Joanna Beaufoy

Joanna Beaufoy

PhD fellow

Provisional project title: "A Little Light Appeared at the Window: Love Lighting in Paris 1855-1910"

Main supervisor: Lene Østermark-Johansen, Professor, Copenhagen University. Member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.
Co-supervisor: Carsten Meiner, Professor, Copenhagen University.

The key question my PhD research explores is: "What were the effects of the technological changes in artificial lighting on emotions and relationships in late nineteenth-century Paris?”

Everyday technologies are a part of literary depictions of emotions, but so far research has paid little attention to how these technologies function in literature. My project looks at lighting technologies at the end of the 19th and opening of the 20th century in Paris and explores how writers included them in the ways they evoked love relationships. This era in Paris saw extraordinary innovations in the possibilities of emotional experience as affected by light, transforming from a place lit by oil lanterns, to gas light and mass public street lighting, to electric lighting in just a few decades.

The effects of these technologies on the emotional experiences of people living at the time are documented in literature by poets and novelists at the time. In the era of change between candlelight, oil lamps, gas light and electricity, the way that writers ‘lit’ emotional scenes can tell us much about the relationships between our emotions and our environment. To what extent can we call love a material phenomenon: a set of emotions that are stimulated, supported and extinguished by the everyday things that are part of who we are? My project takes theoretical inspiration from New Materialism, the intellectual movement that gathers observations about what happens when we consider humans on the same ontological plane as our environment.

The project further asks historical sociological questions about who is behind the interaction between technology and our emotions. I compare literary texts with design documents and memoir as historical sources to ask whether this influence of lighting on feelings of love, which writers were describing, were somehow « designed » as part of the creation of modern Paris. In the creation of new public spaces in Second Empire Paris, to what extent did its designers of everyday things produce spaces which — intentionally or un-intentionally — encouraged or inspired love?

The research can be illuminating and useful for research and policy that seeks to evaluate the effects of new technologies on the ways we practice love in built environment. In a broader sense, this research into lighting technologies can stimulate an awareness about the extent to which emotions are part of the material worlds that we build and that we engage with; we might choose to consider more carefully, therefore, the consequences on relationships of the technologies that we build and imagine for future generations.

The project, presented in five academic articles, takes Paris as a case study of a place where some writers employed new lighting technologies to convey and tell stories about love. Articles for the PhD submission discuss literature of the period set in Paris to explore how these new technologies were employed poetically and discursively, to fulfil aesthetic, narrative and rhetorical functions of fiction.

My methodologies are literature analysis in French and English writing about Paris, using design history as historical context. One of the articles will present research using digital visualisation methods, and the project will discuss this process and suggest useful it could be to literature scholars studying technology and the history of emotions.

My PhD project is part of a wider research project, "Where Love Happens: Topographies of Emotions in Nineteenth-Century European Literature" funded by the Velux Foundation. My work involves organising and participating in several international conferences and seminars and an interactive exhibition at the German Romanticism Museum in Frankfurt in 2025.

At the department of English, German and Romance Languages I am also a lecturer. My PhD includes designing and teaching the following courses:

  • An introduction to French literature and culture: 1789 to 1945 (Spring semester 2022, co-taught with Professor Meiner)
  • New approaches to French Naturalism: environmental history and anthropocene philosophy (Spring semester 2023, proposed)

I was previously a content designer at Bayes Impact, a Paris-based technology nonprofit, working as part of a product team designing an advice and coaching experience for jobseekers.

My research interests include:

  • French literature and linguistics
  • Service Design
  • Experience Design
  • Design Research
  • Digital Humanities
  • Qualitative Methods
  • History of Emotions
  • Environmental humanities

Selected publications

  1. Published

    ‘Une lueur douteuse’: Artificial Light and the Literary Imagination (1841–1913)

    Beaufoy, Joanna, 22 May 2024, In: Dix-Neuf. 28, 1

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  2. Published

    Chopin's pickled heart

    Beaufoy, Joanna, 3 Mar 2023

    Research output: Other contributionNet publication - Internet publicationResearchpeer-review

  3. Published

    Temple de la Sibylle, Buttes Chaumont park, Paris (1866)

    Beaufoy, Joanna, 2023

    Research output: Other contributionNet publication - Internet publicationResearchpeer-review

ID: 283747185