Case studies

The social critics commenting on the “nostalgia wave” in the 1970s and 80s often drew on the same examples: the renaissance of fifties Rock’n’Roll, nostalgic films and series like American Graffiti (1973), Happy Days (1974-84) or Dad’s Army (1968-77) and vintage fashion. However, they also mentioned the popularity of museums and historical exhibitions, the conservation movement, the booming antique trade, and the heritage tourism.

As nostalgia in popular culture is comparatively well-researched, I have decided to concentrate on this second, more history-related category of examples. Instead of looking at different forms or objects of nostalgia, I will focus on historical practices. Most of these practices are much older than the twentieth century. Yet, it was from the 1960s onwards that amateurs began to appropriate these practices by amateurs. I will be concentrating on the following five practices, corresponding five case studies:

  • Preserving is about the preservation of historic remains in the form of buildings or, more precisely, about the conservation movement. Though dating back to the nineteenth century, the conservation only became a popular movement from the 1960s onwards. In the 50s and 60s much historical building stock was demolished because it was seen as outdated. Instead new tower blocks, suburbs and towns were built.
  • Conserving is about museums—yet not the grand institutions like the British Museum but rather the small-scale local museums and heritage centres. While the nineteenth century is sometimes described as the “age of the museum”, it was in the twentieth century that open-air museums became much more widesspread, that the industrial past was seen as worthy of musealisation and that amateurs founded local museums on a big scale.
  • Collecting is about the booming antique trade in the 1970s. Whereas the ideal 60s home was modelled on a space ship, the 70s were mad about Victorian and Edwardian furniture, paintings and bric-a-brac. Once the pastime of aristocratic gentlemen, collecting bow became a popular hobby —as witnessed by the markets in Camden Passage or Portobello Road and TV programmes like Antiques Roadshow.
  • Researching concentrates on one specific kind of research: the reconstruction of ones family history. Again this was nothing new to the twentieth century. The ruling classes have traced their pedigree for centuries. However, it was from the 1960s onwards that ordinary people turned themselves into genealogists searching for their roots in the past.
  • Re-enacting, the recreation of a historic event or period through performance, is a comparatively more recent practice to bring history to life. This case study will study the development of historical re-enactment societies in the 1970s and 80s such as the British Civil War re-enactment association The Sealed Knot (founded in 1968).

As I am only starting out to work on the case studies, these pages are still very much under construction. I intend to fill them up as my work progresses.