Performances of Entangled Emotions and Beliefs: French and Spanish Cultural Transformations on the Sixteenth-Century Florida Peninsula

From Firenze University Press Journal: Cromohs

University of Florence
3 min readOct 19, 2022

Susan Broomhall, The University of Western Australia

The essay analyses performances of entangled emotions and beliefs — religious, racial and cultural — that lay at the heart of colonising activities of both the French and Spanish in a region that has became known today as Florida. These emotional performances of belief, I contend, occurred in multiple sites, both in practices in the Florida region and Europe, and also through rhetorical and visual forms in contemporary epistolary, manuscript and printed texts. I argue that conflicting European activities with local peoples and lands in Florida produced what were perceived as cultural transformations through complex emotional and affective labour that expressed divergent religious, racial and cultural beliefs among European and indigenous agents.

These emotional performances were articulated in affective forms through bodies, facial expression and gestures, sexual practices and violent acts. Others were expressed rhetorically in verbal encounters and textual presentations. These were sophisticated forms of emotional labour, performed by a range of participating agents from indigenous and European leaders, captains and crews, to spiritual envoys and diplomatic personnel. By the term ‘emotional labour,’ I am following the conceptualisation of sociologist Arlie Hochschild, who argued, in the modern workplace context, that certain roles require particular cognitive emotion work, affective comportment and emotional expression for successful achievement. These were not emotional ‘reactions’ to global activities and associated cultural transformation sin the sense that they were spontaneous but were instead strategic, managed displays of specific emotional content in particular contexts.

However, this is not intended to imply that such labour was not felt and experienced by agents, but rather that choices were being made about what emotions were rendered visible for consumption by others. Moreover, in suggesting that such labour was calculated and with profound political consequences, I do not mean that the emotional performances I study here were political emotions in the sense that they held only, or largely, symbolic valence. Indeed, ambassadors, for example, regularly looked to interpret emotional display in their interlocutors as a potential alternative insight into the latter’s views and feelings. Furthermore, emotional labour took place between negotiants both in physically proximate sites, but also between authors and readers, artists and viewers, whose texts were likewise crafted emotional performances with their own assumptions and agendas.This essay explores how interpretations and practices of entangled emotions and beliefs were critical to European engagement with Florida during the mid-sixteenth century.Scholars have rightly highlighted that the term ‘entanglement’ obscures the power relations of colonising relationships that were rarely, if ever, equal.

However, for my purposes the term ‘entangled’ helpfully alludes to the sense of interwoven complexities of performances that projected and reflected beliefs through emotional practices. The French attempt to control the Florida peninsula, along with the failed France antartique colony, has generally been studied as a political disaster, as its challenge to Spanish colonial dominance in the region was crushed. Scholars have typically focussed upon the politico-religious consequences of the strong Huguenot component of each endeavour, and on the literary and cultural dimensions of French encounters in the Americas.


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