Emotional Translations: Conceptual History Beyond Language

Conceptual history is a useful tool for writing the history of emotions. The investigation of how a community used emotion words at certain times and in certain places allows us to understand specific emotion knowledge without being trapped by universalism. But conceptual history is also an inadequate tool for writing the history of emotions. Its exclusive focus on language fails to capture the meanings that can be derived from emotional expressions in other media such as painting, music, architecture, film, or even food. Here emotion history can contribute to a rethinking of conceptual history, bringing the body and the senses back in. This article proposes a theoretical model to expand conceptual history beyond language by exploring three processes of emotional translation: First, how the translation between reality and its interpretation is mediated by the body and the senses. Second, how translations between different media and sign systems shape and change the meanings of concepts. Third, how concepts translate into practices that have an impact on reality. The applicability of the model is not limited to the research on concepts of emotion; the article argues that emotions have a crucial role in all processes of conceptual change. The article further suggests that historicizing concepts can best be achieved by reconstructing the relations that actors have created between elements within multimedial semantic nets. The approach will be exemplified by looking at the South Asian concept of the monsoon and the emotional translations between rain and experiences of love and romance.