Writing about the history of emotions is currently very popular. It is possible to approach this research field from different perspectives and with various methods. For example, fields such as the history of the body, gender studies or the history of science offer different approaches to analyse the history of emotions. For her study that deals with the history of emotions of pregnant women, Lisa Malich chose the concept of the history of knowledge. This conscious decision is taken on the grounds that she does not analyse the emotions of pregnant women as such, but focusses on writings about the emotions of pregnant women. This qualification of her research intention is an important point in her introduction: she reveals the limitations of her analysis and does not mislead the reader or raise hopes, which she cannot fulfil in her study. It is plausible that Malich selects discourse analysis as her preferred method for investigating three kinds of primary sources. Firstly, she uses German self-help literature for pregnant women and compares them with the second group that is medical and psychological texts, especially textbooks. The latter is important for analysing the discourse as such books were not solely utilised for academic purposes, but also as reference works for medical practitioners. The third group of primary sources is the literature of midwifery that includes textbooks for and journal articles about or written by midwifes. Malich investigates the period of 230 years, spanning from 1780 until 2010. She argues that the focus on long-term developments reveal not only historical discontinuities, but also continuities. The structure of the study is quite clear. There are three main chapters in chronological order. Each of them discusses the prevailing discourse at the time. To analyse the development of the debates, Malich defines three different aspects for her investigation: the predominant somatic concept of the nerves, the process of medicalizing pregnancy, and contemporary gender roles. The first chapter includes the period from the second half of the eighteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth century. The dominating concept that defined the emotions of pregnant women at this time was the ‘deterioration of sentiment’. Malich argues that the idea of a continuous increase of negative mood among expectant mothers was linked to the idea of health deterioration of pregnant women. According to her consistent structure, she explains this phenomenon on the basis of the three fields mentioned above. Firstly, Malich argues that the concept of nerves included the idea of connecting pregnancy with hysteria. Thus, the emotions of pregnant women were seen as latently pathological. Secondly, Malich shows for the field of medicalization that the depressive moods of pregnant women were often the reason why they were treated in maternity establishments. Lastly, according to contemporary gender roles, the nervous woman was a construction that served as a counterpart to the evolving ideals of femininity that were centred around the concept of motherhood. At this point, Malich remarks that it is important to consider that for many women specific reasons such as the high risk of death during childbirth (not only for the child, but also for mothers) were responsible for their mood changes. However, here she is only able to speculate as her sources do not provide the basis for such a conclusion. The second chapter, entitled ‘Verbesserte Stimmung, Mutterliebe und der Einzug der Hormone’, turns to the nineteenth century, when the concept of an ‘improvement in sentiment’ started to replace the former idea of a ‘deterioration of sentiment’ and dominated the discourses until 1960. Again, the author follows the structure set out in the introduction. Now, the time of pregnancy became the time of mental retreat and peace and was considered natural and healthy. In this context, being healthy meant not only physical wellbeing, but also mental health. A healthy psyche was linked to positive emotions. Additionally, pregnancy also remained deeply integrated in medical and psychological discourses. Malich argues that the medicalization of pregnancy opened new avenues of knowledge production. One of these avenues focussed on the emotions of pregnant women. Furthermore, motherhood shaped the ideal of femininity in the contemporary gender order. After the Second World War, many women had more positive experiences with pregnancy and giving birth, due to the advances in hygiene standards and medical knowledge. In this way, positive feelings were a sign of improving living conditions for women in the post-war period. The last chapter discusses the latest change in the discourses about the emotions of pregnant women. The emotional knowledge about women since the 1970s is characterized by ambivalent ideas of both improving and deteriorating sentiments. Describing emotions of pregnant women in terms of mood changes became increasingly popular. Malich holds medicalised ideas of hormones responsible for this development. Hormones were seen as the most important trigger for mood swings. In medicine, the psyche of pregnant women has been increasingly regulated. Maternal patterns of emotions were transferred to pregnant women. Therefore, Malich concludes her discussion of this recent development with a symbol instead of an explanation. She writes that today’s discourse about the contemporary gender roles swings between emancipation and a backlash to traditional roles: an arbitrary pendulum that would reflect the mood changes of pregnant women. Due to the clear and stringent structure of the book, Malich is able to entangle the large and diffuse field of the history of emotions for the special case of pregnant women. Furthermore, she develops a concept to discuss the developments in the discourses at the time that is capable of grasping the entire period of 230 years. However, it remains questionable if all changes in the discourses can be based on exact these three aspects of her conceptual model (dominant somatic concept of nerves; the process of medicalising pregnancy; contemporary gender roles). As a result, the structure of the book seems fixed and a bit constructed. Nevertheless, she accomplishes to analyse the 230 years in such a manner that the reader feels having been comprehensively informed about this particular topic. In conclusion, this study can be recommended to anyone interested in the history of emotions. © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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