Sheena Culley – Killing Pain: Aspirin and the Emotional

Event date: 26 October 2012

Room B04

Birkbeck Main Building

University of London

Malet Street, Bloomsbury

London WC1E 7HX

The Birkbeck Pain Project & Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities present:

Pain as Emotion; Emotion as Pain: Perspectives from Modern History

‘With the benefit of the past two centuries of scientific work and thought, can one define pain?’ The question was asked by the neuroscientist Edward R. Perl (Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 8, 2007). He concluded that ‘it seems reasonable to propose pain to be both a specific sensation and an emotion’.

With that, the question of physiological pain opens up to those who study the history of emotions, which in turn gives way to new possibilities of understanding the historical and cultural contingencies of physical pain. The statement also begs the question of the extent to which emotion is in fact pain, if pain is in part emotion. Should the histories of anger, fear, anxiety, grief and compassion be studied as varieties of pain? In what ways have they been understood to have a physiological component? Likewise in histories in which physical pain plays a prominent part – the history of medicine notably – how far should our understanding of pain be influenced by the study of emotionologies that determine how the feeling of pain is expressed? How have emotional contexts affected the experience of pain?

This one-day conference will approach these questions by focusing broadly on the dynamics of the emotional, cultural and medical history of pain in the modern period. The conference aims to foster discussion on the importance of emotion as it relates to physical pain and on emotions themselves as varieties of pain, among experts working on the history of science/medicine, the history of the body, and the history of emotions, with perspectives from a variety of national contexts.

Sheena Culley (Kingston University) – Killing Pain: Aspirin and the Emotional


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