University of Cambridge, Selwyn College

7–8 September 2023 

Over recent years, a growing interest in affect theory and history of emotions has enriched the scholarly discussion on Italian literature and art, offering innovative interpretive perspectives. However, in certain branches of Italian Studies, a rigorous working out and historicizing of terms like emotion, affect, and sensation is still in its earliest phases. Whilst affect theory has had a significant impact in some fields of research, in other areas, there has been little sustained engagement with either affect theory or the history of emotions and sensation.

This conference aims to promote a fruitful dialogue on the perception and the representation of emotions between scholars working across different periods and different media. It will investigate how emotional repertoires and vocabularies for identifying affects and sensations evolved and changed in Italian language, literature, and the visual arts, from medieval to contemporary production. In order to further enrich the discussion, the conference will include comparative sessions with colleagues working on other Romance literatures, thus offering a comprehensive overview of ‘Italian’ thought before, after, and beyond the concretization of national boundaries.

Compianto sul Cristo morto by  Niccolò dell’Arca, photo credit Assianir, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

We encourage proposals covering a wide range of periods, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, and investigating different aspects of this debate in relation to Italian literature and culture. Potential areas of research include, but are not limited to:

Affects or emotions? Transhistorical considerations

Historicizing affect theory

The languages of emotion/affect

The relationship between sensation and affect

Affective/emotional communities. Shared affects and sensations

Race, class, and gender in affect studies

Affect, emotion, mood, atmosphere

Affect and visual culture

Affect theory, history of the emotions, and embodiment

Affect/emotion in film and media

Trans affects

Emotional/affective objects

Comparative studies of affect/emotion/sensation across time periods

Comparative studies of affect/emotion/sensation between Italian and other cultures

Affects and poetics

Affect as method

In lieu of a keynote speaker, the conference will feature one or more plenary roundtables to respond to the papers delivered. The conference will be held in person, while the plenary sessions will be streamed and recorded.

Papers may be delivered in either English or Italian, and should be no longer than 10 to 15 minutes to encourage discussion. If, as we hope, a volume might result from the conference, contributions could be usefully extended there.

Proposals for papers should include an abstract (max. 200 words) and a brief biography (max. 100 words). We ask for individual paper proposals only, so that we can configure panels according to the policies of the Society of Italian Studies. We are keen to include a diverse range of participants, particularly in relation to career stages, gender, and race. All those sending proposals are kindly requested to consult the conference policies of the Society of Italian Studies here: