Panel 5: Object Nostalgia

Nostalgia is not only triggered by old photographs but also by objects, the material remains of the past. They formed the topic of the fifth panel. The first paper, “Mixed Feelings: Do It Yourself, Nostalgia and Social Reform in Twentieth Century Germany” by REINHILD KREIS compared the 1900s and 1970s. In both eras the loss of practices of making things oneself—due to easily available mass produced goods—were lamented. As such criticism led to the rediscovery of traditional practices, the nostalgia for the past became, according to Kreis, a tool for shaping the future.


The second paper moved the discussion from the private to the public sphere. Building on her own experiences as a museum guide, EVA C. HEESEN discussed “Nostalgia as Escapism: An Invaluable Tool for Museums”. Heesen argued, that though most curators rejected nostalgia out of hand, many visitors expressed nostalgia and that nostalgia is indeed necessary to reach broader audiences.


However, nostalgia is not only associated with museums and exhibitions but also with the conservation movement, the topic of the next paper “Future Shock? European Heritage Conservation and Nostalgia for the Past in the 1970s” by KERSTIN STAMM.It focussed on the discourse surrounding the European Heritage Year 1975. Like Kreis, she understood the references to the past less as nostalgia than as a way to critique present problems and to influence present developments with an eye to the future.


Staying in the 1960s and 70s, KARL B. MURR studied the “The Function of Nostalgia in Jean Baudrillard’s System of Objects“. In this lesser known text Baudrillard comments not only on authenticity, photography, furniture, consumerism and other topics discussed at the conference but also contributed to the nostalgia critique of these decades. Baudrillard observed a cult for all that is old and especially a fetishising of old objects, which he read as an expression of yearning for a deeper, more authentic reality.


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