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The Carnival of Emotions at the Wonder Street Fair

Today and tomorrow, the Carnival of Emotions visits the Wonder Street Fair at the Barbican. The Street Fair is part of the Wonder Season, a Wellcome Trust event dedicated to exploring art and science on the brain. The Barbican foyer will spring to life in this free event, where visitors can learn about cutting-edge neuroscience, participate in cognitive experiments and create your own brain-inspired artwork. From cave painting to motion sensors, eye-trackers to body illusions, you can knit a neuron, test your reactions, and pit your wits against brain scientists.

The Carnival of Emotions is a historical event, run by the Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions. In March, researchers performed at St Bartholomew's Hospital Pathology Museum, using the dramatic idea of the Lost Emotions Machine (pictured below) to explore the way in which our feelings differ depending on historical period and culture. At the Street Fair, visitors have a chance to try out the machine, with the help of historians in period costume, and travel back in time to explore emotions long since obsolete.

It is often easy for us to assume that the feelings we experience today are universal and unchanging. Depression, for example, might seem to have always been experienced by human beings. However, the machine shows us that melancholy in the 1600s had many features that we would not necessarily associate with modern depression. Primarily characterised by fear, melancholy was also connected with fixed beliefs, such as the commonly described 'Glass Man'. This was a person's strong belief that he was made entirely of glass, leading to the associated fear that any movement might cause the body to shatter. Thus, not only might the words used to classify emotions, and the way in which particular features are associated with each other, change over time: the very experience of emotional states can be just as historically specific.

The Wonder Street Fair will be held in the foyer of the Barbican Centre from 12 - 7.30pm on the 8 and 9 April. Entry is free, and there is no need to book. The Carnival of Emotions will be open throughout.

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Photograph: The Wellcome Trust / Katie Garner