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The Carnival of Lost Emotions

The Carnival of Lost Emotions provokes people to think about emotions in new ways using visible and memorable props to stimulate discussions about emotional states from history that no longer exist.

The Carnival of Lost Emotions Team
  • School/Institute/Department: Centre for the History of Emotions, School of History
  • Subjects: History, Emotional States, Performance
  • Audience: General Public, Adults, Children

The Carnival of Lost Emotions provokes people to think about emotions in new ways using visible and memorable props to stimulate discussions about emotional states from history that no longer exist.

Participants select one of 6 years from the ‘Lost Emotions Machine’ prop using a dial on the front - ranging from the 11th to the 21st century – and the description of an emotional state that does not fit well with our current understandings from that time period is produced. States include the medieval humoral disorder of ‘Frenzy’, and the late-Victorian ‘Hypochondriasis’.

Academics in historical costume then have the chance to engage participants in discussion: is this really ‘the same’ as a modern emotional state? What are some important similarities and differences? What are we doing when we label feelings in the past with current labels? The relationship between culture, experience, history, biology and emotions can all be broached with accessible historical examples.

The activity can be altered to pitch at different audiences, including adults and children, who are empowered to often speak more than the academic, putting forward other ‘lost emotions’, and articulating how past emotions might differ from current ones.

The Carnival is innovative because its visible and memorable props (a brightly lit arch and imposing Emotions Machine) give a solid ‘hook’ for discussions that might seem quite abstract, obscure and esoteric. People are attracted to the Machine, intrigued about its function.
Chris Millard, Centre for the History of Emotions & School of History

The format draws people into coming to a sophisticated and nuanced position on emotion-biology-culture-interdependence which is difficult to achieve from a less interactive arrangement. The Machine stimulates discussion, gives it accessible parameters, and allows for sensitivity and push-back from participants.

The Carnival has run multiple times at science fairs or research-showcasing events at the Barbican, Being Human Festival and Natural History Museum, and in more general settings such as the Edinburgh Fringe and part of Secret Cinema.

The Carnival of Lost Emotions Team are from the Centre for the History of the Emotions.

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