Against nostalgia

Posted on March 8, 2013 under nostalgia, public history

Nostalgia can be an emotion that gets people interested in the past and that draws them back to their own and their family’s history.  But it’s a distorting force.  It puts a scrim of sentimentalization over real events and real people and recasts challenging, uncomfortable stories as quaint and harmless.  Nostalgia robs history of its ability to surprise, shock, amaze, replacing all stories with a generic one of how people sure were different in the old days.  It erases the stories of people who didn’t appear in charming advertisements.  It ignores specificity.  It’s ahistorical.

4 Comments on “Against nostalgia”

  1. A delicate tension, yes? Nostalgia-izing is certainly a way to keep from being moved, and so can seem pretty evil.

    A single counter-example, tho: my friend Helen got sucked into the internet of genealogy, repeated it for a few families, and is now constructing a detailed narrative of land ownership in our Virginia county, from the original charter going forward.

    Lots of minds enter through the simple door. Plenty leave that way, too. But others derive great joy and insight from finding the rich complication surrounding simple certainties. I’m not sure there’s a best way to experience the different country of the past.

    (Good piece, btw. Got me to thinking. — GeePawHill)

  2. Wow, isn’t this the truth. Makes me think of how people wish we had a president like so and so ( even if that person was either not born or too young to remember the impact of that president).

  3. As the song goes “nostalgia is taking bits from the past painting over the ugly bits and recycling it as new”
    People were the same in the past, I love that gift that being a historian gives be, the gift of seeing how people have not changed all that much.

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