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School of English and Drama

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


Reader in Cultural History

Twitter: @drtiffwattsmith


I am a cultural historian interested in the histories of emotion and medicine.

I studied Philosophy and English at the University of Cambridge. I then worked as a theatre director for ten years, before returning to the University of Cambridge to take an MPhil in Criticism and Culture. I came to Queen Mary University of London for my PhD research, jointly supervised between the Department of Drama and the School of History, and joined the School of English and Drama as a lecturer in 2015. From Autumn 2020, I will be Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions.

My research focusses on the histories of emotions and gestures, particularly overlooked and marginal affects such as flinching, laughter, boredom and Schadenfreude, as well changing beliefs about emotional contagion. I have an interest in the cultural history of sleep, for which I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2019. I am currently also working on a project about women and friendship. My most recent book is Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune (UK: Profile; US: Little, Brown, 2018). I am also the author of The Book of Human Emotions (Profile/Little, Brown, 2014) which has been published in 8 languages so far, and an academic monograph On Flinching: Theatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell Shock (OUP, 2014).

My research has been funded by the AHRC, the British Academy, Wellcome, and the Leverhulme Trust.

 In 2014 I was named an AHRC-BBC New Generation Thinker, and often appear as an expert contributor to BBC Radio 3 and 4. 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 sometimes tweet @DrTiffWattSmith


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:

I am currently focussing on a book about women and friendship. This has developed out of a series of interlocking research projects.

The Performance of Sleep

in 2019 I was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize which I am using to look at histories of sleep, particularly focussing on nineteenth and twentieth century sleep experiments, and in live art (I have spoken about this project at the Royal Society - Watch here) Lately, I have been thinking about the bedroom as a site of female friendship and alliances, from Early Modern bedchambers to depictions of shared rooms in early twentieth century boarding houses, to contemporary teenagers’ bedrooms represented on film.

Contagious Emotions

Between 2015-2020, I was part of a team of QMUL co-investigators awarded a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award (£1.7 million) for a multi-disciplinary project ‘Living With Feeling’ (LWF), which investigates conceptions of emotional health since the 16th century.

I led a strand of this project which investigated historical ideas about contagious emotions. I was initially interested in ideas about uncontrollable, infectious laughter, which led me to consider Schadenfreude as a contemporary public mood online. The main output for this work was a book for general audiences Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune. This later evolved into an academic research about ironic emotional styles, Schadenfreude and drag performance. I recently gave a keynote about these ideas at University College Dublin Listen here

 During my time working on Living With Feeling, I also became interested in ideas about inanimate objects transmitting feelings, and in 2017 was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Artists in Residence scheme aware to bring puppet-director Mervyn Millar to QMUL to work on an interdisciplinary project about emotional objects. You can read about it here

Language and Emotions

In 2015, I wrote The Book of Human Emotions (UK: Wellcome/Profile 2015; US: Little, Brown, 2016, translated into 8 languages). 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

Since then, I have delivered high-impact interventions in the public discussion on language and emotional health across multiple platforms (for full list, see public engagement).

Questions about articulacy and emotion emerged out of this work, which I have explored in longer academic pieces, most recently in a major public lecture ‘The Enigma of Emotions’ for the 2020 Darwin College lecture series, for which I spoke about emotional ambivalence and the resistance to naming emotions

The Human Copying Machine

In 2011, I was awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to look at the history of the idea that humans are compelled to imitate one another, from the Victorian phrenologists’ ‘organ of imitation’ to the 1990s vogue for mirror-neurons. I was interested in how certain groups of people – young women in particular – were held particularly susceptible to imitative gesture and feeling. This work resulted in several scholarly articles, and became an entry point for several other projects, including on contagious emotions, early twentieth-century ‘female impersonators’, and girlhood friendship. In this project I extended the methodology established in my PhD research, which explored how theatrical practices have been used to create scientific knowledge []

Science and Theatre in the Long 19th Century

My monograph On Flinching: Theatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell-Shock (Oxford University Press, 2014) is based on my PhD research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It 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 two scholarly reviews of it here and here.


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)



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 ‘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 Londo


Invited Seminar Papers

02/11/2016, ‘How Culture Shapes Emotions’, St Pancras Hospital psychiatry, seminar series for trainees

17/02/2016 ‘Comic Business with Chapeau: Theatricality and Mirth in Edwardian Scientific Culture’, Kings College London, Research seminar series in the history of science, technology and medicine

25/02/2013 ‘The Invention of the Human Copying Machine’: imitation, Emotion and Theatrical Science in the 1890s’, University of Cambridge Drama Seminar

15/05/2013, ‘The Human Copying Machine’, University of Exeter, College of Science and Humanities Seminar

27/02/2013, ‘Moods, mimicry and emotional contagion’, University of Roehampton English and Creative Writing Lunchtime Seminar

13/06/2012, Turning Aside, Looking Askance, Bart’s Pathology Museum Spring Seminar Series

15/02/2012 ‘The Curious Case of Monkey F: Scientific Looking in the Age of Objectivity’, QMUL, Quorum Drama Seminar

01/09/2011 ‘Monkey F’s Flinch’, Literature and Medicine Seminar Series, University of Oxford

Conference Papers

07/12/2018, ‘Theatres of Sleep’, Sleep and Stress, Past and Present, University of Oxford/Royal Society, one-day symposium, invited speaker

16/10/2018, ‘An Age of Schadenfreude’, British Psychological Society Stories of Psychology, annual conference, invited speaker and roundtable participant

13/09/2018, ‘Mis-shapings: The Art of Deformation and the History of Emotions’, round-table participant

20/10/2017, ‘Signs of Life: Emotions, Embodiment and Empathy’, QMUL co-organiser and chair

10/06/2016, ‘Great Pretenders in the Long 19th century’, Birkbeck Victorian Psychology Now, invited speaker

11/11/2015, ‘Academic Feelings’, panel member, People’s Palace, Queen Mary University of London, invited speaker

26/03/2015, ‘Reading and Replicating Bodies’, at TORCH, University of Oxford, co-organiser and chair

06/12/2013, ‘Tricks of the Stage’, University of Westminster Staging Science Colloquium

11/11/12, ‘Wandering Feelings: The transmission of Emotion in the Long Nineteenth Century’, co-organiser and chair

17/09/2012 ‘The Atmosphere of Cure’, Confined Spaces: Considering Madness, Psychiatry and Performance, Cambridge University, speaker

10-12/09/2012, Society for the Social History of Medicine biennial conference, member of organizing committee

19/04/ 2012, ‘Theatricality and Emotion in Darwin’s Expression’, Darwin and Human Nature, CRASSH, University of Cambridge, invited speaker

14/04/2012, ‘The Human Copying Machine: Theatricality and involuntary mimicry’, Theatre and Science Roundtable, British Society for Literature and Science Annual conference, roundtable participant

12/04/2012, ‘Monkey F’s Flinch: Theatricality and Spectatorship in the Scientific Laboratory, 1881’, British Society for Literature and Science, Oxford, speaker

18/06/2011, ‘The Second Annual Postgraduate History of Medicine Summit’, chair of organizing committee and panel chair

16-17/06/2011, ‘Mastering the Emotions: Control, Contagion and Chaos since 1800’, chair of organising committee and panel chair

17/02/2011, ‘Henry Head and the Theatre of Distractions’, The Stimulated Body and the Arts, Durham University, speaker

01/09/2010, ‘Henry Head and the Theatre of Reverie’, Psychology/Aesthetics Colloquium, Institute of English Studies, invited speaker

27/04/2010, ‘The Meaning of the Flinch’, Embodied Emotions: History, Performance, Education, QMUL, invited speaker

24-8/06/2009, ‘Darwin’s Flinch’, Misperformance: Performance Studies International 15, Zagreb, speaker

01/03/2009, ‘Darwin’s Pickle’, Mess Conference, University College London, speaker


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

The Book of Human Emotions (London: Profile Books, 2015; New York: Little, Brown, 2016)

Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune (UK: Profile, 2018; US: Little, Brown, 2018)

Chapters in Books

‘The Enigma of Emotions’, Darwin College Lecture Series ‘Enigmas’, CUP, 2021 (in press).

‘Of Hats and Scientific Laughter’ in Staging Science: Scientific Performance on Street, Stage and Screen, ed. Martin Willis (London: Palgrave, 2016), pp. 59-82

‘Theatre and 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, 2016), pp. 364-378


‘Tenderness and Cruelty: Drag and the History of Schadenfreude’ (under consideration)

‘Eating Imaginary Raisins: theatre’s role in the making of mirror neurons’, Studies in Theatre and Performance, 36.1 (2016), pp. 17-20

'Cardboard, Conjuring and 'A Very Curious Experiment', in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 38.4 (2013) pp. 306-320

'Henry Head and the Theatre of Reverie’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, Special Issue 'Psychology/Aesthetics' ed. Carolyn Burdett, 12 (2011), p. 1-17,

'Darwin's Flinch: Sensation Theatre and Scientific Looking in 1872', Journal of Victorian Culture, 15.1 (2010), pp. 101-117, 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 am currently supervising the following PhD projects

  • Hayley Kavanagh on euphoria in twentieth-century feminist protest (with Prof. Thomas Dixon in History)
  • 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 am committed to increasing public understanding of history of emotions, transferring my research to deliver high-profile public engagement through books, print, broadcast and digital media. In 2014, I was named an AHRC-BBC New Generation Thinker, and in 2017 I gave a TED talk which has so far been watched by more than 4 million people around the world.


Print Journalism

As author

14/10/18       ‘Schadenfreude’, The Observer Magazine (cover story; 4 pages)

16/09/15       ‘Buzz Words’, New Scientist (3 pages)

02/10/15       ‘How to Let it All Out’, The Big Issue (1 page)

11/09/15       ‘What are you feeling right now?’, The Guardian (2 pages)


Featured/Reviewed/Interviewed in

The Guardian (2020); The Times (2019); Libération (2019); L’Humanité (2019); The Independent (2019); Visão (2019); New York Magazine (2019); Women’s Health (2018), The Guardian (2018), TLS (2018), The Sunday Times (2018), LA Times (2018); Italian Vanity Fair (2017) ; The New Yorker (2016), The Week (2016), Der Spiegel (2016); Psychologies (2015), The Reader (2015) The Observer (2015), THE (2015), Daily Mail (2015), The Atlantic (2016), Positive News (2016), Citizen K (2015),



as Writer/Presenter

15/11/15       ‘The Science of Baby Laughter’, BBC R3, Sunday Feature

(Pick of the Week)

03/11/14       ‘The Human Copying Machine’, BBC R3 Essay, Free Thinking

03/07/14       ‘War Neuroses and Shell Shock’, BBC R3 Essay, Free Thinking


As Guest Contributor (UK) 

 13/09/2021 ‘Life in the First Person’ BBC Radio 4, Start the Week (Pick of the Week) 

13/07/2021 ‘Breathe’, BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking

03/02/2021 ‘Girls’ BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking 

29/11/2020 ‘Embodied Habits’ BBC Radio 3 Words and Music 

24/11/2020 “Bedrooms’ BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking

08/01/2020   ‘Could there be a private language’ (Wittgenstein) BBC 3 Free Thinking

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

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

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

14/06/18       ‘The Piano and Love’, BBC Radio 3, Free Thinking

24/04/18       ‘Naming Emotions’, BBC Radio 4, Word of Mouth, pres. Michael Rosen, sole contributor (Pick of the Week)

18/08/17       ‘The Age of Emotion’, BBC Radio 4, presented by Philippa Perry

20/09/16       ‘Boredom’, BBC Radio 4, Making History

30/08/16       ‘Anger’, BBC Radio 4, Making History

13/02/16       ‘Anger’, BBC World Service, The Forum

15/01/16       ‘Emotions’, BBC, 5-Live

21/09/15       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour

16/09/15       ‘History of Emotions, BBC Radio 3, Free Thinking

01/07/15       ‘Touch and emotion’, BBC Radio 3, Free Thinking

05/05/14       ‘Boredom’, BBC World Service, The Why Factor

05/01/14       ‘Boredom’, BBC Radio 4, Something Understood


as Guest Contributor (rest of world)


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

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

17/12/18       ‘Schadenfreude’, NPR local affiliates, Baltimore, Seattle, etc (USA)

02/12/18       ‘Schadenfreude’, Newstalk, Talking Books (Ireland)

04/09/18       The Book of Human Emotions, ORF Books Programme (Austria)

09/03/18       ‘Decoding Emotions’, TED Radio Hour, NPR (USA)

08/06/16       ‘Emotions’, The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC (USA)

14/09/15       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, Newstalk, (Ireland)

22/09/13       ‘What Makes a Good Impersonator’, The Body Sphere, ABC (Australia)



02/12/18       ‘Schadenfreude’, Sunday Brunch, Channel 4

14/02/16       ‘Love’, Sunday Brunch, Channel 4



Talks & Films

04/01/2019    Schadenfreude: Why do we feel joy at another’s pain?, BBC Ideas, 654.1k views

18/12/2017    The History of Human Emotions, TED talk, 3.7 million views [

Blogs, Online Features

29/11/18       ‘Why I no longer feel bad about Schadenfreude’, SELF Magazine

19/11/18       ‘A brief History of Schadenfreude’, Literary Hub

15/10/18       'Why Feeling Gleeful...' The Pool

29/11/16       ‘The Lingering of the Lost Self’, The History of Emotions Blog

06/06/16       ‘In search of Obscure Words…’, Literary Hub

01/11/15       ‘Why We Need to Feel A Range of Emotions’, The Pool,

02/11/14       ‘The Human Copying Machine’, BBC News Magazine

27/05/14       ‘The Scientist and the Stand-Up’, The History of Emotions Blog

03/11/11       ‘Laughter and Control’, The History of Emotions Blog


Public Talks


26/05/19                  ‘The History of Emotions’, The Weekend University

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

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

12/02/18       panel member, ‘The Future of Knowledge’, British Museum

11/04/17       ‘Emotions Salon’, Museum of London

24/11/16       ‘The Lost Art of Disappearing’, The Museum of the Normal, Barts

20/10/16       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, Archway With Words

22/09/16       ‘Nostalgia’, Salon London at the Hospital Club

18/08/16       ‘Human Emotions’, Edinburgh International Book Festival

22/07/16       ‘The Science of Happiness’, Blue Dot Festival

14/07/16       ‘Love Thy Neighbour’, Latitude Festival

06/04/16       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, Oxford Literary Festival

06/03/16       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, Words by the Water Festival

16/02/16       ‘Inside, Out’, Brighton Science Festival

05/02/16       ‘Ambiguphobia to Umpty’, Friday Late, Wellcome Collection

12/11/15       ‘The Value of Sadness’, The School of Life

11/11/15       ‘Academic Feelings’, Queen Mary University of London

29/10/15       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, Wellcome Collection

23/10/15       ‘Emotional Politicians’, Inside/Out Festival, Somerset House

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

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

23/09/15       ‘The Book of Human Emotions’, 5x15 at The Tabernacle

22/09/15       ‘The Secret History of Your Emotions’, The School of Life

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

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

20/05/14       ‘Shell Shock, Celluloid and WW1’, Birkbeck Arts Week

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

Events As curator

15/11/18       ‘Salon: An Age of Schadenfreude’

curated event in The Reading Room at Wellcome Collection, featuring artists and performers including: Stacy Makeshi, Lois Weaver, Olivia Armstrong, Melanie Wilson

29/10/15       ‘On Emotions’

curated event in The Reading Room at Wellcome Collection, featuring artists and speakers including Sheila Ghelani, Steve Tiplady, Elsa Richardson

Professional Activities

I have been a member of the editorial board of Journal of Victorian Culture since 2015.


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
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