Dr Tiffany Watt Smith, BA, MPhil (Cambridge), PhD (London)
Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance
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.
- 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 (link coming soon).
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.
- 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)
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.
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.
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 1.6 million people so far.
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
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’ (2016);
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)
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
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