BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival

The Free Thinking Lecture

Sage Two

To guarantee your ticket, book in advance. There will be some tickets available on the day on a first come, first served basis.

Historian of emotions Professor Thomas Dixon explains how looking to the past can help us understand our feelings in the present.

Many of us still remember the images of Paul Gascoigne crying at the 1990 World Cup, Mrs Thatcher’s red eyes on leaving Downing Street, and the national mourning for Princess Diana. Over twenty years later, the tide of tears shows no sign of receding. From public inquires to primetime TV, the Premier League to Prime Minister’s Questions, emotions seem to be everywhere in public life. With a cool head and some much-needed historical perspective, Professor Thomas Dixon opens the Free Thinking festival 2019 by showing that our emotions themselves have a history.

In recent decades, some scientists have claimed there are just five or six ‘basic emotions’, but the category of ‘emotions’ did not exist until the nineteenth century, and history reveals a much richer picture of passions, affections, and sentiments. Ranging from Mary Wollstonecraft’s political tears and the sentimental tales of Charles Dickens to the poetic rage of Audre Lorde, Thomas paints a historical panorama of emotions and ends by asking what we can learn from our ancestors about the value of stoical restraint.

The lecture will be followed by an interview conducted by Matthew Sweet and your chance to ask questions.

Thomas Dixon was the first director of Queen Mary University of London’s pioneering Centre for the History of the Emotions, the first of its kind in the UK. He is currently researching anger and has previously explored the histories of friendship, tears, and the British stiff upper lip. His books include Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears and The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain. His radio documentaries include Five Hundred Years of Friendship for BBC Radio 4 and Margaret Are You Grieving? for BBC Radio 3.

Matthew Sweet is author of Inventing the Victorians, Shepperton Babylon, The West End Front and Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters Who Fought the CIA, the Brainwashers and Themselves. He is a columnist for Art Quarterly and Newsweek and presents Free Thinking and Sound of Cinema on BBC Radio 3 and The Philosopher’s Arms on Radio 4. He was series consultant on the Showtime drama Penny Dreadful.


For your information…

  • Phase one tickets will be available from 12noon on Friday 15 February, with phase two tickets available from 12noon on Friday 1 March.
  • Tickets are strictly limited to four per person.
  • To guarantee your ticket book in advance. There will be some tickets available on the day on a first come, first served basis.
  • Please take your seats 10 minutes prior to the event start time otherwise you may lose your place.


Part of BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival

Part of BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival 2019

Welcome to the Free Thinking Festival from BBC Radio 3. All weekend here at Sage Gateshead we’re gathering together a throng of talented individuals to wrestle, debate and celebrate the theme of this year’s festival: Emotion. Whether it’s the angry turn in contemporary politics,...

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