What Object Is Fear?

This article reviews two edited volumes on fear, important contributions to the newly developing field of the history of emotions. The question at the center of Jan Plamper and Benjamin Lazier's volume is how fear is constituted as an object; this question is investigated in an interdisciplinary dialogue. Focusing on the twentieth century, the editors bring together psychologists, historians of science and of emotions, and specialists in literature studies, politics, and film. Taking the dialogue beyond the social sciences is certainly an exciting and necessary exercise, but it also raises the question whether both sides are really talking about the same object. Michael Laffan and Max Weiss place fear in a global history perspective. They cover a wide scope, from early modernity to the present, and geographically including the Americas and Indonesia. Taken together, both volumes not only give an impressive overview of the field of fear studies, and add to it through a number of case studies, but also raise the question “what object is fear?” in a new way. If this object is as fluid as appears from the two volumes—not only with respect to the different events that trigger fear, the different uses it was put to, and the politics it allowed, but as a felt emotion—this calls for further investigation notably into the words and concepts used to make sense of the experience.