Timid Histories is the blog which accompanies my new research project, generously funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the University of Bristol.

The 3-year project explores the way in which shyness, or timidity, has been represented, experienced, and evaluated in modern European culture. Timidity has been talked about in different contexts for centuries (moral, medical, and literary), but no cultural history of it as yet exists. We are often more seduced by the bold, the brave, the fearless – but can we fully understand the appeal of these characteristics without knowing more about our attitudes to their opposites? And given the current levels of psychological and psychiatric intervention into social phobia and social anxiety (shyness’s twenty-first-century relations), the need for a longer view at what it is – and what it was – to be shy is even more urgent. My research will ask how individuals and societies have recognised and theorised timidity: have attitudes regarding the social acceptability of shyness changed over time, or not? And what can literary, visual, and even musical evocations of shyness tell us about this elusive social emotion?

My research project will focus primarily on nineteenth-century France, with comparison with Victorian Britain: these were times and places in which the frameworks for understanding what shyness was, why it happened, and what could or should be done about it, were changing radically. The Timid Histories blog, however, will be a chance for me to engage more widely with the topic as it has been, and still is, treated in a variety of countries, cultures, and time periods, particularly the present day.

I’d love to hear from anyone with a personal or professional interest in the subject, so please do get in touch if you’d like to be involved in the project in some capacity.

I hope you enjoy reading the blog!

Philippa Lewis

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, University of Bristol



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