The heart is the most symbolic organ of the human body. Across cultures it is seen as the site of emotions, as well as the origin of life. We feel emotions in the heart, from the heart-stopping sensation of romantic love to the crushing sensation of despair. And yet since the nineteenth century the heart has been redefined in medical terms as a pump, an organ responsible for the circulation of the blood. Emotions have been removed from the heart as an active site of influence and towards the brain. It is the brain that is the organ most commonly associated with emotion in the modern West. So why, then, do the emotional meanings of the heart linger? Why do many transplantation patients believe that the heart, for instance, can transmit memories and emotions and why do we still refer to emotions as 'heartfelt'? We cannot answer these questions without reference to the history of the heart as both physical organ and emotional symbol. Matters of the Heart traces the ways emotions have been understood between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries as both physical entities and spiritual experiences. With reference to historical interpretations of such key concepts as gender, emotion, subjectivity and the self, it also addresses the shifting relationship from heart to brain as competing centres of emotion in the West..
About the author
Dr Fay Bound Alberti is a writer and cultural historian who specialises in the study of medicine, emotions and gender. She has lectured at several UK universities, and has published on many aspects of early modern medicine and culture in major journals, including the Lancet, History Workshop Journal and Isis. She has also contributed to media debates on the history of medicine, including BBC Radio 4's In our Time with Melvyn Bragg, and The Eureka Years with Adam Hart-Davis. Previous publications include Medicine, Emotion and Disease (Palgrave, 2006). Fay is currently Senior Research Fellow in History at Queen Mary University of London, and Honorary Research Associate at the Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL. She is also Policy Advisor for the Arcadia Fund, a charitable trust that protects endangered treasures of nature and culture.
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