Does the study of history promote empathy? If so, with whom? And how does this aspiration sit alongside other historical values such as balance or objectivity? Historians have long grappled with these questions, despite expressing them in different terms (the word ‘empathy’ is a twentieth-century coinage).
This lecture will explore the history of historical empathy from the eighteenth century to the present. David Hume, the leading Enlightenment theorist of ‘sympathy’ – the eighteenth-century term for morally improving fellow-feeling – vaunted this virtue as the key hallmark of civility. He contrasted this with the callous barbarism of religious ‘fanatics’, such as Puritans or Irish Catholics, with whom he had no sympathy whatsoever. Nineteenth-century historians often similarly contrasted the civilized fellow-feeling of the British with the supposedly heartless cruelty of their colonial subjects. In recent decades the cultivation of empathy has been widely invoked as a defence of historical study, especially in fields such as Holocaust education. Empathy has also, though, become a terrain of conflict between competing camps and causes, and in culture-war political disputes. Exploring the history of empathy in historical writing, this lecture will seek to show, usefully helps to disentangle our contemporary confusions over this idea.
For more information and to register, please visit: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/kingsartshums/1018640?