CFP: Experiencing Anxiety in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe

CFP: Experiencing Anxiety in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe

eds. Kirsi Kanerva & Riikka Miettinen

We are looking for articles of max. 7000 words for an edited volume on experiences of anxiety in Northern Europe (including the Nordic areas, the British Isles, northern Germany and Poland, the Baltic regions) from the eleventh to the nineteenth century.

In this book “anxiety” refers to a distressing psycho-physiological state characterized by negatively evaluated feelings and emotions. The modern umbrella term “anxiety” covers a variety of states, some considered “normal” stressful states and others to be medicalized conditions, i.e. mental disorders. According to the modern conception, anxiety may entail feelings of uneasiness, worry, distress and even (sometimes paralyzing) dread and fear as well as physical sensations and somatic symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, trembling or shortness of breath. However, anxiety is not a specific, clear-cut sensation, feeling or an emotion – rather, it consists of a set of sensations, feelings and lines of thought typically triggered by or ascribed to some unpleasant (actual or anticipated) event or concern.

We depart from the premise that the language and vocabulary of anxieties as well as the forms they assume and how they manifest differ across cultural and historical contexts.  As in the modern world, medieval and early modern people were tormented by distinct types of anxiety that entailed, for instance, moral, religious, supernatural, economic, sexual, health-related, social and interpersonal concerns. Anxieties were expressed and represented in various ways, and the connotations of the condition as well as the causes to which it was attributed varied in the medieval and early modern environments. Earlier studies have shown that, for example, distress over salvation, apocalypse or witchcraft was not uncommon in the medieval and early modern religious mentality. Several discourses were in play in explaining the causes of ‘anxious’ conditions; alongside the learned conceptions of humoral theory, diverse vernacular understandings persisted and proliferated among the laity throughout the period under scrutiny.

This edited collection will contribute to discussions on experiences of anxiety as a cultural and historical phenomenon and on the various explanatory models proposed with regard to the causes of the condition. In particular, it aims to shed light on how such conditions were experienced by individuals and on the communal level. What kinds of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations were involved in experiencing anxieties, and how these states were comprehended in the historical and cultural contexts in focus here.

We are looking for contributions approaching the topic, medieval and early modern anxiety, from the perspective of the history of experiences, discussing the ways in which complex psycho-physiological states understood as anxieties were ‘’lived through” and experienced in lay and religious as well as rural and urban communities among the lower classes and the elites. Here, “experience” refers to experiences felt or witnessed and given meanings by individuals, and having an intense effect on their inner lives, likewise to experiences of external events. In line with Bourdieusian notions of practice theory and its applications in Monique Scheer’s idea of emotions as practice, the concept of experience is comprehended here as a socially constructed and situated practice involving the material non-dualistic body (including the mind) as the “actor and instrument” of experiences. Experiencing is doing and saying, an activity and a process of meaning-giving, carried out by a knowing body, in which past experiences are internalized, in an historical context where social structures, cultural habits and the physical environment affect the actor’s agency.

Previous scholarship has focused on the literary and artistic representations of anxiety as an emotion and as a condition in Western history. Also, the scientific, medical and religious understandings of melancholia and despair that could be understood as subspecies of anxiety, have attracted a great deal of interest. Anxiety as a mental disorder has been studied in particular the fields of history of medicine and psychology. The aim of this book is not to conduct anachronistic retrospective diagnoses but rather to present a novel perspective on the topic. The viewpoint of the history of experiences brings forth the modes of attaching meanings and emotions to events and sensations and the agency enacted by individuals and communities involved in creating and reproducing social reality. By concentrating on an era characterized by a paucity of surviving autobiographical sources, this anthology will also contribute to the development of new methodology for studying and reconstructing personal and communal experiences with a variety of sources rarely used for these purposes, including court records, sagas and miracle stories.

We invite proposals for articles that explore any of the following, or related topics, in relation to medieval or early modern Northern Europe:

– experiences of different types of anxiety (e.g. economic, religious, spiritual, sexual, social, interpersonal, health-related)
– interpretations of the causes, origins and instigators of anxieties

– bodily and somatic aspects of anxiety experiences

– various verbal, non-verbal, material and non-material means of expressing anxieties

– regulating anxiety and its expression

– context-dependent meanings attached to experiences of anxiety (e.g. good, excessive, inappropriate etc.) and communal reactions towards the “anguished” and the “anxious”
– medicalization of the various forms of anxiety
– gendered experiences of anxiety, or other intersectional perspectives


To submit your article proposal, please send a tentative title and an abstract of 200 to 400 words, with your contact information and affiliation by 5 May, to Dr. Riikka Miettinen (Tampere University) and Dr. Kirsi Kanerva (University of Helsinki), email riikka.miettinen(at) and kirsi.kaneva(at)

Important dates

5 May, 2020: deadline for abstracts

15 May 2020: information concerning acceptance sent to the writers

15 September 2020: submission deadline for articles to be submitted to editorial review

(by) 20 October 2020: editorial comments provided

30 November 2020: submission deadline for final versions, which will then go through editorial process and peer-review


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