Narratives of the Self

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Sources for the History of Emotions: A Guide


First-person accounts, documents of life, life writing, ego-documents: called by different names according to discipline and approach, narratives of the self have attracted attention from historians and other scholars in the humanities and social sciences for over a century. By providing a personal perspective into how individuals named, made sense of and communicated what they felt in connection to self and others, these narratives provide a window into the emotional experiences of the past. They also show how feelings and their related emotions varied according to life and historical circumstances, with shifting conceptions of self along the narrator’s life cycle, and with the influence of different cultural, socio-political and spatial contexts. This chapter offers a methodological discussion about the use of personal narratives to explore emotion work in the past, and points to selected scholarly examples published mostly in English. Narratives of the self take a variety of forms, including letters, dairies, memoirs, autobiography and oral history. Each type has a rich scholarly tradition and methodological trajectory. The discussion that follows focuses on personal letters, with a few references to personal diaries. It considers the methodological implications of writing practices, form and materiality.


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