"None but a Parent:" Bringing the History of Emotions into Business History

Andrew Popp

This paper argues that the study of emotions should be integrated into business history and that this should take place through a dialogue with the emerging field of the history of emotions. The history of emotions would argue that rather than universal and immutable, emotions in fact have a great deal of historical specificity according to time and socio-cultural setting. It is in this sense that emotions and emotionality have a history. The paper makes its argument by asking what insights can be derived from adopting a history of emotions approach to a specific case. The case explored here is that of the Wilkinson family, who in the early nineteenth-century owned and ran multiple small-scale retail businesses across towns in Lancashire, England. Extant intimate correspondence between multiple members of the Wilkinson family allow us to explore the ‘emotionology’ or emotional grammar and register inhabited by family members, providing a form of access to their emotional experiences. The paper argues for a view of affect as cause, of affect as effect, and for affect as resource. Emotions prove to be a very significant factor in explaining the business lives of the Wilkinsons. The conclusion argues that emotions should be seen as a form of action.