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The Nostalgia Series Part 2: Dr Rosalind Watkiss Singleton

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The BCSC Research Network presents Dr Rosalind Watkiss Singleton discussing the relationship between nostalgia and oral history.

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Introducing the Nostalgia Series

Nostalgia is a contentious issue. Whilst for some it is a harmless, helpful, rose-tinted view of the past, it has also been viewed critically, as a form of regressive, reactionary and sentimental escapism. Yet there is a steadily increasing body of work that reassesses nostalgia in a more positive, active and empowering light. Through this research network series, we seek to gain a greater understanding of nostalgia, and its impact on museums, regional and local history, lifelong learning and communities.

The Talk: Nostalgia and Oral History

At a History Workshop conference held in Leeds, in 1985, Malcolm Chase declared that ‘[o]f all the ways of using history, nostalgia is the most general, looks the most innocent, and is perhaps the most dangerous’ (Chase, 1985, p. 26) . In the C17th nostalgia was considered to be ‘a disorder: a psychic and bodily languish leading to emotional outbursts, melancholy, depression and suicide attempts’ (Hoffer, 1688). In subsequent years both historians and social scientists were warned against the inevitable distortion and pervasive nature of nostalgia – ‘history as loss’ – mourning for a previous era (Tosh, 2015, p. 15).

Nevertheless, historians and sociologists who utilise oral interviews within their research may well conclude that nostalgic reminiscences can enhance our understanding of the past and the present. Researching into the lives of post-war teenagers means an inevitable encounter with memories/nostalgia, but this can be harnessed to navigate the fluctuating connections between past and present. It is interesting to discern how references to images, diaries, fashion, and music, within interviews, can help respondents to recall incidents, emotions, and occasions that had long been forgotten, revealing fresh insights and helping the narrator (and the historian) to reconstruct autobiographical accounts of self, identity, and belonging.

Despite warnings of the adverse effects of nostalgia on oral testimony, many oral historians see nostalgia as a means of understanding change and mediating memories. Using interviews with respondents who grew up in the post-war Black Country, this talk will examine the relationship between nostalgia and memory and the utility of nostalgia in mnemonic recall. Images, music, advertisements, memoirs, diaries, social media and a plethora of other aides-memoire can stimulate the senses and contribute to the process of remembering. These, in turn, can contribute to our understanding of the past.

The event will be held on Zoom and a link will be sent shortly beforehand. It is free to attend.


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