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Nostalgia: Historicizing the Longing for the Past


1–3 October 2015

Convener: Tobias Becker (GHIL)
Venue: German Historical Institute London


To say that nostalgia has a bad reputation among historians would be an understatement. Apart from a few notable exceptions, historians usually view nostalgia as the very opposite of history—Charles Maier calls it ‘kitsch’, Tony Judt even a ‘sin’. Other disciplines—philosophy, sociology, anthropology and psychology—have no such preconceptions. In particular, literary, cultural and media studies have recently produced a body of research on nostalgia in various media and genres.

Although some of these studies take a historical approach, we still know very little about the history of nostalgia. Has it always been around or is it a peculiarly modern phenomenon? How did it change over time? Who felt nostalgic, for what and why? And how does nostalgia influence perceptions of the past? These questions are all the more acute as both recent research and historians’ condescension towards nostalgia – both drawing on older texts and prejudices – are in need of historicisation.

Yet, how can nostalgia be historicised? This is the central question of this conference. Interested in both theories of nostalgia and in empirical case studies, it looks at the role of nostalgia in politics, society, culture, the media and material culture. The conference brings together scholars from many different disciplines, hoping to start a transdisciplinary exchange into the roots, development and history of nostalgia and its meaning today.

The conference will open with two keynotes by eminent researchers. Constantine Sedikides is Professor of Psychology at Southampton University where he is part of a large research project on nostalgia, the findings of which he will present in his lecture. Achim Landwehr is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Düsseldorf whose latest book is a highly original and innovative account of the emergence of a new understanding of time in the seventeenth century. At the conference he will speak about ‘Nostalgia and the Turbulence of Time’. Finally, Professor David Lowenthal, whose book The Past is a Foreign Country (1985) has long since become a classic, will close the conference with some general comments.


Conference blog

Call for papers (PDF file)

Conference programme (PDF file)

Conference report (PDF file), published in: GHIL Bulletin 38 (2016), Vol 1