Call for Articles: Routledge Handbook on Nostalgia

Dylan Trigg an the University of Vienna and I are looking for contributions for a prospective Routledge Handbook on Nostalgia.

In recent years the literature on nostalgia has expanded to the point that some scholars already speak of “nostalgia studies” as a discipline in its own right. This volume proceeds from the conviction that taking stock of this area of research in all its diversity will generate a sounder foundation for these studies. Such is the aim of the Routledge Handbook on Nostalgia.

A notoriously slippery concept, nostalgia has attracted many different and sometimes contrasting definitions and interpretations. Rather than trying to replace this polyphony by a catch-all definition or favouring one approach or perspective, the Routledge Handbook on Nostalgia aims to map the state of the field as extensively as possible, bringing together contributions from different disciplines. Instead of case studies on specific examples (one film, book, music album, artefact, site or fashion) we are looking for short and concise overview articles on one more general aspects of nostalgia (the remake, retro fashion, the ruin, the post-industrial site etc.). 

More specifically, we are looking for contributions for one of the following five sections:

  1. Disciplines (philosophy, anthropology, geography, psychology, literary studies, etc.)
  2. Concepts (memory, emotion, gender, queer nostalgia, afro-nostalgia etc.)
  3. History and politics (conservatism, [post-]socialism, [post-]colonial etc.)
  4. Materiality (spaces, places, objects, souvenirs etc.)
  5. Media and genres (film, television, the novel, the memoir etc.)

Suggestions for topics that do not fit under one of these headings are also welcome!

If you are interested to contribute please send an abstract of no more than 250-350 words alongside a short CV to and by March 31st 2022.

New publication: “cultures of conservatism” in the VfZ

Im soeben erschienenen Januar-Heft der Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte startet der VfZ-Schwerpunkt „Kulturen des Konservativen in der jüngsten Zeitgeschichte – das Beispiel Großbritannien“, eingeleitet und organisiert von Martina Steber und mir. Jedes der vier VfZ-Hefte des Jahres 2022 wird einen Beitrag zum Thema enthalten. Konzentriert auf Großbritannien, beleuchten sie verschiedene Facetten und Formen der Populärkulturen von der populären Klassik, der Fernsehserie, dem Rock ’n Roll bis hin zum Musical, fragen nach ihren konservativen Potenzialen, ihrer Politisierbarkeit wie ihrer Kommerzialisierung.

Der VfZ-Schwerpunkt denkt Kulturen des Konservativen im Plural, die rein im Kulturellen wirksam sein, aber auch politischen Zwecken dienen konnten, und zeigt, dass der transatlantische neue Konservatismus, wie er sich seit den 1970er Jahren ausbildete, ohne diese popkulturelle Ebene kaum verständlich ist. Mit einem Aufsatz zu dem britischen Komponisten, Dirigenten und Musikunternehmer John Rutter, einem Vertreter der populären Klassik und recht ungewöhnlichen Star der transatlantischen Popkultur, beginnt Martina Steber die Reihe. Im April-Heft wird Nikolai Wehrs die britische Sitcom „Yes Minister“ auf ihre Verbindungen mit dem Thatcherismus hin durchleuchten. In den beiden folgenden Heften schreiben Tobias Becker über Rock-Music und Amanda Eubanks Winkler über die Musicals Andrew Lloyd Webbers.

New publication: CBH theme issue on “Writing Europe into British Cultural History”

In Britain the history of culture – and popular culture especially – is often written within a national paradigm. Books about British pop music, British cinema, British music hall, British musical and so on abound. If other parts of the world are included at all, then mostly with an eye to the United States, or regions belonging to the (former) British Empire or the Commonwealth. Contacts, connections and transfers between Britain and continental Europe are often ignored. Together with Felix Fuhg I have edited the theme issue of Contemporary British HistoryWriting Europe into British Cultural History” that wants to highlight these omissions and to try out ways to bring them into focus. Our programmatic introduction is followed by five case studies looking at specific examples from film, fashion, food, travel and music from the 1960s to the 1970s:

International Sexpionage! European Popular Film on Sixties British Cinema Screens” by Adrian Smith

Did Britain rule the world again? The international fashion market and the continental look in 1960s London” by Felix Fuhg

Enthusing about green peppers: the Europeanisation of British food culture in post-war Britain, 1960-1975” by Joanne Hollows

Flight to the Sun: Package tours and the Europeanisation of British holiday culture in the 1970s and 1980s” by Sina Fabian

NEU! Europe: Krautrock and British representations of West German countercultures during the 1970s” by Patrick Glen

New publication: ZF theme issue on nostalgia



Tobias Becker/Sabine Stach

Nostalgie. Historische Annäherungen an ein modernes Unbehagen



Makoto Harris Takao

Beyond Nostalgia and the Prison of English.
Positioning Japan in a Global History of Emotions

Tobias Becker

Er war nie weg.
»Hitler-Welle« und »Nazi-Nostalgie« in der Bundesrepublik der 1970er-Jahre

Joanna Wawrzyniak

›Hard Times but Our Own‹.
Post-Socialist Nostalgia and the Transformation of Industrial Life in Poland

Stefan Berger

Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Nostalgie.
Das Kulturerbe der Deindustrialisierung im globalen Vergleich



Vergangenheitssehnsucht und Rechtspopulismus.
Drei disziplinäre Perspektiven auf die politischen Effekte von Nostalgie

Tobias Becker/Sabine Stach


Tim Wildschut/Constantine Sedikides/Anouk Smeekes

Nostalgia and Populism.
An Empirical Psychological Perspective

Alexander Leistner/Julia Böcker

»Im Osten geht die Sonne auf«.
Nostalgie als soziologische Erklärung der Gegenwart
von Vergangenheit in Ostdeutschland?

Martin Sabrow

Nostalgie als historisches Zeit-Wort 



Juliane Brauer

Nostalgie und Heimweh.
Zum politischen Gehalt von Heimatgefühlen 

Marcel Thomas

Jenseits der Nostalgie.
Lokalgeschichte und Lebenserinnerungen in Ost- und Westdeutschland




Sabine Stach

»Ich war gerne hier«.
Ein Streifzug durch Ausstellungen über den Staatssozialismus:
Leipzig, Berlin, Warschau, Prag

Neu gelesen/Literature Revisited:

Achim Saupe

Destination Vergangenheit.
David Lowenthals Panorama geschichtskultureller Aneignungen (1985/2015)

Historical Slumming in the North of England

St. Mary’s Church York — The National Coal Mining Museum — Quarry Bank Mill — St. Michael’s Church Chester — Black Country Living History Museum

Comes over one an absolute necessity to move … and even when not: the National Archives in Kew only go so far which, with a topic like heritage, is not very far at all. So, last October, autumn holidays, we donned our hiking boots and backpacks and caught a train to the North.

First stop: York. York because it was here that one of the first “heritage centres” opened in 1975. After fighting many an uphill battle against “the planners” after the Second World War, the conservation movement in the end won the war. The 1975 European Architectural Heritage Year acknowledged the importance of historic preservation and triggered a flurry of grassroots activities across Europe and nowhere more so than in Britain. It also turned “heritage” into a household term and led to the creation of heritage centres, museums on local history based not on historic artefacts but organised around exhibitions and displays. Often, they were housed in disused churches such as St. Mary’s Church in York.

For the critics of heritage in the 1980s, the heritage centre was one of the worst outgrowth of what they called the “heritage industry” although it is not easy to understand why today. This criticism or, reversely, the lack of advocacy from academics, may have contributed to the demise of the heritage centre as it was once conceived, with rising costs in all likelihood a more decisive factor. Few of the original heritage centres survive and what calls itself heritage centre today is often simply a glorified gift shop, peddling localised merchandise. St. Mary’s Church is used as an exhibition space today.

Second stop: the National Coal Mining Museum for England. Not far from York in Overton is the National Coal Mining Museum. The first colliery opened here in the late eighteenth century. Miners went down for the next two hundred years digging ever longer tunnels with ever more advanced technology until they had to leave it all behind—the machinery, their livelihood, their culture—when the mine closed in 1985. In 1988 it became the Yorkshire Mining Museum renamed the National Coal Mining Museum in 1995. Today it is part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage that links the North of Britain with heavy industry areas in Belgium, France, Germany and elsewhere.

After ambling through the exhibition, we went on a tour down the shafts guided by a former miner who taught us about the history of mining from Victorian times to the 1980s, when he had worked there. It didn’t seem to make anyone yearn for the past—even in the bigger tunnels we felt cramped and claustrophobic and we were much relieved when the tour ended and we returned from the coal face to the face of the earth. Leaving the museum, I noticed a bright red steam train named “Progress”—the proud self-confidence of Victorian times today’s museum piece.

Third stop: Quarry Bank Mill. Steam trains were one thing you needed coal for, another was the growing textile industry. So, it was only natural that our route would lead us to a mill next, though the mill we went to, Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire, was water powered when it opened in 1784, a steam engine was added only later. In 1939 the mill was donated to the National Trust though it continued to run till 1959. Like the mines, the mill today only exists for us to learn what industry once was. It makes one looking forward to a future when the same will have happened to the mighty institutions of our age, when you go to a bank not to get money or a loan but as a tourist, guided by a former banker wearing an anachronistic bowler hat, much like John Gandy painted the recently completed Bank of England as a ruin.

The exhibitions in the various parts of the mill cover many aspects: the history of the industrial revolution and the textile industry, the cotton plantations in America and the slave trade, the working conditions and the life of the employees. Because Quarry Bank Mill heavily drew on child apprentices—often orphans from workhouses in London, Liverpool and the surrounding region—child labour is a particularly prominent theme. It also helps to address the most important clientele of any museum: families with children. That the theme struck a chord with them was evident from a big brown board which invited visitors to leave comments.

If anything, the comments spoke of nostophobia rather than nostalgia: “My name is Kay I am 60 years old, and I used to work in a Cotton Mill. I used to run the machines. The ‘good old days’ eh!!” This was a general theme. To the question posed by the museum “Why does this matter today?” one visitor answered: “To make us appreciate what we have today”, “So glad I was born in 2004!” another. If this was the opposite of nostalgia, it was at least as problematic. If nostalgia, as is often argued, makes the past better as it was, here the past was made worse to make us feel better in the present.

It was a case “historical slumming” as the writer Douglas Coupland calls it: “The act of visiting locations such as diners, smokestack industrial sites, rural villages—locations where time appears to have been frozen many years back—so as to experience relief when one returns back to ‘the present’.”1 Yet, there were also visitors whose answer would do any teacher of history proud: “Do you know how the clothes you wear today are made? And by who?” asked one, “A reminder that these are still conditions in which people are working today” another. History may not life’s teacher anymore, but it still has some lessons for us.

Fourth stop: St. Michael’s Church Chester. And so, we came to Chester, like York founded in Roman times. Chester also shares with York that it had one of the first heritage centres in Britain in a former church. Whether the first or the second, it, too, later folded, making way for an exhibition space. I found much more material on this heritage centre in the local archives than in York. Historic conservation is taken very seriously in Chester probably because there is so much to conserve.

Fifth stop: The Black Country Living Museum. The Black Country Living Museum, an open-air museum west of Birmingham, is rather tricky to get to if you do not have a car. The nearest train station is Tipton and from there you have to take the bus, especially if you carry a lot of luggage—as we generally do—and it is raining cats and dogs—as it did on the day we went.

After a twenty-minute wait at the bus stop in the cold and damp, both of which seemed to be increasing disproportionately with every passing minute, the mood of some of us—me—had deteriorated so far that that  this minor inconvenience became a potent symbol of the state of post-Brext Britain. Thus, I grumbled under my breath, oblivious to an elderly lady also waiting for the bus.  When it finally—miraculously—arrived after another fifteen minutes, she got back at me in the most elderly ladylike way by insisting on giving us a packet of biscuits. There was no way to refuse—especially as we were all famished and I’m rather fond of biscuits.

Thus, I was doubly shut up, embarrassed and chewing. Put in my place, I settled into it, pretending to enjoy the scenery, though there wasn’t much to enjoy in the Thatcherite-ravaged landscape of take-away shops and small houses and smaller hopes, made even drearier by the rain. However, this was not the end of the story because the kindness of the old lady had not escaped the attention of the bus driver. Nothing could have pleased him more: the old lady had done herself, him and the whole Black Country proud, confirming his belief in the general kindness and hospitality of Black Country folk. “That’s how people are here in the Black Country,” he said. I’m sure he was rightly proud and yet such pride, it seemed to me then, it seems to me now looking back, has something treacherous: while it may help to weather events like deindustrialisation, it also threatens to keep people back from rising above themselves and from demanding something better even than a museum commemorating a time of a different pride as well as different hardships.

When we finally arrived at the museum, the rain had stopped. By now we only had two hours left but this was enough to get a general overview of the site and visit some of the 50 shops and houses on the site. What impressed us most was a conversation with the pawnbroker who really brought to life the economy of a Victorian village. After that, there was just enough time for a pint at the museum pub before we caught the bus back to the train station to return to the present.

  1. Douglas Coupland, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (London: Abacus 1992), p. 13. []

A kind of historical metaphysic

This is a follow-up post to the preceding one on W.G. Sebald, this time looking at the experience of time in his book Austerlitz.

Like any good novel, W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz is at heart a thriller. But though part of the book is set in one, this is not The Murder at the Vicarage and though Jacques Austerlitz wanders through libraries and archives, it is not The Body in the Library. The victim is not a well-to-do minister, manufacturer or widow, the victims count in the millions, Austerlitz’ parents among them. And Austerlitz, too, robbed of his mother and father, his childhood, his identity, the gradual, painful recovery of which forms the backbone of the narrative.

Memory and history are central themes in all of Sebald’s texts and so is nostalgia. Sebald didn’t use the term but his writing is suffused with it and he has given us a beautiful description when he writes about “a kind of heartache which … [is] caused by the vortex of past time” or “an overwhelming sense of the long years that had passed”. The nostalgia in Austerlitz is of three kinds. At the beginning memories catch Austerlitz unawares just as nostalgia jumps out at us when we might least expect it (think of Proust’s famous Madeleine); when Austerlitz begins to seek out these memories, they are tender and affectionate but overshadowed and suffused with unbearable pain; and, finally, Austerlitz is suffering from the transience and impermanence of life of which memory and history can save only fragments of. In an entropic view of history he regrets

how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on.

In nostalgia we realise how time is ruthlessly removing us—has removed us—from everything we ever held dear. This constitutes its famously bittersweet character: the more delightful the moment we remember, the deeper the pain that we can never return to nor recover it. Nostalgia, then, is deeply bound up with the modern understanding of time as dynamic and linear that, striving towards a point in the future, kills the past behind it and has frequently been described as a rebellion against it.

Time plays a central role in Austerlitz. Austerlitz gives, the narrator tells us, a “disquisition on time” that, over the years, amount to “a kind of historical metaphysic”. The narrator first meets Austerlitz under the clock inside Antwerpen-Centraal station, “the governor of a new omnipotence“ ranging even above the state. When, years later, they wander to Greenwich observatory, Austerlitz notes how time is “by far the most artificial of all our inventions” (134). “Could we not claim, said Austerlitz,” writes Sebald, “that time itself has been nonconcurrent over the centuries and the millennia? It is not so long ago, after all, that it began spreading out over everything.“

For Austerlitz time as we experience and understand it today is not timeless, eternal but a modern invention that has a beginning—in time and place—from where it has spread out. And, indeed, before the introduction of steam trains which required a precise timing twelve o’clock in London was not twelve o’clock in Birmingham and even in two neighbouring villages the church bells didn’t ring out noon at the same moment. Time, or, more precisely, the measurement of it literally oriented itself at nature, whereas today it is artificial, underscoring the artificiality of time in a larger sense. But even modernity could not completely eradicate all deviations,

Even in a metropolis ruled by time like London, said Austerlitz, it is still possible to be outside time, a state of affairs which until recently was almost as common in backward and forgotten areas of our own country as it used to be in the undiscovered continents overseas. The dead are outside time, the dying and all the sick at home or in hospitals, and they are not the only ones, for a certain degree of personal misfortune is enough to cut us off from the past and the future.

This is what has happened to Austerlitz. His misfortune of being born at a certain moment of the twentieth century as the child of Jewish parents who did not manage to escape but managed to get him out on the Kindertransport has cut him off from his past and from any future he may ever have had. Grown up without knowledge of but a dread of the past, Austerlitz has for many years scrupulously avoided it. He doesn’t even own a clock because

A clock has always struck me as something ridiculous, a thoroughly mendacious object, perhaps because I have always resisted the power of time out of some internal compulsion which I myself have never understood, keeping myself apart from so-called current events in the hope, as I now think, said Austerlitz, that time will not pass away, has not passed away, that I can turn back and go behind it, and there I shall find everything as it once was, or more precisely I shall find that all moments of time have co-existed simultaneously, in which case none of what history tells us would be true, past events have not yet occurred but are waiting to do so at the moment when we think of them, although that, of course, opens up the bleak prospect of everlasting misery and neverending anguish.

The idea of time as simultaneous rather than linear strikes Austerlitz as both attractive and monstrous. If “time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like”, then Austerlitz could return back home, back to the past, back to the parents he cannot remember or only glimpses of. But this would also mean that torture and murder are still ongoing, drawn out and repeated in eternity, the chains still clanking, the chimneys smoking, the pain never-ending.

Such ideas infallibly come to me in places which have more of the past about them than the present. For instance, if I am walking through the city and look into one of those quiet courtyards where nothing has changed for decades, I feel, almost physically, the current of time slowing down in the gravitational field of oblivion. It seems to me then as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, just as when we have accepted an invitation we duly arrive in a certain house at a given time. And might it not be, continued Austerlitz, that we also have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished, and must go there in search of places and people who have some connection with us on the far side of time, so to speak?

Austerlitz himself seems to have such appointments. Without knowing why, he feels himself drawn time and again to return to Liverpool Street Station. One night, on a whim, he follows one of the cleaners only to find himself in the old Ladies’ Waiting Room— literally finds himself: the young boy he sees sitting on a bench, waiting to be picked up, is a memory of himself just arrived on the Kindertransport. Time becomes full circle, closing in on itself. Yet, this chance encounter, this sudden memory does not mark the end of the story but its beginning, triggering Austerlitz’ search for his past and his parents.

On another occasion, on one of his night walks through London, he sees “a man in a top hat, a woman wearing the costume of the 1930s”. Are they his father and mother or some other ghosts of the past? For Austerlitz, the past is not over, past and present not separate entities. As long as Austerlitz tried to ignore the past, it constantly chanced upon him, haunting him; when he seeks it out, it evaporates: he learns little more about his parents’ fate than that they most likely died in the death camps. At the end of the book, Austerlitz himself vanishes. Has he gone to the past? Has he become a ghost himself? Can we still see him today, prowling the nightly streets of London?

On the road with W.G. Sebald

Comes over one an absolute necessity to move—when reading Sebald. Sebald’s writing may be a lot of different things but whatever it is, it is definitely writing on the move. Perhaps that is one reason why he is better-known in Britain than in Germany, where travel writing is less of fixture, as is Sebald. Given a famously ambivalent attitude to his country of birth—perhaps another reason—his literature, too, was roaming in more sense than one, obviously so in The Rings of Saturn—subtitled An English Pilgrimage—though hardly less in Vertigo or Austerlitz, where both the eponymous character and the narrator are constantly on the move. Perhaps this restlessness is the flipside of a constant contemplation of death, a subconscious attempt to escape the Grim Reaper who, in Sebald’s case, caught up with him fittingly, though tragically, on the road.

Now artists are writing and walking in Sebald’s footsteps. Iain Sinclair reconstructs the nightly London walks of Jacques Austerlitz, Teju Cole makes a pilgrimage to Sebald’s grave and Grant Gee reconstructs The Rings of Saturn in his film Patience (After Sebald). Such accomplished company luckily does not deter lesser Sebald fans to seek out the places of his books, though what really is sought is harder to say. Visiting the places mentioned in his books is like visiting The Old Rectory in Poringland, where Sebald lived, or the cemetery in St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Framingham Earl where he is buried, as I did on a sunny day in September 2017: as little as this grey slab of stone tells us about the man whose name and dates of birth and death it carries, as little does walking through Suffolk or the East End bring us closer to The Rings of Saturn or Austerlitz—closer than reading them, I mean.

At least this was the feeling I had when visiting Somerleyton Hall with my daughter. Unlike Sebald, we did not climb the wall (my daughter, who is very moral, would never have stood for that) but walked all the way around the estate and, after dutifully paying the entrance fee, through the front gate. From the description in Rings of Saturn, I imagined an eccentric, fairy-tale like place, forgetting that Sebald notes how it “strikes the visitor of today no longer as an oriental palace in a fairy tale“ (54). I’m not sure what I expected to feel or to find but certainly something else than just another stately home with a maze and a gift shop. Reading the passages on Somerleyton in Rings of Saturn, I imagined the place in a sepia-tinted haze, as melancholic and decaying, whereas on that day in September 2017 it was—really quite lovely.

Similarly, the Sailor’s Reading Room in Southwold which I visited four years earlier—also in September—when I stayed with two friends in a cottage not far away for a couple of days working on a collection of essays. Labouring over commas and footnotes during the days, we used the late afternoons and evenings to explore the coast. I had bought The Rings of Saturn expressly for this trip though I didn’t—on that occasion—get much further than Southwold. The Sailor’s Reading Room, however, I liked very much and I couldn’t have agreed more with Sebald that it is „better than anywhere else for reading, writing letters, following one’s thoughts, or in the long winter months simply looking out at the stormy sea as it crashes on the promenade“.

In March of this year, a friend and I met at Liverpool Street Station to retrace the footsteps of Jacques Austerlitz from the station to which he returns again and again drawn by a subliminal urge to his house in Alderney Road (Alderney Street in the book). Today a monument by Frank Meisler, who escaped Germany on one a Kindertransport and whose parents were murdered in Auschwitz, commemorates the survival of almost ten thousand Jewish children, a singular bright spot in an otherwise starless night. A monument in two parts, its other half stands next to Friedrichstraße railway station in Berlin. The Ladies Waiting Room where, as a child, Austerlitz was picked up by an austere couple, a Welsh minister and his wife, does not exist anymore, but parts of the old station are still visible in what is now a W.H. Smith and a Starbucks like a Victorian painting half covered by the trappings of late capitalism.

Halfway between Liverpool Street Station and Alderney Road we stopped at the disused Jewish Cemetery on Brady Street. It is not mentioned in the book, but it is part of the long Jewish history of the East End which is probably the reason why Sebald had Austerlitz live in this part of London. Austerlitz’ own house borders on a “brick wall on the right, about fifty yards long and as tall as a man“. Behind this wall, unbeknownst to Austerlitz for many years, lies Alderney Road Cemetery, the oldest Ashkenazi Cemetery  in the United Kingdom, founded in 1697 as he tells the narrator on their last meeting.

“And I should not omit, he added,” Austerlitz says, Sebald writes, “to ring the bell at the gateway in the brick wall adjoining his house, for behind that wall, although he had never been able to see it from any of his windows, there was a plot where lime trees and lilacs grew and in which members of the Ashkenazi community had been buried ever since the eighteenth century, including Rabbi David Tevele Schiff and Rabbi Samuel Falk, the Baal Shem of London. He had discovered the cemetery, from which, as he now suspected, the moths used to fly into his house, said Austerlitz, only a few days before he left London, when the gate in the wall stood open for the first time in all the years he had lived in Alderney Street.”

This wall was too high for us to peer over and peering through the letter box we could only see a plot of grass and some withered grey gravestones in the back. We took a photo of the adjacent houses, the first of which is Austerlitz’ former dwelling, fortified ourselves with a half pint at the pub at the top of the street and walked on to our next stop, the former—everything on this tour seemed to be a former something—St. Clement’s Hospital. The decaying hospital, where Austerlitz finds himself after his breakdown has now been converted into (for once not luxury) flats. From one of the windows of the hospital Austerlitz was starring for hours on Tower Hamlets Cemetery below. This was our last stop. In the twilight slowly falling over London we walked along the paths of the cemetery as Austerlitz and the narrator did before us.

“In the twilight slowly falling over London we walked along the paths of the cemetery, past monuments erected by the Victorians to commemorate their dead, past mausoleums, marble crosses, stelae and obelisks, bulbous urns and statues of angels, many of them wingless or otherwise mutilated, turned to stone, so it seemed to me, at the very moment when they were about to take off from the earth.”

In fact, the twilight was falling pretty briskly and I became increasingly frantic to find the statue of the white angel on the pedestal saying “Until the Day Break, and the Shadows Flee Away”, Sebald incorporated in the book. As it turned out, of course, as it always turns out, it was not far from the entrance through which we had come and we would have come across it had we, by chance, taken not the first but the second path on the left. When I chanced upon it, as I felt certain I would, shortly before giving up because it had become almost dark by now, it looked very differently from what it looks in the book. The angel, already frail-looking back then, no longer stands proudly on the pedestal but to the left of it. On its right a holly bush, absent in the original picture, has grown and threatens, in time, to overwhelm the grave. Next year it will be twenty years Austerlitz was published, will the angel still be there in another twenty? Will someone keep looking out for it?

I said that visiting the places from Sebald’s books does not bring us closer to them, that such visits necessarily lead to disappointment and, indeed, the colourful stalls on Whitechapel Road, the green of the grass on the cemeteries and the blue, red and pink of the East End front doors somehow looks strangely drained and unreal compared to the sepia-tinted images Sebald paints in his books. And yet, paradoxically, by not bringing us closer to whatever elusive goal we may have had in mind, by simply giving us a reason to get up, get out and get going and by providing opportunities for meditation and digression, such pilgrimages are, after all, nothing if not Sebaldian.

See also: John Rodgers, East End Walk following W.G Sebald’s Austerlitz,

New review: Thomas Dodman, What Nostalgia Was: War, Empire and the Time of a Deadly Emotion

Thomas Dodman’s book explores how nostalgia was understood in various contexts from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth centuries. Nostalgia was not thought of as yearning for the past we know today, but rather as homesickness. Dodman’s book begins with the year 1688, when the otherwise unremarkable Alsatian physician Johannes Hofer published a medical dissertation on the topic. Not that homesickness had not existed before, but Hofer was the first to give it a proper medical name by cobbling together the Greek words for home (nostos) and pain (algos). The term, and thereby the condition, which was seen as a very serious and potentially deadly disease, quickly caught on in medical circles with professional opinion divided on whether it was a physical illness or rooted in the imagination of the patient or a mixture of both.

For the full review click here to get to the European Review of History.

Review of Thomas Dodman, What Nostalgia Was: War, Empire and the Time of a Deadly Emotion, Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2018, in: European Review of History

CfP | Chronopolitics: Time of Politics, Politics of Time, Politicized Time

London, 7-9 May 2020 | Deadline: 31 April 2019

Time is so deeply interwoven with all aspects of politics that its fundamental importance is frequently overlooked. Building on the work of Charles Maier and Christopher Clark, we define chronopolitics as research into ‘how politics is about time’ as well as what kind of time is ‘presupposed by politics’ (Clark), how the perception of time and change affect decision-making and how concepts of time and history give meaning and legitimacy to political actors, groups and ideas. However, instead of taking time as a given, we set out to analyse how it is socially and culturally constructed through political and scholarly practices.

On first glance, politics and time coincide as policy makers are constantly making decisions in the present, against the background of a past and in the name of a future. Yet, in order to scrutinize the nexus between time and politics more closely, it is necessary to differentiate. We are looking for submissions on the following dimensions/aspects of chronopolitics:  

(1) The time of politicsrefers to the arena of the decision-making process and to the changing rhythms and durations within which politics take place. As George W. Wallis argued, the time of politicsis a ‘time of transition’ in which political players lay the foundations of tomorrow or forgo doing so. It is subject to formalizations such as terms of offices or legislative sessions; its configuration is radically altered if the present is perceived as crisis, and it is structured by expectations and fears. 

(2) The politics of time on the other hand refers to the regulation, synchronisation and allocation of time by politics. The object of this chronopolitical dimension is an allegedly objective, physical ‘clock time’, whose measurement and standardization both on national and global scales have lately been drawing much attention, as have also debates about calendar reforms, daylight saving time or the length of the working day. In the latter cases time figures as a ‘scarce social resource’, as Charles S. Maier notes, usage of which can be contested and distributed.

(3) Politicized timeis time employed as a weapon of politics, as a means of legitimising one’s own programme, challenging and discrediting political opponents or opposing political views. Whether advocating change or continuity, politicians refer as much to the past for orientation and legitimation, as they outline futures. Progressive versus conservative – the very categories of political differentiation since the French Revolution are temporal ones. Recently, Brexit and Trump have both been portrayed in terms of a temporal politics, as indicative of ‘being stuck in the past’ or the nostalgic yearning for a Golden Age.  

(4) A subset of politicized time poses particularly pressing questions we hope to discuss, i.e. the politics of (de)synchronisation. Civilizing missions, development and modernizing projects – in the colonial periphery as well as at the nation’s margins – were based on a temporalization of the other that Johannes Fabian aptly named the ‘denial of coevalness’. Yet, while temporal exclusion and stratification lay at the heart of ‘modern’ chronopolitics, it also comprised the promise of coevalness. Chronopolitics was about fighting anachronism, making history and accelerating its course.

(5) When it comes to chronopolitics, historians as well as scholars of further ‘historicist’ disciplines such as anthropology neither were nor are mere observers. In fact, these disciplines are among the main producers of ‘the characteristic images of history and temporal order’ (Maier) that both inform chronopolitics and constitute its very object. Thus, we would like to critically reflect these images and – following the lead of Reinhart Koselleck, Achim Landwehr, Ethan Kleinberg and others – discuss alternatives to more or less hegemonic historicist temporality. We invite scholars to explore concepts such as pluritemporality but also to historicise chronopolitics of ‘pre-modern’ periods and to reflect the pre-occupation with modernity and the emergence of modern time regimes. We are particularly interested in case-studies probing into the coexistence and clashes of different temporal imaginaries and postcolonial, feminist or queer temporalities, and in papers explicitly addressing the modern/pre-modern dichotomy.

Organized by Tobias Becker, Christina Brauner and Fernando Esposito for the Arbeitskreis Geschichte + Theorie in conjunction with the German Historical Institute London, the international conference aims at bringing together scholars from across different periods and disciplines (such as history, art history, philosophy, anthropology, ethnology, sociology, economics, literary, cultural, gender and queer studies). We invite proposals for presentations (20 min) that combine an interest in theory with empirical case studies.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words, along with a short CV, by 30 April 2019 to The conference will take place at the German Historical Institute from 7 to 9 May 2020. Subject to a successful funding bid, costs for travel and accommodation will be covered.

Eine kleine Geschichte der Nostalgie—anhand des Merkurs

Aktuell wird auch in Deutschland verstärkt über Nostalgie diskutiert, nachdem dies in Großbritannien und den USA mit Blick auf Retrotrends einerseits und Brexit/Trump andererseits bereits länger der Fall ist. So meinte zu Beginn diesen Jahres Jürgen Kaube in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitungen, Nostalgie klinge zwar harmlos, gegenwärtig verbreite sich aber „eine giftige und hochinfektiöse Form dieser Krankheit“.

Ganz ähnlich machte im August Nils Markwardt in der Zeit, angelehnt an den Soziologen Zygmunt Baumen, eine Sehnsucht nach Retrotopia ausgemacht: „Die Zukunft zeigt sich nicht mehr im Aufbruch in ein verheißungsvolles Morgen, sondern in der Rückkehr zu einem nostalgisch verklärten Gestern.“ Und vor kurzem kam eine Bertelsmann Stiftung zu dem Ergebnis, „a majority of the European public can be classified as nostalgic“.

Alle diese Beiträge sind überzeugt, Nostalgie sei ein junges Phänomen, eine Reaktion auf die Beschleunigungserfahrung der letzten Jahre und Jahrzehnte. Sie alle meinen, dass Nostalgie schlecht und gefährlich ist, eine falsche Einstellung zum Leben, ein Sich-verkriechen vor den Problemen der Gegenwart. Tatsächlich jedoch ist dieses Argument sehr alt und die Nostalgie-Kritiker erscheinen oft als die eigentlichen Nostalgiker, da ihre Diagnose impliziert, es habe eine Zeit gegeben, in der die Menschen nicht nostalgisch gewesen war.

Ein Blick auf die Geschichte der Nostalgie-Debatte ist daher das beste Mittel um die gegenwärtigen apokalyptischen Diagnosen zu relativieren. Die Geschichte der deutschen Nostalgie-Debatte lässt sich auf vielfache Weise schreiben. Eine führt entlang der Zeitschrift Merkurs, der Deutschen Zeitschrift für europäischen Denken und ältesten Kulturzeitschrift Deutschlands.

Im Merkur erschien 1962 zwei Artikel von Helmut Plessner und Theodor W. Adorno, in der die „Legende von den zwanziger Jahren“, die damals gerade im Entstehen war kritisierten und sie zu entlegen versuchten, indem sie sie mit ihren eigenen, dunklen Erinnerung an die Weimarer Republik konfrontierten. Der Begriff Nostalgie stand ihnen damals noch nicht zur Verfügung. Stattdessen schrieben sie auf Englisch von „Revivals“ und Adorno an einer Stelle, ebenfalls auf Englisch und in Anführungszeichen von „nostalgia“.

Unter dem Einfluss der Nostalgie-Debatte in den USA, nahm der Begriff Nostalgie um 1970 herum seine heutige Bedeutung an. Zugleich kam es nun auch in der Bundesrepublik zu einer verstärkten Debatte über das bzw. die Phänomene, die er beschrieb. Der Merkur war wieder vorne mit dabei. Hier erschien 1976 eine „Deutung der Nostalgie“ des Soziologen Arnold Gehlen sowie, im selben Heft, Überlegungen zu einem „Phänomen ohne Theorie“ des Pädagogen und Jugendforschers Dieter Baacke, der in ähnlicher Form in Meyers Lexikon erschien.

In den 1980er Jahren erlahmte die Nostalgie-Debatte ein Stück weit, um dann in den 1990er Jahren nach der Wiedervereinigung wieder Fahrt aufzunehmen. Noch ehe im Merkurvon Ostalgie die Rede war, veröffentlichte dort der Althistoriker Christian Meier 1994 einen Beitrag, in dem er die viel weniger diskutierte Westalgie thematisiere und als eigentliches Problem beschrieb, es gäbe „eine BRD-Nostalgie, von der man weniger spricht, die jedoch bedeutsamer ist“. Der jüngst verstorbene Schriftsteller Michael Rutschky, erkundete im folgenden Jahr in geradezu ethnologischem Duktus „Wie erst jetzt die DDR entsteht“. Rund zehn Jahre später, nutzte Jens Bisky die Seiten des Merkurs, um unter dem Titel „Zonensucht“ eine „Kritik der neuen Ostalgie“ zu entfalten. Vergessen war da, dass die Bundesrepublik da bereits zwanzig Jahre lang über Nostalgie diskutiert hatte. Und auch dem Hinweis von Christian Meier folgten die wenigsten. Nostalgie war zu einem rein ostdeutschen Phänomen geworden.

Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken

Auch in der aktuellen Debatte ist der Merkur wieder vertreten. So verzeichnete Cornelia Koppetsch jüngst in der Soziologiekolumne eine „Welle der Nostalgie“ und berief sich dabei auf das letzte Buch Zygmunt Baumans Retrotopia. Der Blick auf die Geschichte jedoch, dass diese Nostalgie-Diagnose weder neu, noch besonders hilfreich ist. Oft genug erscheinen die Nostalgie-Kritiker als die eigentlichen Nostalgiker. Denn ihre Kritik an der Nostalgie als Gegenwartsphänomen impliziert, es habe eine Zeit vor der Nostalgie gegeben. Historisch aber sind diese Debatten äußerst interessant, da in ihnen Gegenwartsprobleme und der Umgang mit der Vergangenheit verhandelt werden. Zusammengenommen bilden die Nostalgie-Debatten so etwas wie eine Mikrogeschichte der Bundesrepublik. Wer mehr dazu wissen möchte, kann meine “Kleine Geschichte der Nostalgie” lesen. Erschienen ist sie, wie sollte es anders sein, im Merkur.


Helmuth Plessner, Die Legende von den zwanziger Jahren, in: Merkur 16 (1962), S. 33-46.

Theodor W. Adorno, Jene zwanziger Jahre, in: Merkur 16 (1962), S. 46-51.

Arnold Gehlen, Das entflohene Glück. Eine Deutung der Nostalgie, in: Merkur 30 (1976), S. 432-442.

Dieter Baacke, Nostalgie. Ein Phänomen ohne Theorie, in: Merkur 30 (1976), S. 442-452.

Christian Meier, Am Ende der alten Bundesrepublik, in: Merkur 48 (1994), S. 561-572.

Michael Rutschky, Wie erst jetzt die DDR entsteht, in: Merkur 49 (1995), S. 851-864.

Jens Bisky, Zonensucht. Kritik der neuen Ostalgie, in: Merkur 58 (2004), S. 117–127.

Cornelia Koppetsch, Soziologiekolumne. Eine Welle der Nostalgie. Die akademische Mittelschicht und die illiberale Gesellschaft, in: Merkur 2018, S. 51-58.

Tobias Becker, Eine kleine Geschichte der Nostalgie, in: Merkur 72 (2018), S. 66-73.

“Geschichte wird gemacht” — am 15.11. in Bonn

Am 15. November nehme ich an einer Podiumsdiskussion von Geisteswissenschaft im Dialog “Geschichte wird gemacht” über Public History in Bonn statt. Mehr Informationen gibt es hier. Und hier geht es zu einem Interview das GiD mit mir führte und das im Folgenden zu lesen ist.

Am 15. November ist Dr. Tobias Becker Podiumsgast bei unserer Diskussion zur Public History zwischen Fachdiskurs, Politik und populärer Vermittlung. Er ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Deutschen Historischen Institut in London und arbeitet dort an seinem Forschungsprojekt über Nostalgie seit den 1960er Jahren.

Herr Becker, in Deutschland gibt es mit „Bares für Rares“ eine Fernsehsendung über Antiquitäten, die hohe Einschaltquoten einfährt. In Großbritannien gibt es mit der Antiques Roadshow schon seit 1979 etwas Ähnliches, können Sie erklären, warum beide Fernsehsendungen so gut ankommen?

„Kunst und Krempel“ könnte man noch nennen. Die Sendung läuft auf dem BR seit 1985 und ist direkt inspiriert von „Antiques Roadshow“. Der Reiz dieser Shows liegt wahrscheinlich auf mehreren Ebenen, so dass für alle etwas dabei ist: da ist zunächst mal die Geschichte des jeweiligen Gegenstands, oft verknüpft mit einer Familiengeschichte, dann die Erklärung der Expertinnen und Experten und die bange Frage, ob es sich nun um Kunst oder Krempel handelt, was bzw. ob das Ding überhaupt etwas wert ist. Wieder andere finden das alles vielleicht gar nicht spannend und konsumieren die Sendung als Beruhigungsmittel vor dem Einschlafen.

Wie erforscht man Nostalgie? Im Alltagsgebrauch ist es ja ein nicht gerade trennscharf definierter Begriff?

Das ist die zentrale Frage meines Projekts. Als ich damit anfing, wollte ich herausfinden, wie wir uns Vergangenheit nostalgisch aneignen. Ich meinte eine recht klare Vorstellung davon zu haben, was Nostalgie ist. Doch je mehr ich las, desto mehr schwand meine Sicherheit. Deshalb beschloss ich, zunächst den sich ändernden Bedeutungen von Nostalgie und der instrumentellen Verwendung des Begriffs nachzuspüren. Sehr oft ist Nostalgie eine Zuschreibung von außen, die die Komplexität der damit bezeichneten Phänomene und Praktiken gar nicht erfasst. Anstatt zu fragen, wie und mit welchen Motivationen wir mit der Vergangenheit umgehen, wird kurzerhand von Nostalgie gesprochen. Mein pragmatischer Lösungsversuch besteht darin in jedem Schritt zu hinterfragen, ob wir es wirklich mit Nostalgie zu tun haben, welche andere Aspekte eine Rolle spielen und warum und wie der Begriff verwendet wird. Dadurch hoffe ich, zu einem besseren Verständnis von Nostalgie vordringen zu können.

Liegt das breite Interesse an Geschichte hauptsächlich an nostalgischen Erinnerungen? Welche Rolle spielt Ihrer Meinung nach zum Beispiel Geschichtspolitik?

Historiker*innen haben sich lange Zeit vor allem mit Geschichtspolitik beschäftigt. Diese ist natürlich nicht unwichtig, für mich ist sie aber weniger relevant. Das breite Interesse an Geschichte erklärt sie sicher nicht. Dasselbe gilt für Nostalgie. Natürlich gibt es nostalgische Erinnerung, aber Nostalgie ist nur ein Aspekt, nur eine Motivation. Warum wir uns für die Vergangenheit interessieren — vor allem wenn wir keine Historiker*innen sind — ist für mich zunächst mal eine interessante Frage, auf die es mehr als eine Antwort gibt und sicher keine definitive. Die Vergangenheit hat zugleich etwas Exotisches — Vieles ist uns fremd — und birgt zugleich ein Stabilitätsversprechen — wir wissen wie die Geschichte ausging. Oft geht es vielleicht gar nicht so sehr um die Vergangenheit, wie wir uns das als Historiker*innen vorstellen. Die Populärkultur benutzt sie — im Retro ebenso wie im „period drama“ — primär als Reservoir an Stilen und Stories. Historiker*innen mögen das kritisch sehen, aber sie müssen sich die Konkurrenz gefallen lassen und profitieren ja auch von ihr.

In Ihrem Blog haben Sie vor kurzem beschrieben, wie schwer es ist, zum Beispiel Quellen der Popkultur zu finden und wie sehr Historiker*innen darauf angewiesen sind zum Beispiel mit Fans zusammenzuarbeiten. Wie sieht für Sie die ideale Zusammenarbeit zwischen „Laien“ und Forschenden aus?

Die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Historiker*innen und Enthusiasten wird immer problematisch sein, weil sich beide Gruppen für unterschiedliche Dinge interessieren. Die einen wollen zelebrieren, die anderen kontextualisieren. Fans interessieren sich gewöhnlich nicht für größere historische Fragen und müssen es auch nicht. Historiker*innen, die zur Populärkultur arbeiten, profitieren dagegen sehr oft von der Arbeit der Fans, die oft in mit einer Detailliebe und Ausführlichkeit Dinge sammeln, katalogisieren und aufzeichnen, wie wir dies gar nicht könnten.

“Vom Ereignis zur Dekade” — am 10.11. in Potsdam

 Auf der Konferenz “Die Zeiten des Ereignisses. Neuvermessung einer historischen Kategorie” am Zentrum für Zeitgeschichte in Potsdam halte ich am 10.11. einen Vortrag über “Vom Ereignis zur Dekade: Zeitrechnung in der Zeitgeschichte”.

„Decaditis“ taufte der Journalist Ferdinand Mount in der Besprechung eines Buches über „die fünfziger Jahre“, die verbreitete Neigung, das 20. Jahrhundert in Jahrzehnten zu messen. Wann begann man eigentlich zu glauben, so der merklich gereizte Rezensent, die Vergangenheit in Zehnjahresabschnitte zu unterteilen sei eine nützliche Sache? Tatsächlich sind Kürzel wie „die zwanziger Jahre“, die „fünfziger“, „sechziger“, „siebziger“ usw. Jahre, eine feste, nicht mehr wegzudenkende Größe. Und das auch und gerade in der Zeitgeschichtsschreibung, die, ähnlich wie Mount, regelmäßig beteuert, dass das Jahrzehnt keine hilfreiche historiographische Zeiteinheit ist und die zu Behelfskonstruktionen wie „den langen sechziger Jahren“ greift.Anstatt jedoch zur Unmutsliteratur über die „Decaditis“ beizutragen, will mein Vortrag den Wurzeln und Funktionsweisen dieser merkwürdigen „Krankheit“ nachspüren. Seit wann und warum denken wir in Dekaden anstatt in Regierungen, Jahrhunderten oder Labeln wie „Zeitalter der Revolutionen“ oder „imperiales Zeitalter“? Und ist dies überhaupt tatsächlich der Fall? Vor allem aber interessiert er sich dafür, wie aus dem Ereignis (bzw. den Ereignissen) eine Dekade wird. Denn unsere Vorstellungen von Jahrzehnten ist offensichtlich stark von einzelnen Ereignissen dominiert. Die „goldenen zwanziger Jahre“ werden oft vom Schwarzen Freitag 1929 und vom Jahr 1933 her gedacht, die „sechziger Jahre“ kreisen selbstverständlich um das Jahr 1968 und die siebziger, zumindest im deutschsprachigen Raum, um das Jahr 1977. Zweitens fragt der Vortrag nach den Grenzen des Ereignisses: rechnet die Zeitgeschichte etwa deshalb in Dekaden, weil Ereignisse an Bedeutung verloren oder ihre volle Reichweite erst in der langen Rückschau offenbaren? Oder weil das – zumindest in der Wahrnehmung – exponentielle Anwachsen der Ereignisse und der Berichterstattung über dieselben, die Bedeutung einzelner Ereignisse relativiert? Und drittens diskutiert der Beitrag, wie Jahrzehnte erinnert werden. Zwar werden auch heute noch einzelnen Ereignissen – dem Kriegsausbruch 1914, der Reichskristallnacht, dem Fall der Mauer etc. – gedacht, es ließe sich jedoch argumentierten, dass gerade die populäre Erinnerung viel stärker in Jahrzehnten misst.