Nostalgia: The Bittersweet History of a Psychological Concept

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<ul><li><p>NOSTALGIA: The Bittersweet History of a Psychological Concept</p><p>Krystine Irene BatchoLe Moyne College</p><p>The concept of nostalgia has changed substantially both denotatively and connotativelyover the span of its 300-year history. This article traces the evolution of the concept fromits origins as a medical disease to its contemporary understanding as a psychologicalconstruct. The difficulty of tracing a construct through history is highlighted. Attention ispaid to roles played first by the medical context, and then by the psychiatric, psychoanalytic,and psychological approaches. Emphasis is given to shifts in the designation of nostalgicvalence from bitter to sweet to bittersweet, and the processes of semantic drift anddepathologization are explored. Because the sense of nostalgia was constructed and recon-structed within social, cultural, and historical contexts, its meaning changed along with thewords used to describe and connect it to other entities. Nostalgias past illustrates theinfluence of language, social-cultural context, and discipline perspectives on how a con-struct is defined, researched, and applied.</p><p>Keywords: history of nostalgia, evolution of a construct, emotion, denotative and connotativemeaning</p><p>Ebbinghaus paradoxical description of psy-chology as having a long past but only a shorthistory can be borrowed to capture the essenceof nostalgia as a psychological concept (Ebb-inghaus, 1908, p. 3). Although the term nostal-gia was coined as a medical construct in 1688(Hofer, 1688/1934), its history as a psycholog-ical concept is only a century old. Many theo-rists assume that nostalgia is a powerful senti-ment that has been part of human experiencesince long before it was assigned a name. How-ever, the working assumption that conceptsrepresent enduring natural entities has been con-tested by theorists who have argued that cate-gories are historically constructed and recon-structed (Danziger, 1997; Richards, 1989, 2010;Smith, 2005). Nostalgia illustrates how a con-struct is framed within a social-historical con-text and evolves as that context changes.</p><p>Simple dictionary definitions of nostalgia asa bittersweet longing for the past and ashomesickness (The American Heritage Dic-tionary, 1994, p. 569) mask its dramatic seman-</p><p>tic evolution since the word was coined and thecomplexity of its current understanding as apsychological construct. This article traces thehistory of the construct in a search for the rootsof the conflicting facets within present theoret-ical formulations. The analysis highlights meth-odological and conceptual issues inherent indistinguishing between concept and language,retrospective interpretation and the possibilityof an enduring experiential phenomenon.</p><p>Nostalgia as a Physical Disease:Medical Origins</p><p>The bitter side of nostalgia dominated thefirst phase of the evolution of the term as itoriginated as a diagnostic label. In coining theword nostalgia Hofer explained in his medi-cal dissertation1 that it is composed of two</p><p>1 Although several authors date Hofers dissertation in1678, the actual date, 1688 appears on the title p. of thedissertation as reproduced in Anspachs, 1934 translation.Although the origin of the error is unclear, several of theauthors using the 1678 date cite Werman (H. Kaplan, 1987)or McCanns, 1941 literature review (Kleiner, 1970; Rosen,1975; Werman, 1977). McCann referenced secondarysources for the dissertation, but did not list the dissertationitself or Anspachs translation among his references. Ans-pach reports Hofers birth in Muhlhausen on April 28, 1669,which would make him only 9 years old in 1678.</p><p>This article was published Online First May 6, 2013.Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-</p><p>dressed to Krystine Irene Batcho, Department of Psychol-ogy, Le Moyne College, 1419 Salt Springs Road, Syracuse,NY 13214. E-mail: batcho@lemoyne.edu</p><p>This</p><p>docu</p><p>men</p><p>tis</p><p>copy</p><p>right</p><p>edby</p><p>the</p><p>Am</p><p>eric</p><p>anPs</p><p>ycho</p><p>logi</p><p>calA</p><p>ssoc</p><p>iatio</p><p>nor</p><p>one</p><p>ofi</p><p>tsal</p><p>lied</p><p>publ</p><p>isher</p><p>s.Th</p><p>isar</p><p>ticle</p><p>isin</p><p>tend</p><p>edso</p><p>lely</p><p>fort</p><p>hepe</p><p>rson</p><p>aluse</p><p>oft</p><p>hein</p><p>divi</p><p>dual</p><p>use</p><p>ran</p><p>dis</p><p>not</p><p>tobe</p><p>diss</p><p>emin</p><p>ated</p><p>broa</p><p>dly.</p><p>History of Psychology 2013 American Psychological Association2013, Vol. 16, No. 3, 165176 1093-4510/13/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0032427</p><p>165</p></li><li><p>sounds, the one of which is Nostos, return to thenative land; the other, Algos, signifies sufferingor grief; so that thus far it is possible from theforce of the sound Nostalgia to define the sadmood originating from the desire for the returnto ones native land (1688/1934, p. 381). Hecompared his term derived from Greek com-ponents to the German word Heimweh, whichdenotes the grief for the lost charm of theNative Land or homesickness, and to theFrench term maladie du pays (which trans-lates literally to disease of the native land).He stated that he would be equally satisfiedwith the label philopatridomania, denoting aspirit perturbed against holding fast to theirnative land from any cause whatsoever (de-noting) return (p. 381).</p><p>For homesickness to be understood properly,Hofer argued that it was necessary to apply aname and that the one he invented defined thething to be explained. He transformed home-sickness into a medical construct by incorporat-ing it into the framework of assumptions andconcepts that dominated the medicine of histime. Based primarily upon cases among Swisstroops serving in France, Hofer cataloguedsymptoms including sadness, insomnia, fever,weakness, loss of appetite, and cardiac palpita-tions (Havlena &amp; Holak, 1991; Rosen, 1975).His nerve theory posited that persistent thoughtsof home caused the vital spirits to surge con-stantly in the part of the brain where the desiredimages are located, creating a path in whichthey can move of their own accord (Hofer,1688/1934). Focused entirely upon images ofthe past, the vital spirits are not available forother functions, including life-sustaining pro-cesses (1688/1934).2 Although Hofer proposeda physical mechanism for the bodily symptoms,he attributed the cause of nostalgia to recurringthoughts and memories of home.</p><p>Much of the early interest in nostalgia wasmotivated by the concern for optimal perfor-mance of military resources during Europeanconflicts well into the 18th century (Rosen,1975). The association with Swiss soldiers wasso strong that some writers referred to nostalgiaas Schweizerkrankheit (Jackson, 1986). Fearingthat this association would make the Swiss sol-dier appear weak, the Swiss physicianScheuchzer proposed in 1705 that nostalgia re-sults from an increase in atmospheric pressurewhen the Swiss descend from the mountains</p><p>(Rosen, 1975). However, Blumenbach pointedout that Swiss from the mountainous regionswere rarely afflicted, and Zimmerman, anotherSwiss physician, noted nostalgia among British,Scottish, and French troops (Jackson, 1986, pp.375376).</p><p>In the United States, Union doctors reportednostalgia symptoms ranging from sadness tocerebral derangement among over 2,500 sol-diers during the first 2 years of the Civil War(Matt, 2007). Ultimately, attempts to explainnostalgia in terms of bodily abnormalities didnot succeed (Auenbrugger, 1761/1824, XXVII,2; Laennec, 1819/1829). In 1838, surgeon JohnCollins Warrens diagnosed a woman as suffer-ing from nostalgia, an unusual longing for thenative country (De Rham, 1841, pp. 115116,124; Martien, 1840, p. 246; Sanchez &amp; Brown,1994). Not able to find any bodily disease, hetestified that her debility proceeded from hermind (Rutledge, 1997). Physicians had come toview nostalgia as a mental disease that mani-fested in physical symptoms, but the develop-ment of a field of specialists in the diagnosis andtreatment of mental disorders was still in itsinfancy (Anderson, 2010; Clarke, 2007).</p><p>Whereas Hofers disease model concentratedattention on symptoms, prognosis, and treat-ments, prior to Hofer, homesickness was pre-sumed to be the norm, even admirable or noble.For example, in Homers Odyssey, neither life-threatening challenges nor the prospect of re-maining with a goddess could dissuade themythical Odysseus from returning home(Homer, trans. 1991, Book IX). Similarly, theintensity of yearning for their homeland duringthe Israelites forced exile following the fall ofJerusalem is clear in Psalm 137:5 6 (NewAmerican Standard Bible): If I forget you, OJerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill.May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth ifI do not remember you.</p><p>2 Two elements of Hofers theory reappear in more so-phisticated forms in modern psychological theory. For ex-ample, Hebbs (1949) explanation of psychological disor-ders in terms of the disorganization of cell assemblies isreminiscent of Hofers notion of a path laid down by rever-berating travel of the vital spirits. Similarly, Hofers pro-posal that mental events can result in structural or physicalchanges is reflected in modern two-stage theories of disor-ders such as depression, amnesia, and anorexia.</p><p>166 BATCHO</p><p>This</p><p>docu</p><p>men</p><p>tis</p><p>copy</p><p>right</p><p>edby</p><p>the</p><p>Am</p><p>eric</p><p>anPs</p><p>ycho</p><p>logi</p><p>calA</p><p>ssoc</p><p>iatio</p><p>nor</p><p>one</p><p>ofi</p><p>tsal</p><p>lied</p><p>publ</p><p>isher</p><p>s.Th</p><p>isar</p><p>ticle</p><p>isin</p><p>tend</p><p>edso</p><p>lely</p><p>fort</p><p>hepe</p><p>rson</p><p>aluse</p><p>oft</p><p>hein</p><p>divi</p><p>dual</p><p>use</p><p>ran</p><p>dis</p><p>not</p><p>tobe</p><p>diss</p><p>emin</p><p>ated</p><p>broa</p><p>dly.</p></li><li><p>Within the political context of exile, home-sickness is part of a set of concepts of loyaltyand allegiance to ones social group and ideol-ogy. Assimilation into the foreign country rep-resents abandonment of ones native beliefs andidentity and acceptance of those of the oppres-sor. Similarly, Odysseus journey is a tempo-rary separation from those he loves and thesocial context to which he owes allegiance. ForOdysseus, choosing to remain in one of thepleasant settings of his adventurous itinerarywould constitute a betrayal of his people, familycommitments, and social identity.</p><p>Whereas homesickness prevents attachmentto a foreign social setting, the medical contextencouraged efforts to prevent and cure home-sickness. Such contrasts illustrate the potentialfor error in understanding a construct in the pastby applying contemporary ideology and meth-ods. Presuming the medical approach to besuperior, Hofer failed to appreciate the biasimposed by the military cases he examined.Military urgency during wartime promoted theidentification, or invention, of a disease so thateffective treatment could be developed. Fromthe political imperialist perspective, attachmentto home is not an admirable value if it interfereswith performance far from home.</p><p>From Physical to Mental Illness:The Role of Psychiatry</p><p>With advances in anatomy and physiology,germ theory, and instrumentation, distinctionsdeveloped between two categories of phenom-ena. As medicine became defined by its meth-ods and resultant discoveries, instances werecategorized as medical when the availablemethods were applicable. When those methodswere not easily applied, instances could be ei-ther reconstructed to fit or relegated to the de-veloping category of mental illnesses.</p><p>During the 19th century, the study and treat-ment of mental illness became the province ofpsychiatrists, referred to then as alienists (Hil-gard, 1987). Nostalgia received little and short-lived attention in psychiatry. In 1892, Tukewrote that, Nostalgia always represents a com-bination of psychological and bodily distur-bances, and for this reason it must always bedefined as a disease (Tuke, 1892, p. 858).Extending this thinking to forensic applications,Tuke argued that by suspending the free deter-</p><p>mination of will, nostalgia can cause certainacts and crimes which bear the character ofimpulsive actions, and can frequently be themotive to incendiarism, infanticide, and sui-cide (1892, p. 859).</p><p>With the emphasis on sadness, theorists clas-sified nostalgia as a form of melancholia.Griesinger observed, home-sickness . . . is amournful disposition of spirit suggested by ex-ternal circumstances . . . home-sickness oughtin foro to be regarded as a mental affection onlywhen it presents the usual signs of insanity(Griesinger, 1867/1965, pp. 245246). By theend of the 19th century, refinements in classifi-cation, together with industrialization, a declinein military mobilization, and greater social mo-bility because of improved means of transpor-tation, contributed to the eventual disappear-ance of nostalgia as a separate disorder.</p><p>Conflict and the Bittersweet: The Impact ofthe Psychoanalytic Movement</p><p>During the first half of the 20th century,nostalgia had lost its place of interest in psychi-atry, and the psychoanalytic movement contrib-uted to shifting nostalgia into the developingdiscipline of psychology. Although nostalgia isnot indexed in Freuds writings, Freuds ap-proach profoundly affected conceptualizationsof nostalgia. Most notably, the centrality ofearly experience, symbolism, and conflict influ-enced 20th-century theories of nostalgia (seeespecially Freuds Screen Memories, 1899/1968c, On Transience, 1916/1968b, andMourning and Melancholia, 1917/1968a). Assummarized by H. Kaplan (1987, p. 466), In apsychoanalytic context, the meaning of nostal-gia changes to become a variant of depression,an acute yearning for a union with the preoedi-pal mother, a saddening farewell to childhood, adefense against mourning, or a longing for apast forever lost. According to Kleiner (1970,p. 17), All authors agree on the importance ofthe preoedipal mother in the emotional devel-opment of nostalgics.</p><p>Neumann (1949/1971, p. 16) argued that nos-talgia is a reaction to the potential alienation ofindividuation, being oneself is still a weari-some and painful experience. Peters (1985)proposed that many cases of nostalgia manifestunresolved problems in oneness/separation andomnipotence/helplessness, with nostalgia pro-</p><p>167NOSTALGIA: THE BITTERSWEET HISTORY</p><p>This</p><p>docu</p><p>men</p><p>tis</p><p>copy</p><p>right</p><p>edby</p><p>the</p><p>Am</p><p>eric</p><p>anPs</p><p>ycho</p><p>logi</p><p>calA</p><p>ssoc</p><p>iatio</p><p>nor</p><p>one</p><p>ofi</p><p>tsal</p><p>lied</p><p>publ</p><p>isher</p><p>s.Th</p><p>isar</p><p>ticle</p><p>isin</p><p>tend</p><p>edso</p><p>lely</p><p>fort</p><p>hepe</p><p>rson</p><p>aluse</p><p>oft</p><p>hein</p><p>divi</p><p>dual</p><p>use</p><p>ran</p><p>dis</p><p>not</p><p>tobe</p><p>diss</p><p>emin</p><p>ated</p><p>broa</p><p>dly.</p></li><li><p>viding the motivation to persist in the gruelingwork of individuation (p. 145). He character-ized nostalgia as a yearning that ranges in in-tensity from a fleeting sadness to an over-whelming craving that persists and profoundlyinterferes with the individuals attempts to copewith his present circumstances (p. 135).Whereas medical theorists had designated thehome as the object of yearning in nostalgia, thepsychoanalytic emphasis on symbolism facili-tated the generalization beyond spatial location.Peters (1985) assumed that one can be nostalgicfor any object since objects serve as symbols,and Kulish (1989) and Bassin (1993) extendedthe meaning of nostalgia to denote an incom-plete form of mourning for an idealized past.</p><p>In sharp contrast to the original emphasis onmelancholy, the psychoanalytic perspectivemade conflicting emotions critical to the es-sence of nostalgia (e.g., Kaplan, 1987; Werman,1977). Kleiner (1970) distinguished the nostal-gic individual from the homesick, the sentimen-tal, and the romantic by nostalgias peculiarcombination of sadness and pleasant reminisc-ing (p...</p></li></ul>