Emotional Appeal: IHR Fellows Cora Fox and Brad Irish

Image of Cora Fox

Being "emotional" is a problematic label in the academy, but that's usually when applied to a person. Two Department of English scholars might be delighted if you referred to their research as such.

Cora Fox and Bradley Irish were named Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) Fellows for 2014-2015 for their innovative project “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Emotion in Early Modern England: A Proposed NEH Seminar and Collection.” The study explored the understanding and experience of emotions in Renaissance England in conjunction with the study of how affect is related to communal wellbeing and social bonds.

One of the valuable outcomes of their project, Fox notes, was that they “developed a focus for the institute on the methodological question of what constitutes evidence in historical studies of emotion,” fulfilling a need for such a focus given the difficulties of historical distance when trying to read complex emotions from a contemporary perspective. Out of that focus came an IHR Fellows Symposium on "The Politics of Emotion" hosted by Fox and Irish in May 2015, which included two panels, "Emotional Regimes" and "Emotional Communities," and was followed by a roundtable on "Finding Emotional Evidence."

Image of Bradley Irish

Their plan moving forward is to expand the project to produce a collection of essays from an NEH Summer Seminar on this topic, drawing on various disciplines to develop a broader view on the cultural questions such work prompts about political and social values. The challenge, as Fox noted, is to gather together colleagues from fellow institutions to come to Arizona during the summer for the seminar. Irish added that “one additional challenge is trying to produce work in a field that is very much emerging, and that is thus in the on-going process of defining itself. It presents both a challenge and an incredible opportunity for innovative scholarship.”

Fox and Irish have worked on affect and emotion individually, their work intersecting in ways that made a joint project exciting and rewarding. Fox notes that working with Irish has given her a new perspective on her own work. “Our collaboration has had a profound effect on my own thinking about historical emotion,” she says, “and has introduced me to new ways of thinking about my book project.”

They both agree that the experience of working together and participating with the Institute as fellows was one in which they would encourage other faculty to engage. Fox, who also oversees the IHR's Medical Humanities Initiative as the institute's Associate Director, says that such work allows participants the opportunity to work with faculty from other disciplines in ways that enrich research experiences.

Dana Tait