Down Memory Lane: Nostalgia for the Old South in Post-Civil War Plantation Reminiscences

By Anderson, David | The Journal of Southern History, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Down Memory Lane: Nostalgia for the Old South in Post-Civil War Plantation Reminiscences


Anderson, David, The Journal of Southern History


NOSTALGIA, AS A FORM OF MEMORY, IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF OUR everyday world; its presence is indisputable. But like memory, nostalgia is an evasive concept of often-ambiguous meanings. Perhaps we should begin by asking: What exactly is nostalgia? Or maybe the first question really should be: What exactly was nostalgia? Are we nostalgic for people, places, specific points in time, or simply the past as precedent? Questions of this sort invite historical study, but they have, at best, aroused only limited interest. Such a stance is curious given that a detailed examination of nostalgia could advance understanding of the history of memory and the ways individuals have used historical material to define and understand themselves, issues that have been the vanguard of recent research in southern history.

With its Greek roots--nostos (a longing to return home) and algos (pain)--nostalgia sounds so familiar to us that we may forget that it is a relatively new word. It was used first by the Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer, who in 1688 described a lethal malady among Swiss mercenaries serving abroad. Desperate to return home, the soldiers became apathetic and weak, lost both sleep and their appetites, and then, crestfallen, died. The "emotional upheaval" of serving abroad was "related to the workings of memory" and was reckoned to be "'a disorder of the imagination."' In effect, the stricken Swiss opted out of the seventeenth century by screening out the world around them. By the nineteenth century, however, nostalgia began to shed its medical connotations and became less a bodily and more a psychological condition. (2) It also went from being a treatable illness to a terminal condition of the mind, its new meaning suggestive of a long-ago but half-remembered time as opposed to a yearning to return to a specific place. (3)

Moreover, the nostalgically remembered past stood against me present and thus invited comparison. The former was made into a spectacle that was beautiful, bearing little or no relation to the ugly latter. In effect, nostalgia makes the past feel "safe from the unexpected and the untoward"--in other words, making it so very unlike the present. (4) Rather than remembering precisely what was, we tend to make the past comprehensible in relation to the present conditions of the here and now. "Memory is the great organizer of consciousness," writes Susanne K. Langer. Memories of people, scenes, and events that were previously vague or conflicted metamorphose into obvious and consistent recollections. Memory, continues Langer, "simplifies and composes our perceptions...." (5) Essentially memory may operate to alter the past we have known and experienced into an imagined past that is a stranger to us and nothing more than a might-have-been.

For a brief theoretical formulation on this point of view we might turn to the sociologist Fred Davis. In Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia, Davis argues that nostalgia is unlike other types of recollection because of the "'special' past" that it envelops. Happy memories are placed on a pedestal whereas unhappy memories are knocked off theirs, and we think hard before picking them up, dusting them down, and putting them back again. This has, according to Davis, an insidious effect because the diversity of the past is thus suppressed. However, although nostalgia draws its strength from the past, it is unmistakably a product of the present. (6) Nostalgia, contends Davis, always appears against the backdrop of "massive identity dislocations," in periods of "'rude transitions rendered by history," in times of fear in the face of electrifying change, and at those transitional points in life when anxiety or, as Svetlana Boym calls it, a "hypochondria of the heart," is felt. (7)

Any "untoward historic events" that tear into the fabric of a society, disrupt its taken-for-granted attitudes and practices, and cut short the very "lungs of culture" in which "people . …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Down Memory Lane: Nostalgia for the Old South in Post-Civil War Plantation Reminiscences
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.