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December 27, 1995

American Cool: Constructing a Twentieth-Century Emotional Style

Author Affiliations

New York University Medical Center New York, NY

JAMA. 1995;274(24):1967-1968. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530240077048

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Peter Stearns, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Heinz Professor of History at Carnegie Mellon University, has written an interesting book on "cool" as an American emotional style. More precisely, he investigates the transition of American emotional culture from the Victorianism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the current set of emotional values that affect our emotional life, family life, work and social interactions, and cultural standards.

In his introduction, Stearns relates the following anecdote to epitomize the change in our understanding of cool:

A university student writes on an examination that Columbus received a hearty welcome on his return to Spain; when asked why he made such an egregious historical mistake, he points to the textbook which states quite clearly that the explorer had received a "cool reception."

The author of the text had defined cool as restrained; the student defined cool

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