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Political Engines: The Emotional Politics of Bells in Eighteenth-Century England
journal contributionposted on 2023-08-30, 17:47 authored by William Tullett
This article asks how and why bells maintained their central place in political culture between 1660 and 1832, a question that can best be approached from the perspective of histories of the emotions and senses. Such a consideration of bells allows us to extend the concept of “emotives” to encompass material culture. Often believed to “speak,” bells were fundamental to a binary emotional regime: the joy and sorrow they expressed and created were essential to perceptions of deference, community, and national feeling. But they could also be inverted and used a form of resistance. For those outside the religious or political status quo, bells could instantiate forms of emotional suffering. Tracing the “listening public” of which bells were part demonstrates the importance of the freedom to hear in the eighteenth-century public sphere. In this context, the ascription of material and emotional agency to bells was a useful rhetorical tool. Its deployment in newspaper reports of ringing, which served to encourage certain ways of listening, points to the importance of both text and sound in creating a “listening public.” But this listening public was also marked by forms of emotional suffering and exclusion that trouble the place of practices of celebration in any nascent “English” or “British” identity.
Publication titleJournal of British Studies
PublisherCambridge University Press
- Accepted version