School of English and Drama

Dr Tiffany Watt Smith, BA, MPhil (Cambridge), PhD (London), FHEA


Reader in Cultural History



I am a cultural historian with a particular interest in emotions. My most recent book is Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune (UK: Profile; US: Little, Brown). I am also author of The Book of Human Emotions (UK: Profile, US: Little, Brown) which has been published in 9 countries so far, and an academic monograph, On Flinching: Theatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell Shock (OUP).

I am currently a senior research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions working on a major interdisciplinary collaborative project Living With Feeling. Before that, I held a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

In 2018, I was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize, and will use this between 2019-2021 to begin work on a new project exploring the cultural history of sleep.

In 2014 I was named an AHRC-BBC New Generation Thinker, and am a frequent contributor to BBC Radio. My writing has appeared in The Observer, The Guardian, The New Scientist, BBC Magazine and others. You can watch my TED talk The History of Human Emotions here.

I grew up in South-East London, where I now live with my husband and two children.

Follow me on Twitter


Research Interests:

  • The cultural history of emotions, particularly of the late nineteenth century
  • Involuntary mimicry, from phrenology to mirror neurons
  • The links between theatre and science, with a particular interest in late nineteenth and early twentieth century experimental neurology and psychology
  • Sleep and its maladies, from antiquity to the present day

Recent and On-Going Research:

My research focusses on the cultural history of emotions, with a particular focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I am the author of three books. My monograph On Flinching: Theatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell-Shock (Oxford University Press, 2014), explores the history of flinching and wincing in psychological and neurological experiments at the end of the nineteenth century. One of its main themes is the way experimenters themselves became excessively emotional, deploying actorly techniques to create scientific knowledge about how bodies experience and express emotions.  You can read a couple of scholarly reviews of it here and here.

My second book is called The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopaedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust (UK: Profile Books/Wellcome Collection; US: Little, Brown; also being published in Germany, Turkey, China and Japan). Aimed at a general audience, it is a collection essays exploring the cultural histories and politics of 154 different emotions. You can read an extract published in The Guardian here

My third book is Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune (UK: Profile Books/Wellcome; US: Little, Brown, Autumn 2018) explores the culture and history of the pleasures taken in others’ mishaps, and makes a case for thinking afresh about this much-maligned emotion – perhaps even embracing it. You can read an extract published in The Observer here.

My current research explores ideas about emotional contagion, atmospheres and moods, and how these relate to ideals of resilience. I am a research fellow on Living With Feeling, a £1.6 million, 5-year multi-disciplinary project funded by the Wellcome Trust exploring the concept of emotional health. You can read more about the project here. For my part in the project, I’m focussing on the history of involuntary mimicry, paying attention to the way scientists have engaged with theatrical spaces, practices and people from stage mesmerists to Hollywood film stars in their experiments. You can read a bit about this research here.

I have a long-standing interest in the cultural history of sleep, which I intend to be the focus of my next research project.

I serve as a member of the steering committee of the QMUL Centre for the History of the Emotions, where I have organized a number of conferences and events, and I am also on the editorial board of the Journal of Victorian Culture.

Research Awards

  • 2018 Philip Leverhulme Prize (£100k)
  • 2017 Leverhulme Artists in Residence Scheme Award, ‘Signs of Life’ (with puppet director Mervyn Millar) (£12k)
  • 2014 Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award in Humanities and Social Science ‘Living With Feeling’ (co-applicant, PI Thomas Dixon) (£1.6 million)
  • 2011 British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship (£222k)
  • 2007 AHRC Doctoral Scheme Award (£56k)
  • 2006 AHRC Research Preparation Master’s Scheme Award (£12k)
  • 2004 Jerwood Award for Directors at the Young Vic (16k)
  • 2003 Arts Council England Grant (£10k)
  • 2002 Peggy Ramsay Foundation Award (£2k)
  • 1999 Rajiv Ghandi Foundation Scholarship (£1k)


Keynote Lectures

18/01/2020, 'Schadenfreude and Drag Queens: improvising emotional styles’, at ‘Carving out a Space for the History of Emotions’, University College Dublin

18/10/2019 ‘Schadenfreude: the history of a queered emotion’ at ‘Morality and Emotion’, University of Lisbon

01/03/2019 ‘Words and the History of Emotions’ at ‘Language Acts and Worldmaking’ one-day symposium (AHRC funded), Oxford Brookes University

15/11/ 2016 ‘Feeling Things: material culture and the history of emotions’, ODM (Museums Association of Denmark) annual conference, Vejle, Denmark

14/09/2013 ‘Organs of Imitation: Theatrical Body Parts’, Victorian Body Parts Conference, BAVS/Birkbeck, University of London


On Flinching: Theatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell-Shock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

The Book of Human Emotions (London: Profile Books in association with the Wellcome Collection, 2015; New York: Little, Brown, 2016)

Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune (UK: Profile; US: Little, Brown)

Chapters in Books

‘Of Hats and Scientific Laughter’ in Staging Science ed. Martin Willis (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) in press.

‘The Sciences of Mind’ in Late Victorian into Modern, 1880-1920, ed. Laura Marcus, Michèle Mendelssohn and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr,Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, ed. Paul Strohm (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) in press.


‘Eating Imaginary Raisins: theatre’s role in the making of mirror neurons’, Studies in Theatre and Performance, 12 (2015)

'Cardboard, Conjuring and 'A Very Curious Experiment', in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 38.4 (2011)

'Henry Head and the Theatre of Reverie’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, Special Issue 'Psychology/Aesthetics' ed. Carolyn Burdett, 12, (2011)

'Darwin's Flinch: Sensation Theatre and Scientific Looking in 1872', Journal of Victorian Culture, 15 (2010) [Winner, Journal of Victorian Culture Graduate Essay Prize Competition, 2009]

Journalism and Blogs

You can read some examples of my journalism here.

See also my Queen Mary Research Publications profile


I have co-supervised two PhD projects:

  • Edgar Gerrard Hughes on the theories of grief in Victorian Britain (with Prof. Thomas Dixon in History)
  • David Saunders on emotional encounters between medical researchers and experimental subjects during the Second World War (with Dr. Rhodri Hayward in History)

I welcome enquiries from prospective doctoral students interested in any aspect of my research.

Public Engagement

I enjoy sharing research with a wide range of audiences. In 2014 I was named a BBC-AHRC New Generation Thinker, and have been a frequent contributor on radio documentaries and discussions including Woman’s Hour, Free Thinking and Word of Mouth.

My writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Observer, The New Scientist, BBC News Magazine and The Pool among others.

I frequently give public talks, including at Edinburgh International Book Festival, The Barbican, Wellcome Collection, Latitude Festival and The Museum of London.

My TED talk ‘The History of Human Emotions’ has been watched by 2.9 million people so far.


Broadcast (selected)

as Writer/Presenter:

15/11/2015, ‘The Science of Baby Laughter’, BBC R3, Sunday Feature (Pick of the Week)

03/11/2014, ‘The Human Copying Machine’, BBC R3 Essay, Free Thinking

03/07/2014, ‘War Neuroses and Shell Shock’, BBC R3 Essay, Free Thinking


as Guest/Interviewee:

08/07/19            ’Schadenfreude’, BBC World Service, The Why Factor

06/04/19           ’Shame’, BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour 

22/01/19           ‘Schadenfreude’, WNYC All of It, NPR (USA)

21/12/18           ‘Schadenfreude’, Science Friday, NPR (USA)

05/12/18           ‘Schadenfreude’, BBC Radio 4, All in the Mind

30/10/18           ‘Schadenfreude’, BBC Radio 3, Free Thinking

29/10/18           ‘That's Not Fair’, BBC Radio 4 Start The Week, pres. Andrew Marr

14/06/2018, ‘The Piano and Love’, BBC R3 Free Thinking

24/04/2018, ‘The Language of Emotions’, BBC R4 Word of Mouth, presented by Michael Rosen (Pick of the Week)

09/03/2018, ‘Decoding Emotions’, NPR TED Radio Hour

18/08/2017, ‘The Age of Emotion’, presented by Philippa Perry, BBC R4  

20/09/2016, on Boredom, BBC R4 ‘Making History’

30/08/2016 on Anger, BBC R4 ‘Making History’

08/06/2016 The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC

13/02/2016, ‘Anger’, BBC World Service, ‘The Forum’;

21/09/2015, history of emotions, BBC R4, Woman’s Hour

16/09/2015 History of emotions, Free Thinking, BBC R3,

01/07/2015 Touch and emotion, BBC R3 Free Thinking,

05/05/2014 History of boredom, ‘The Why Factor’ BBC World Service,

05/01/2014   Boredom, BBC R4 ‘Something Understood’

22/09/2013 Mimicry, The Body Sphere Australia ABC


Public Talks (selected)

14/02/20 ’The Enigma of Emotion’, 25th Darwin College Cambridge Lecture Series, ‘Enigmas'

29/09/19     ’The Dark Emotions’, Torino Spiritualità 2019

14/02/19    ‘Schadenfreude’, Salon London at The Tate Modern

11/04/2017, Emotions Salon, Museum of London, City Now City Future

24/11/2016, The Lost Art of Disappearing, Barts Pathology Museum

20/10/2016, The Book of Human Emotions, Archway With Words festival

22/09/2016 Nostalgia, Salon London, the Hospital Club

18/08/2016 The Book of Human Emotions, Edinburgh International Book Festival

22/07/2016 The Science of Happiness, Blue Dot Festival

14/07/2016 Love Thy Neighbour, Latitude Festival Literature tent

19/04/2016 The Secret History of your Emotions, The School of Life

06/04/2016 The Book of Human Emotions, Oxford Literary Festival

06/03/2016 The Book of Human Emotions, Words by the Water Festival

16/02/2016, Inside, Out, Brighton Science Festival

05/02/2016 From Ambiguphobia to Umpty, Feeling Emotional at Wellcome Collection

29/10/2015, The Book of Human Emotions, Wellcome Collection

23/10/2015 Emotional Politicians, Inside/Out, Somerset House

22/09/15 The Value of Sadness, The School of Life,

09/10/15 The Book of Human Emotions, Lichfield Literature Festival

04/10/15 The Book of Human Emotions, Wimbledon Book Festival

13/09/15 The Book of Human Emotions, Kings Place Festival

10/07/15, On Flinching, Siobhan Davies’s residency, at The Barbican

01/11/14, The Human Copying Machine, Sage Gateshead Free Thinking Festival

Short films

BBC Ideas short film: Schadenfreude: Why do we fel joy at another’s pain?



Between 2000 and 2006, I worked as a freelance theatre director, including at the Arcola Theatre, RSC, Young Vicand the Royal Court, as well as in the West End and off-Broadway. Between 2002-4, I was Associate Director at the Arcola Theatre, and from 2004-6, was International Associate at the Royal Court. In 2004 I was awarded the Jerwood Award for Directors at the Young Vic.

I work on theatre projects from time to time, when they intersect with my research interests. Recent projects include:  

  • Co-creator, Many Hands Make Light Work (co-created with Mervyn Millar), participatory light installation, most recently performed as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad outdoor festival
  • Writer/Dramaturg, Room 47 (co-devised with Maria Aberg), National Theatre Studio