New publication: Forum on nostalgia in History and Theory

The June edition of History and Theory includes a forum on nostalgia with papers by Achim Landwehr, Patricia Lorcin and myself.

TOBIAS BECKER, The Meanings of Nostalgia: Genealogy and Critique (232-248)

Nostalgia has become a new master narrative both in public discourse and academic research, serving as an explanation for trends in fields as different as popular culture, fashion, technology, and politics. This essay criticizes the wide-ranging use of the term. It argues that nostalgia often does not adequately describe the diverse uses of the past to which it is applied. It does this by historicizing the nostalgia discourse with particular emphasis on the 1970s, when dictionaries first noted a semantic shift from homesickness to a sentimental yearning for the past, and intellectuals discussed a widespread, pathological “nostalgia wave.” After the introduction, the second section looks at the changing meanings of nostalgia, the third examines how the “nostalgia wave” was seen to manifest itself and who was thought to be afflicted by it, and the fourth discusses contemporary explanations. Building on this, the final section critically examines the nostalgia discourse before evaluating its continuing influence.

ACHIM LANDWEHR, Nostalgia and the Turbulence of Times (249-266)

The concept of nostalgia has an invaluable advantage: In contrast to other cultural concepts, it has an exact date of birth. It was in 1688 when the medic Johannes Hofer published a thesis in which he described an illness he termed with the neologism “nostalgia.” But instead of following the academic and larger cultural discourses that evolved from this starting point until the present, the question that deserves some attention is which temporal setting goes along with the concept of nostalgia. Most of the experts on nostalgia as a sickness during the last three and a half centuries did not diagnose themselves but others, quite often patients from rural areas who had to leave home to work abroad, where they became nostalgic. With this diagnosis these experts also established a certain time-model, because they separated a “modern” time-model of irreversibility from a “nostalgic” time-model of reversibility. If we take a closer look at the nostalgia diagnosis and its consequences, we might also gain some ideas for our thinking about the theory of history.

PATRICIA M. E. LORCIN, The Nostalgias for Empire (267-283)

The aim of this article is to explore the theoretical and practical differences between colonial and imperial nostalgia. It opens with a substantial theoretical discussion of the relevant scholarship followed by an analysis of the nostalgias of empire. Nostalgia, in relation to empire, is usually analyzed as a longing for a period of former imperial and colonial glory, thus blurring the various hegemonic practices associated with empire. This elision arises out of the fact colonialism was integral to European imperialism. Yet there is a significant distinction between imperial and colonial nostalgia. With its main focus on postcolonial society in France and Britain, the article will theorize the differences between them, arguing that one is connected to the loss of global power and the other to the loss of a socioeconomic lifestyle. It will explore the way in which these two types of nostalgia are constructed and historicized, examining their differences from historical memory through the responses of both former colonizing and colonized individuals or groups. It will demonstrate that collective nostalgia is not merely a “feel-good” sentiment about an idealized political or socioeconomic past, but can be readily connected to coming to terms with past trauma(s) thus being a mechanism to elide violence experienced and violence perpetrated by highlighting one to the detriment of the other.