I am in the process of doing research in order to write a proposal to apply for money to fund my own research. So. Much. Research. I am up to my ears in information about architecture and housing. It’s great, and has also had me thinking a lot about nostalgia.
Nostalgia isn’t a new topic of interest for me - like so many people, I am often deeply nostalgic for seemingly better or more “authentic” things I never knew (I mean, I own a record player, if that doesn’t tell you enough). Nostalgia in the public American conscious is also nothing new. This is clear in studies of urban history. Just as today’s gentrifiers look to post-war neighborhoods as having “real” history, so 1940s gentrifiers looked back to turn of the century landscapes to satiate their own appetites for meaningful, authentic existences.
And this trend is not just prevalent in urban history and architecture - far from it. Our iPhones have fake “newsstands.” Instagram lets you make your photos look “vintage.” Seventies apparel is evidently hip.
I completely understand the tendency towards looking back on the years of your youth as “the good old days.” People often think of that period as a simpler time - but it’s not that 10, 20, 50 years ago was really much simpler. It’s just that you, being a child, were a simpler person who had not yet become aware of the painful complexity of life. Rather than wanting to go back in history, we want to travel back to a time when we were innocent, happy, and untouched by the harsh realities of the world.
The problem with giving in to this desire for a time you never knew, or a time you knew only through the limited perspective of youth, is it overshadows the ingenious and terrible things that were occurring during the period you wish to revive. Sure, the Middle Ages were a magical time of Princesses and Knights - assuming you were wealthy and did not succumb to a terrible disease. Early America was full of passionate politicians, frontier excitement, and also wild gender and racial inequalities. The 1920s was a glamorous golden era where everyone could let their hair down, except…well, you get the point. When we view the past purely through rose-tinted glasses (weren’t those cool in the ’70s?), we make history one-dimensional, and it never is. Something I am going to keep in mind as I comb through archives of 18th and 19th century American housing, and life in general.