History of Emotions

Emotions are key to our cognition, memory, motivation, responses, relations, our ways of being in the world.Our emotions are shaped by our social and cultural context: they are habits engrained into our body by repeated patterns of behaviour and imitation. I have always been interested in the cultural history of emotions. My PhD research focused on anger and revenge in early modern drama. I have since bettered my life and am now a compassion researcher (like Brené Brown!). I am currently finishing a book on the practice of compassion in early modern playhouses as part of my NWO VENI project Moving Scenes. I am also editing a volume on compassion in Early Modern Europe together with Katherine Ibbett.

Environmental Humanities

During my VENI project, I became more and more interested in the environmental humanities. I am convinced that the current environmental issues are so complex that they need an interdisciplinary approach: the natural and social sciences and the humanities need to work together to approach problems in all their complexity. As the biologist Sverker Sörlin puts it,

Our belief that science alone could deliver us from the planetary quagmire is long dead. […] It seems this time that our hopes are tied to the humanities. […] In a world where cultural values, political and religious ideas, and deep-seated human behaviors still rule the way people lead their lives, produce, and consume, the idea of environmentally relevant knowledge must change.[source]

Together with Sjoerd Kluiving, I founded an Environmental Humanities Center at my university. We are finding that the center answers a desire for the integration of humanities perspectives on the relations between natures and cultures, between humans and their environment — with students, researchers from other disciplines, and local institutions. We hope to make this center grow into an inspiring, creative, and open-minded hub for all kinds of collaborations.

Key publications

Weeping Verse: Jasper Heywood’s Translation of Seneca’s Troades (1559) and the Politics of Vicarious Compassion,” Renaissance Studies, Early View, October 2016 (paywall).

renaissancestudiesJasper Heywood’s Troas (1559) was the first English translation of one of Seneca’s tragedies. Although Heywood’s and later Tudor translations of Seneca’s tragic corpus have predominantly been studied for their influence on Elizabethan revenge tragedy, recent criticism has focused on the way they respond to contemporary politics. This article takes a fresh approach to the question of the translation’s political significance by analyzing its intended emotional effect on its readers. Dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I as a New Year’s gift in the month of her coronation, his translation seeks to intervene in the new queen’s religious politics. By arousing Elizabeth’s pity with the Trojan women, Heywood’s Troas was intended to kindle vicarious compassion with English Catholics, for whom the death of Queen Mary I was as momentous as the fall of Troy.

cambridgeguideSteenbergh, K. “Cognition and Affect” in The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, Vol. 2: Volume 2: The World’s Shakespeare, 1660–Present, edited by Bruce Smith (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016). 1797-1802.

Anneleen Masschelein, Kristine Steenbergh, and Arne Vanraes, “Een bewogen veld. De ‘affective turn’ in de eenentwintigste literatuurtheorie en historische letterkunde.” Grote gevoelens in de literatuur, Cahier voor Literatuurwetenschap 7 (2015), eds. Tobias Hermans and Gunther Martens. 117-42.

Steenbergh, K. “Gossips’ Mirth: Gender, Humor, and Female Spectators in Ben Jonson’s The Staple of News (1626),” in: Laughter, Humor, and the (Un)making of Gender: Historical and Cultural Perspectives, edited by Anna Foka and Jonas Liliequist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 85-102.


Steenbergh, K. “Compassion and the Creation of an Affective Community in the Theatre: Vondel’s Mary Stuart, or Martyred Majesty (1646),” BMGN 129:2 (2014): 90-112.

Steenbergh, K. “Gender Studies – Emotions in Jeptha (1659)” in: Vondel: Dutch Dramatist in the Golden Age, edited by Frans-Willem Korsten, Jan Bloemendal and Stefan van der Lecq (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 407-26.

Steenbergh, K. “Emotions and Gender: The Case of Anger in Early Modern English Revenge Tragedies,” in: A History of Emotions, 1200–1800, edited by Jonas Liliequist (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012), 119-34.

Sexed Sentiments: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender and Emotion. Edited by Willemijn Ruberg and Kristine Steenbergh (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2011).


Sexed Sentiments
provides a gender perspective on the recent turn to affect in criticism. It presents new work by scholars from different disciplines working on gender and emotion, a field par excellence where an interdisciplinary focus is fruitful. This collection presents essays from such disciplines as history, literary studies, psychology, sociology and queer studies, focusing on subjects varying from masculinity in the cult of sensibility to the role of empathy in forging feminist solidarities. The volume illuminates how new theoretical approaches to both gender and emotion may be productively applied to a variety of fields.

Green Wounds: Pain, Anger and Revenge in Early Modern Culture,” in: The Sense of Suffering: Constructions of Physical Pain in Early Modern Culture, edited by Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen en Karl Enenkel (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 165-88.