Yesterday: A New History of Nostalgia
Tobias Becker (bis 30.09.2022)
Nostalgia is everywhere—or so we are often told. Used to explain pop cultural revivals and retro trends as well as current political events—Brexit and Trump most notably—nostalgia is the subject of a growing body of research across many disciplines. Indeed, the term nostalgia has become so widespread and broad that it is time to step back and think about what nostalgia actually is—and what it isn’t.
My project takes up this challenge. It traces how the meanings of ‘nostalgia’ changed, how it was used and what it was used for. In so doing, it shows that nostalgia often is not so much a neutral description as a loaded accusation. Though famously ‘bittersweet’, nostalgia more often figures as sweet escape than a painful longing for what cannot be recovered. Indeed, since the second half of the twentieth century it has usually been employed to describe—or rather deride—the use of the past in politics and pop culture as well as the democratisation of history by amateur historians engaged in conservation efforts, local museums, historical re-enactments or family history.
The project shows the limits of these abstract accounts of nostalgia by exploring concrete cases of these alleged manifestations of recurring “nostalgia waves”. It examines in detail how and why people engaged with the past over the second half of the twentieth century and how forgotten debates of the 1970s and 1980s still inform our thinking about the relationship between the present, the past and the future. In taking a more sympathetic, or perhaps emotionally realistic, approach to nostalgia than most critics, the book challenges widespread assumptions underlying current debates about culture and politics. More generally, it shows just how rich and diverse the ways in which people make sense of the past are.
The project is accompanied by the blog: Homesick for Yesterday: A History of the Nostalgia [Link: https://nostalgia.hypotheses.org]