Nostalgia and the Politics of Emotion

Leiden University, 18 April 2019

On 18 April I’m giving a talk at the Politics, Cultures and Identities Research group as the Institute for History at Leiden University.

When the Past Killed the Future. The 1970s “Nostalgia Wave” (Paper)

German Historical Institute, 14 March 2019

On 18 March, I’m giving a paper at the conference “An Era of Value Change. The Seventies in Europe” at the GHI London.

Historicising Nostalgia (Paper)

Center for the History of Emotions, 12 February 2019

Colloquium History of Emotions, The Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

Vom Ereignis zum Jahrzehnt (Konferenzvortrag)

Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam, 10. November 2018

“Vom Ereignis zum Jahrzehnt. Über Zeitrechnung in der Zeitgeschichte”, Vortrag auf der Konferenz “Die Zeiten des Ereignisses. Neuvermessung einer historischen Kategorie”, Arbeitskreis Geschichte + Theorie in Kooperation mit dem Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung Potsdam.

Nazi-Nostalgie? (Kolloquiumsvortrag)

Universität Jena, 7. November 2018

“Nazi-Nostalgie? Rückblick auf die ‘Hitler-Welle’ der 1970er Jahre”, Vortrag im Zeitgeschichtlichen Kolloquium im Wintersemester 2018/2019, Jena Center Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Universität Jena.

Nostalgia in Contemporary Politics

University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark, 4-5 June 2018

At the conference “Nostalgia in Contemporary Culture” I’m giving a paper on nostalgia and politics. The paper analyses and questions the easy equation of Brexit and Trump with nostalgia, arguing that nostalgia is not a neutral analytical but a highly ideologically charged polemical term and needs to recognised as such. It examines how nostalgia is used both in politics and political analysis. Asking if the use of nostalgia in politics is a new development, it also looks at when and how the term entered the political vocabulary.

Nazi nostalgia? Looking back on the Hitler wave

UCL IAS, 21 March, 5pm

In the historiography of the German engagement with the Nazi past, the 1970s are usually a blank space, especially when compared to the 1960s and 1980s. However, the 1970s did see a major debate about the Nazi past under the title of the “Hitler nostalgia wave” (or “Hitler wave”). Fed by the omnipresence of Hitler in the mass media and popular culture as well as the simultaneous rise of neo-Nazi groups, it was less concerned with Nazi crimes and retribution than with the representation of Hitler and the Nazi period in the mass media and the question whether Germans were still susceptible to fascism. By reconstructing the discourse about the “Hitler wave”, by examining its manifestations and by critically evaluating contemporary interpretations and putting them into historical context, my paper makes a case for taking this debate more seriously.

Cultures of Conservatism in the United States and Western Europe between the 1970s and 1990s

GHI London, 14-16 September

Conference organised by Martina Steber (Institut für Zeitgeschichte München-Berlin), Anna von der Goltz (Georgetown University, Washington, DC) and Tobias Becker (German Historical Institute London) and  funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, the GHIL, the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University and the Institute for Contemporary History Munich.

The decades from the 1970s to the 1990s are often seen as a time of revolutionary change triggered by economic crises, in which the parameters and conditions for our present times were set. Conservatism looms large in this narrative; after all, the Reagan and Thatcher governments in the United States and in Britain implemented economic and social policies that fundamentally changed the welfare state economies of the boom years. Conservatism is therefore often interpreted as neoliberalism in conservative guise, as the defining political ideology of finance capitalism. However, conservatism was a much more diverse phenomenon than these interpretations suggest. While economics and politics were certainly crucial in the fashioning of a new conservatism in Western Europe and the United States, conservatism was also a diverse cultural phenomenon, which is not adequately reflected in historical research to date.

The conference “Cultures of Conservatism in the United States and Western Europe (1970s-1990s)” seeks to fill this historiographical gap by questioning the primacy of economics and debating alternative interpretations of this age of change. Focusing on cultures of conservatism, the conference rethinks the general contours of conservatism. It pays close attention to the intersection of culture, politics and economics, in order to broaden our understanding of the processes of change that have unfolded since the 1970s.

For more on this click here.

Conceptualizing Nostalgia: A View from Contemporary History

St John’s College, University of Oxford, 21 June

Nostalgia has gained a lot of traction recently both to explain the global resurgence of right-wing politics as well as popular culture’s obsession with its own past. This discourse goes back to the 1970s, when nostalgia acquired its current meaning and a number of American, British and West German intellectuals believed to observe a widespread collective “wave of nostalgia”. My paper examines how the meaning of nostalgia changed in 1960s and 1970s, how the alleged “nostalgia wave” was seen to manifest itself and how it was explained, before putting it into a larger historical context. It concludes by taking a critical look at both the current use of the term and the recent literature on nostalgia.

Brexit, Trump etc.: Politics of Nostalgia?

St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, 16 June

At a conference on Trump and populism at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, 15-17 June 2017, I will be speaking about the role of nostalgia in the analysis of recent political events such as the British Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump.

Kolloquiumsvortrag Bielefeld

Kolloquium zur Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, 3. Februar

Am 3. Februar 2017 stelle ich mein Projekt im Kolloquium zur Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts an der Universität Bielefeld vor.

Kolloquiumsvortrag München

Gemeinsames Kolloquium zur Zeitgeschichte des IfZ und der LMU, 1. Februar

Am 1. Februar 2017 stelle ich mein Projekt im Gemeinsamenen Kolloquium zur Zeitgeschichte des IfZ und der LMU vor.

Pop Nostalgia workshop

German Historical Institute (in co-operation with theBSSH South Sport and Leisure History Network), 10-11 November 2016

Pop nostalgia, we are told, is everywhere. Our current golden age of television—from Mad Men to Vinyl, Downton Abbey to Call the Midwife—lovingly recreates earlier periods of the twentieth century, while club nights devoted to the 1980s or 1990s allow us to return to our youth. What is more, popular culture is, in the words of music journalist Simon Reynolds, addicted to its own past. It not only reminisces, it revives, reissues, remixes earlier forms and styles instead of coming up with genuinely new. Finally, our most modern technologies are always also time machines: producing sepia-coloured images of the present for an anticipated nostalgic recollection in the future.

These very different cultural phenomena, which are often subsumed under the term nostalgia, raise a number of still under-explored questions. How new is this development, given that period films are as old as the cinema and that popular culture and music has drawn on earlier periods as long as it exists? Can the recycling of old styles and forms not also be highly creative and result in innovations? Are period settings and costumes, retro and vintage styles as such indicative and synonymous with nostalgia? Is it really nostalgia that drives our interest in and our engagement with the past? And if not what other motivations are at play? What role, for example, have media technologies such as film and the internet played in preserving the culture of the past in the present?

These are some of the questions the workshop Pop Nostalgia addresses. It explores the uses of the past in popular culture across all media and genre, from literature, cinema, television, and video games to theme park, club nights and sports events. It is interested not only in representations of the past but also in their production and circulation as well as in audiences and reception. The workshop is particularly interested in the historical dimension of pop nostalgia.

The workshop takes place at the GHIL from 10 to 11 November 2016. If you want to attend the workshop, you can register with Carole Sterckx:


Nostalgia panel at GHS annual conference

German History Society Annual Conference, Newcastle, 8-10 September 2016

At the German History Society Annual Conference Marcus Colla (University of Cambridge), Marcel Thomas (University of Bristol) and I will be discussin “Uses of the Past. Nostalgia and Heritage in the FRG and the GDR since the 1970s”. Our panel will take place on 9 September, 11 o’clock in Armstrong Building 1.05.

Vortrag Uni Konstanz

Kolloquium Neuere Geschichte und Zeitgeschichte, Uni Konstanz, 5 Juli

Am 5. Juli stelle ich mein Projekt im Kolloquium für Neuere Geschichte und Zeitgeschichte von Jürgen Osterhammel und Martina Steber an der Universität Konstanz vor.

Paper on pop nostalgia

Sport and Leisure Seminar, IHR, 16 May

On 16th May I will be giving a paper on “Pop Nostalgia: The Seventies ‘Nostalgia Wave’ and Popular Culture” in a seminar on Recreational Heritage Consumption of the Sport and Leisure Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research.

Talk at the Science Museum

Research Seminar, 29 March

On 29th March I will be speaking about the “nostalgia wave” and the heritage industry in the 1970s and 80s as part of the Research Seminar at the Science Museum, London.

Project presentation

Institute of Historical Research, Public History Seminar, 4 November 2015

All throughout the 1970s and 80s intellectuals in the United States, Britain and West Germany complained about a “nostalgia wave”, an almost pathological yearning for a sentimentalised past that afflicted Western societies. Initially they found nostalgia mainly in pop culture’s return to its own past, particularly the revival of the 50s in rock music, film and on TV. Soon, however, the “nostalgia wave” manifested itself in the booming antiques trade, the success of the conservation movement and the popularity of historical books, museums and exhibitions, in short, what Robert Hewison dubbed the “heritage industry”.

My paper looks at the discourse, the manifestations and the contemporary explanations of the “nostalgia wave”. It argues that the nostalgia discourse was partly a reaction to the popularisation and democratisation of history: a means to reinstate the interpretative authority of academic history by discrediting the grass-roots engagement with history and the appropriation of scholarly practices by amateurs. However the popular interest in the past was also indicative of changing concepts of time. Drawing on the works of Hartmut Rosa and François Hartog, the paper understands the “nostalgia wave” as an expression of a new, presentist “regime of historicity” that emerged as a result of accelerated social change.

A podcast of my talk can be found here.

Nostalgia. Historicising the Longing for the Past

Conference at the GHI London, 1-3 October 2015

Nostalgia has not had a good press among historians. While a number of studies on nostalgia have appeared throughout various disciplines, most historians have dismissive about the “yearning for the past”, variously describing nostalgia as a sickness, kitsch or even a sin. What we still know very little about, however, is the history of nostalgia. How can we historicize nostalgia? How did it change over time? Does nostalgia, distort the past, as many historians believe, or does it foster an interest in history? These are some of the questions the international, transdisciplinary conference “Nostalgia. Historicising the Longing for the Past” wants to address. It is interested both in theoretical contributions to the history of nostalgia and in case studies of nostalgia in various times, places, groups and contexts. To that end, it brings together researchers from various countries and disciplines, history, sociology, anthropology, art history, literature and media studies. The conference takes place at the German Historical Institute London from 1 to 3 October 2015. The programme will be out soon.

Things We Keep

Exhibition at the GHI London, 9 September – November 2015

“Why do expatriates keep certain objects while leaving others behind in the process of moving from their home country to London?” We all keep certain things for no apparent reason, some are used on a daily basis, some stashed away in a box or adorning a windowsill. But why do we hold on to them? Things We Keep is a project by a team of researchers at King’s College London and the German Historical Institute London in collaboration with members of the German expatriate community and the artist Rolf Sachs. It curates objects that were kept when people moved from Germany to London. The objects and their stories will be on display at the German Historical Institute London in the weeks before and after the anniversary of German unity on 3 October 2015.