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The Unconscious Work of History

Roper, Michael (2014) 'The Unconscious Work of History.' Cultural and Social History, 11 (2). 169 - 193. ISSN 1478-0038

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This article is concerned with the emotional processes that animate historical work. Starting with a critical discussion of recent work in the history of emotions, it investigates the emotional aspects of the historian's relationship to the past, and demonstrates how psychoanalytic ideas – particularly the concept of the unconscious – can illuminate that relationship. Part one describes the emotional hold of the past and how historians and psychoanalysts have perceived it. Part two examines the unconscious resonances of personal sources such as letters, memoirs and oral testimony. Even in the most private personal account, such as a diary, the writer imagines a reader, and emotions are evoked through the communication between the writer or speaker and the audience, real or imagined. The historian, in viewing such communication, tries to be receptive to the states of mind being conveyed. In that way she or he is drawn into the unconscious dramas of the historical actor. Part three is concerned with the unconscious pressures in the present to which the historian responds. This is as much a matter of collective psychology as it is of the individual historian's subjectivity, relating to the types of unconscious work that society demands of history. Historical scholarship, I hope to show, not only reflects the particular intellectual, political and economic milieu in which it is produced, but involves the historian in a process of navigation between her or his own unconscious, the past traces of unconscious emotion in historical artefacts, and the present psychological needs that history serves.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Users 161 not found.
Date Deposited: 24 Nov 2014 12:05
Last Modified: 14 Apr 2020 12:15

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