WSU Professor Explores History of Emotions During German Residency

OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University’s history department chair, Susan Matt, has been honored with the 2013 German Residency Fellowship.

Matt, who specializes in social and cultural U.S. history of the 19th and early 20th centuries, will be a visiting faculty member at the University of Tübingen in Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, where she will teach a course on emotions in U.S. history.

The fellowship, funded by a grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, was awarded by the Organization of American Historians. OAH was founded in 1907 and is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history.

Matt’s course is an intensive study that will last from late May to early July.

“Most of the research I’ve done is on the history of emotion,” Matt said. “In the class, we’re going to look at the history of love, the history of fear, the history of happiness and how these emotions have shaped American life and politics. What role do they play in the U.S. economy?

“There are two parts to the class — one is based on the idea that emotions have a history, and we don’t express our feelings in the same way over time.  Some emotions we emphasize in one era and downplay in another. For instance, earlier generations were more prone to publicly display their sadness; whereas, our culture pressures us to look cheerful. Examining the particular histories of emotions will be one part of the class. The second part is that not only do emotions have a history, but also that emotions have shaped history, and we will examine how they have done this.”

At the annual OAH meeting in San Francisco in April, Matt also presented a paper on the telegraph and sociability, drawn from collaborative research with her husband, Luke Fernandez, WSU’s manager for program and technology development. Fernandez and Matt are writing a book on how technology, from the telegraph to twitter, has changed inner life.

 “The project merges our interests,” Matt said. “Luke’s interested in the social implications of technology, I’m interested in emotions, and we thought we could look at new technology from the telegraph to the internet and examine how it has changed our emotional lives. We want to understand how earlier generations perceived new technologies as they entered their lives — what hopes and expectations they’ve had for them.”

The couple’s first publication from the project, which discusses Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), titled “Before MOOCs, Colleges of the Air,” recently appeared in the “Chronicle of Higher Education.”

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Susan Matt, history department chair
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Matt Gerrish, University Communications
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