Bottling Up Emotions?

Editor’s Note:  Does the lens of emotion bring into focus otherwise vague or unnoticed aspects of temperance campaigns?  Guest blogger Stephanie Olsen, of the recently launched Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, argues yes, it does.

The history of emotions has become a trendy topic recently, with some scholars arguing that it is an essential category of analysis, not unlike class, race, or gender. Several research centers have sprung up in different countries in the past few years, in England, Sweden and Australia.  At the Max Planck Center for the History of Emotions in Berlin, where I work, the theme has inspired many diverse and interesting topics, spanning regional and thematic divides.  But does this new field have any resonance for the history of alcohol and drugs?  Can it provide any new insights?

The history of emotions is about showing how emotions themselves have a history (how they change over time) and how they actually help to shape history. It is also about questioning how emotions were instrumentalized in different times and places and to what end. The temperance movement certainly appealed to the emotions, especially when the campaigning was directed at children or when appeals were made to adults to support children’s causes.  No British movement was clearer in this tactic than the Band of Hope.

The Band of Hope, founded in Leeds in 1847, was an influential multi-denominational, mainly working-class national movement. Frustrated at the slow speed of supportive legislation, temperance reformers saw the most effective way of creating a temperate society was through the education of the young.  Their characters, including their emotions, were more malleable than those of adults. Though the temperance movement among adults was controversial, there was little debate that temperance was necessary among children.(1) The Band of Hope societies were generally structured around midweek meetings with music, slides, competitions, and addresses on the importance of total abstinence.(2)  Band of Hope periodicals, the most widespread in this period being Onward and the Band of Hope Review, were an important part of the movement, whose ultimate aim was not only the inculcation of its values through its publications but also recruitment for Band of Hope meetings.

At its peak the Band of Hope attracted well over three-million juvenile members, all of whom were required to sign a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol.

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