period. Four of the five essays in this issue were presented at that session and a related one was later accepted. All the essays in this issue are concerned with exposing students to a range of medieval texts in which emotions play a major role. The fairly recent interest by medievalists in the history of emotions provides an opportunity to explore and teach medieval culture from a unique fresh perspective, a perspective from which students are encouraged to consider differences between emotions as expressed in the past and those of today. It may also be a means by which students discover compassion both as an intellectual as well as an emotional phenomenon. Indeed, it is argued by scholars such as Sarah McNamer that the purpose of some medieval texts was to teach listeners and readers how to feel. In Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion, McMamer writes that such texts “were thus instrumental in shaping and sustaining the wide-scale shift in medieval Christian sensibility from fear of God to compassion for the suffering Christ.” In another recent book, Boquet and Nags argue that the experience of Christ’s Passion led to changes in ideas about the passions (Sensible moyen âge, 2015)
As Barbara Rosenwein explains in her recently published Generations of Feeling: A History of Emotions, 600–1700, many generations of scholars considered and portrayed the medieval period as an era of intense emotionality and impulse, especially in contrast to the period which followed in which emotions were believed to have become tamed and restrained (11). As a corrective to this generalized view, scholars have been studying emotions in both periods and finding consistent threads running through them. Medievalists aware that our texts abound with ideas of courtliness, fin’amor, chivalric codes, and conceptions of Christ as the man of sorrows have been lately contributing a layer of scholarship that reaches back to the earlier periods. Emotional communities valued mesura, sacrifice, suffering, etiquette, and various means of self-expression and self-restraint. Some thinkers found passionate emotion in plainchant; others were entertained by secular songs expressing a variety of conflicting emotions. Expressions of longing, dream visions and idealized romance narratives contain structures of feeling. Chaucer was plainly attentive to many facets of emotional relationships. And scholars of medieval theology have pointed out the myriad ways in which emotions were defined and analyzed by thinkers from Augustin through Aquinas to Margery Kemp.
The authors of the essays in this Special Issue demonstrate many approaches that medieval texts took to recognizing and expressing emotions, an essential aspect to a long legacy that began prior to the Early Modern Age. And it is evident from these essays that while we can learn a great deal about emotions in the past by studying medieval art, it is also true that, in many ways, we still live in a world influenced by medieval ideas of love, medieval genres of self-expression, and that we still draw on long-lasting medieval emotional and social conventions.
Professor of English
Wake Forest University