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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

Where Manchester and Melbourne meet

The School of Arts, Languages and Cultures's reach extends across the globe, with new partnerships being created all the time.

One such international collaboration is with The University of Melbourne, where we have been working with academics and special collections staff on a series of projects exploring historical objects and their associated emotions.

Made possible by the Manchester-Melbourne Humanities Consortium Fund, which launched in 2016, the two universities are working together on Objects and Emotions: Rituals, Routines, Collections and Communities.

Spanning the Anglo-Saxon period right up to the 19th century - when both Manchester and Melbourne took dynamic civic developments and instituted museums and collections - it examines physical objects and artefacts, and the roles they play in expressing emotions, in forging them and in connecting people's bodies to the natural world around them.

From jewellery to religious objects

So what are objects of emotions?

"We cross a whole range of content," says Dr Sasha Handley, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at The University of Manchester and a lead on the project. "From love objects like lockets or mourning rings, to things like holy relics, and other devotional objects that once inspired religious sensibilities."

Another object, one that is part of the collections at the Manchester Art Gallery, is a posset pot from the 17th century. Typically supped from at the end of a wedding feast, it would seal the day's events as a way of symbolically connecting the newly formed household to the state.

Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

Project team members convened at Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery for a workshop in 2016.

"I'm thinking about the ways in which political love, or love for the sovereign, was linked to spousal formation and sexual relations. Usually the ingredients of the posset itself were thought to provoke a man's seed and to heat up a woman's reproductive blood," explains Dr Handley.

"There are all kinds of bodily ways in which these physical objects were thought to connect or tie together subjects and sovereigns and help to maintain the reproduction of the household and population over time."

Events and more

Members of the project have already curated one exhibition, Love: Art of Emotion, 1400-1800 at the National Gallery of Victoria, and a workshop was held in Manchester, where further collaborative projects were explored. The workshop has also allowed researchers to get special access to artefacts that are held in the city, and to plan towards an online exhibition linked to the project.

“There are all kinds of bodily ways in which these physical objects were thought to connect or tie together subjects and sovereigns and help to maintain the reproduction of the household and population over time.”

Dr Handley says: "We think we are original in putting two dynamic fields of research into conversation with each other; the field of material culture studies and that of histories of emotion. Histories of emotion scholarship has exploded in the last 20 years and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, which has been the leading pioneer in the field, has mainly been working with textual and visual sources, not with material artefacts.

"One of the strongest draws of working in Manchester are the fantastic collections. Few universities have the kind of natural resources that we enjoy on our doorstep. The historical objects and artefacts in our collections have a capacity to collapse time; they bring the present into the past in a really tangible way, in a way that text doesn't, or a history book can't.

"We want that to be part of the experience, especially when we get to thinking about public-facing activities that extend out of this project."

The Manchester-Melbourne Humanities Consortium Fund enables a range of research collaborations; the fund's ambition is to enhance international opportunities for profound and complex projects of cultural value between the two universities, and is entering its second year.

Find out more by visiting the History of Emotions website.