Bodies, hearts, and minds: Why emotions matter to historians of science and medicine

Isis. 2009 Dec;100(4):798-810. doi: 10.1086/652020.


The histories of emotion address many fundamental themes of science and medicine. These include the ways the body and its workings have been historically observed and measured, the rise of the mind sciences, and the anthropological analyses by which "ways of knowing" are culturally situated. Yet such histories bring their own challenges, not least in how historians of science and medicine view the relationship between bodies, minds, and emotions. This essay explores some of the methodological challenges of emotion history, using the sudden death of the surgeon John Hunter from cardiac disease as a case study. It argues that we need to let go of many of our modem assumptions about the origin of emotions, and "brainhood", that dominate discussions of identity, in order to explore the historical meanings of emotions as products of the body as well as the mind.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • England
  • General Surgery / history
  • Heart Diseases / history
  • History, 18th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Philosophy / history*
  • Psychology / history*
  • Social Perception*
  • Stress, Psychological*

Personal name as subject

  • John Hunter