Research Student Seminar VI: Weeping Britannia – How and Why to Write the History of Tears

birkbeck_research_6Date: Tuesday 4 June 2013
Time: 6-8pm (followed by dinner and drinks)
Venue: G15, Malet Street (see map here)

The next Research Student Seminar will be held by Dr Thomas Dixon (Queen Mary, University of London) on ‘Weeping Britannia – How and Why to Write the History of Tears’. He writes: “In 1872, Charles Darwin wrote that ‘Englishmen rarely cry except under the pressure of the acutest grief’. He contrasted this English dryness of eye with the emotional incontinence of continental Europeans and ‘savages’. It would be remarkable to claim of a whole nation, or even its men, that they rarely sweated, couldn’t bleed, or didn’t laugh. So how could it be that such a statement could seem plausible when applied to the English and crying? That is one of the questions I set out to answer in my current book project.

Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears is a study of Britishness and emotion through six centuries of sobbing from Margery Kempe; via Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, William Hogarth and Queen Victoria; to Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Paul Gascoigne and Princess Diana. I will talk about the challenges involved in trying to write a compelling and yet surprising narrative history of such protean and multivalent phenomena as tears and weeping. It is very hard to make sense of something as personal and particular as weeping with reference only to the grand sweep of events and ideas, so my technique in this project has been to select individual moments and texts – twenty-three of them, in fact – to read intensively, carefully and contextually, so as to create a portrait of a nation through a series of miniatures: a string of historical teardrops.”

The seminar takes place in G15, Malet Street (see map here) and will be followed by drinks and dinner at the Norfolk Arms, so please let Emma ( or Janet ( know if you’re planning on joining us there (we’ll book a table).

Two more seminars are on the schedule this term: next up is Dr Hugh Bowden (King’s College London) on ‘History and the heroic individual: the difficulties of writing about Alexander the Great’ on June 18, followed by Professor Ludmilla Jordanova (King’s College London/Durham) on visual cultures on July 2.

Read a review of Professor Cornelie Usborne’s Research Student Seminar here

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