WSU professor set to take history by the heartstrings

Love, grief, envy and homesickness are just a few of the emotions Susan Matt, a professor of history at Weber State, will touch on at the 15th annual Hinckley lecture this Tuesday.

The WSU history department chair will take history by the heartstrings with her presentation “An Emotional History of America.” She will bring a unique look at our nation’s past through the lens of emotion.

“I’m trying to get at how people experience the world,” Matt said. “I think by looking at how people feel about big events and small ones that we get a window on the inner life of past generations.”

According to Matt, the lecture will examine how the expressed and repressed emotions affect American life and how these changing emotions define the course of history.

She said that studying history through emotion offers us a different way of understanding what our society is about.

“It’s as much about what goes on inside our heads as what goes on in the physical world that shapes our economy in society,” she said.

Matt said she will primarily focus on how emotions like envy impacted American history, especially when pertaining to capitalism. In fact, she’s particularly interested in how emotions integral to capitalism have changed over time.

Susan Matt, WSU history department chair, was nominated to be the 15th annual Hinckley lecturer. Matt will lecture on the emotional history of America. (Source: History Department)

She said that people believe capitalism depends on things like banks and mass production. One of her main goals during the lecture will be to shed light on how emotions play a key role in a capitalist society.

“Those institutions would have no significance if American’s hadn’t learned certain habits about how to act on their emotions,” she said. “So how did we learn to become buyers and spenders and what emotional patterns sustain that?”

Matt was nominated to carry on the Hinckley legacy based on her accomplishments and research as a faculty member, according to Michael B. Vaughan, the Weber State provost.

According to Vaughan, most faculty members who are nominated have shown exemplary performance in the three areas of the award, which are teaching, scholarship and service. Once you win the award in the spring, you are welcomed to give a campus lecture in the fall.

For Vaughan, the lecture series is a great way to bring attention to what faculty members are doing in their research and on campus.

“For the most part, the students on campus are unaware of the research on campus that the faculty is doing,” he said. “It gives the students an opportunity to learn about that research.”

The Hinckley award recipient is allowed to choose whatever topic they want to discuss with the campus and community, said Vaughan.

“Most talk about their research and that’s really intended to be the focus of the lecture,” he said. “They are free to talk about anything they wish.”

Matt has always been interested in history, even as a child. However, she chose discussing history through emotion because it’s something she thought would be a unique experience to share with students.

“It’s kind of a strange little sub-field, but I find it really fascinating,” she said. “I thought since everybody has emotions, they might be interested in the historical context for them.”

WSU English Professor and Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor Michael Wutz nominated Matt because of her accomplishments not only as a teacher, but as a well-rounded human being.

“I think that (Matt) is an extraordinary individual on all levels, both as a scholar, as a teacher and also as a Weber State citizen,” he said. “I just love her willingness to go the extra mile.”

Wutz is looking forward to attending her lecture and encourages students to get involved with campus events like this.

“It’s going to be really, really good,” he said. “I think that for even somebody like me who is not a historian will be able to take a lot away from her lecture.”

The free lecture will be held on Nov. 18 at 1 p.m. in the Stewart Library Hetzel-Hoellein Room.