Skip to content


Emotional Landscapes in the Early Modern Period

Unit(s) of assessment: History

Research theme: Global Heritage

School: School of Arts and Humanities


The challenge of decoding the emotional responses of individuals and groups in past times has traditionally been seen by historians as being too great to surmount with any credibility. However, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists have all developed insights and theoretical models of human emotion that have been applied to historical research resulting in a burgeoning interest in this approach evidenced by a considerable body of scholarly literature recently published.

If academic history is our attempt to understand where we have come from in order to best see where we might go, then understanding our emotional past is crucial to negotiating a successful future in terms of human relationships, both personal and professional. Of equal importance is the crucial role that this understanding can play in achieving and maintaining sound mental health, therefore it will play a role in successfully meeting the challenge of improving mental health outcomes in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in mental health care.

Addressing the Challenge

Lizbeth Powell is nearing the end of a doctoral research project that has conducted research into the emotional  landscape of a local gentry family, particularly focusing on one individual Sir Thomas Parkyns. This has involved mapping the presence of emotion where articulated, implied  or arising as a consequence of action between Sir Thomas , his near and distant family, friends and patrons. By considering the correspondence  in expressions of love, affection and grief, this research has challenged  the misconception of an entirely emotionally discrete past.

John McCallum’s research project focuses on the religious emotions in early modern Scotland. Although the stereotype of early modern Scottish Calvinists is extremely unemotional (dry, dour, stern), his research will utilise their diaries, poems, correspondence and publications to explore the rich and intense emotional journey involved, and their attempts to cultivate and communicate the right feelings. This involves applying the exploratory work of scholars such as Alec Ryrie and Susan Karant-Nunn to an untapped source pool, and will build on McCallum’s previous published work on the family relationships and pastoral literature of Scottish reformers such as James Melville.


Dr John McCallum is a lecturer in History, and a specialist in early modern British religious history. He teaches a range of modules at undergraduate level, including Medieval and Early Modern Worlds, Age of Reformations, War and Society in Early Modern Britain and Historiography.

  • Lizbeth Powell, PGR and Lecturer in Early Modern English History
  • Laura Charles, M3C funded PGR, Thesis title : The Experience of Marriage in the Seventeenth Century.

Making a Difference

By making an important contribution to historical understanding and by means of a planned conference on early modern Charity, Welfare and Emotions in September 2019 funded by the Royal Historical Society with keynote speakers already secured by Dr McCallum, this research will raise the profile of NTU in the wider academic community as an important centre for the study of emotions.

Through a rigorous and detailed study of the emotional life of an individual within the context of their family and community this specific research will contribute to the conversation on family formation and relationships, meeting the challenge of maintaining effective and useful social relationships and how these impacted on individual well being.

As well as deepening our understanding of the importance of emotion in early modern religious lives, the specific focus of McCallum’s research will also contribute to debates around Scottish identities. In the wake of publications such as The Wee Book of Calvin, the significance of dour Calvinism in representations of Scottishness (and especially Scottish masculinity) is increasingly debated and contested (see also

A missing element in such discussions is the historical context and an appreciation of the emotional intensity involved in sixteenth and seventeenth century Calvinism. This part of the project will therefore help us to appreciate the ways in which the development of Scottish identities have, and have not been, distinctive, and therefore has something to contribute to contemporary discourse on Scottish identities.

Related staff