Remarks from the Symposium History of Emotions

The symposium History of Emotions was organized on 7–8 November 2018 by the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires, the Brain and Mind Laboratory at the Aalto University, and the Aalto University Experience Platform.

The symposium addressed question on how can we study the emotions of people who lived centuries or millennia ago from an interdisciplinary perspective, bringing together scholars from neuroscience, history, literature, and language technology. Meeting of ancient Near Eastern scholars and technologically oriented researchers provided fruitful discussions.

The interaction between traditional humanities scholarship and modern computational methods was closely present in the talk Language Technological Analysis of Emotion Words in Akkadian by Tero Alstola, Heidi Jauhiainen, Aleksi Sahala, and Krister Lindén (ANEE). With computational method fastText they were able to look for words related to emotions in a corpus of 6000 Akkadian texts. For computational language technology it is nonetheless a small corpus to work with, but researchers were able to find some meaningful connections between the studied words.

Research concerning emotions in modern times was also present in the Symposium. Krista Lagus gave a talk on Rhythms and Themes Related to Fear and Joy in Finnish Social Media and Jussi Pakkasvirta on the topic National Emotions and Stereotypes in Finnish Social Media. Heini Saarimäki gave a talk on Neural Basis of Emotions.

Questions of emotions in the past were addressed from the field of historical sciences by William M. Reddy with talk Problems of Change and Periodization in the History of Emotions, Ville Vuolanto with topic Hope and Everyday Life, Andrew Crislip with talk Feeling Like a Christian in the Roman Empire and Ulrike Steinert with the title Perceptions of Selfhood in Ancient Mesopotamia.

In her talk, Ulrike Steinert discussed the basic emotions shared by every human being. Although there are similarities it is difficult to study the emotions of ancient people whose view on what emotions even are is very different from our own: for example Akkadian and Sumerian languages both lack the distinction between emotions and physical feelings. Still, they used a variety of metaphors we recognize immediately: joy is something (going) up, anger is something hot or burning. Much has changed since those cuneiform texts were written, but the symposium succeeded to show deep connections between ancient and modern people.