Nostalgia: Historicising the Longing for the Past

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Date / time: 1 October - 3 October, All day

German Historical Institute, London

Nostalgia: Historicising the Longing for the Past

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.


Thursday, 1 October 2015

13:00 Registration

13:15-13:45 Welcome and Introduction.. Andreas Gestrich (London), Tobias Becker (London)

13:45-15:00 Keynote.  Chair: Andreas Gestrich

Constantine Sedikides (Southampton), Back to the Future: Nostalgia Fosters Optimism, Inspiration, and Creativity

15:00-17:00 Panel I: Theorising Nostalgia. Chair: Fernando Esposito (Tübingen)

Achim Saupe (Berlin), “Good old things”: Nostalgia and the discourse of historical authenticity

Ishay Landa (Ra’anana), The Nostalgia for Pain: Examining a Modern Trope

Rogério Miguel Puga (Lisbon), The Myth of Saudade in Portuguese-speaking Countries: Art, Lusophone Self-Stereotypes, and (Psychological) ‘National Traits’

17:00-17:30 Coffee Break

17:30-19:00 Keynote 2. Chair: Michael Schaich (London)

Achim Landwehr (Düsseldorf), Nostalgia and the Turbulence of Time

Friday, 2 October

9:30 Panel 2: Political Nostalgia.  Chair: Esra Özyürek (London)

Patricia Lorcin (Minneapolis), Memory and Nostalgia in the Post-Colonial Context

Manca G. Renko (Koper), Habsburg Nostalgia

11:00-11:15 Coffee Break

Torben Philipp (Berlin), Affective Memory in State Socialism: Nostalgic Explorations of the past during the Era of Stagnation

Owen Molloy (Norwich), Nostalgia for West Germany: Rationalising the Emergence of Westalgie

13:00-14:00 Lunch Break

14:00-16:00 Panel 3: Industrial Nostalgia. Chair: Lutz Raphael (Trier)

Jörg Arnold (Nottingham), The Future that Never Came: De-Industrialisation, Nostalgia and the Politics of Temporality

Tim Strangleman (Canterbury), Smokestack Nostalgia? The Work of Memory in Understanding Industrial Decline

Peter F. N. Hörz (Göttingen), Processions Towards Railway History—On Rusty Tracks: What ‘Rail Hikers’ Are Doing and What They Have in Mind While Walking on Shutdown Railway Lines

16:00-16:30 Coffee Break

16:30-18:30 Panel 5: Media Nostalgia. Chair: Amy Holdsworth (University of Glasgow)

Katharina Niemeyer (Paris), Nostalgising the Past, Present and Future: A Reflection on Homesickness, Media and Amateur Nostalgia

Dominik Schrey (Karlsruhe), Forgotten Theories of Nostalgia: Prolegomena to an Alternate Cultural History of the Concept

Gintare Malinauskaite (Berlin), Vilne Nostalgia in New York: Visual Memories of the Lithuanian Jews after the Shoah

Saturday, 3 October

9:30-11:30 Panel 4: Object Nostalgia. Chair: Len Platt (London)

Reinhild Kreis (Mannheim), Mixed feelings. Do it yourself, nostalgia, and social reform in 20th century Germany

Eva C. Heesen (Hannover), Nostalgia as Escapism: An Invaluable Tool for Museums

Kerstin Stamm (Bonn/Berlin), Future Shock? European Heritage Conservation and Nostalgia for the Past in the 1970s

Karl B. Murr (Augsburg/München), The Function of Nostalgia in Jean Baudrillard’s System of Objects

11:30-12:00 Coffee Break

12:00-13:30 Comment and general discussion. Chair: Tobias Becker

Comment by David Lowenthal (London)

For more information visit the conference blog at

If you want to register for the conference, please write to Carole Sterckx (