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Nostalgia as an emotional experience in the great war

Roper, M (2011) 'Nostalgia as an emotional experience in the great war.' Historical Journal, 54 (2). 421 - 451. ISSN 0018-246X

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Abstract

This article is concerned with the longing for home of British soldiers during the First World War. What, it asks, can such longings reveal about the psychological impact of trench warfare? Historians have differed in the significance that they ascribe to domestic attachments. Some argue that a 'cultural chasm' developed between the fronts, producing anger and disillusionment among soldiers which would surface fully fledged after the war, while others assert the continuing vitality of the links with home. Evidence for both these perceptions can be found in the letters written by British soldiers to their families. The functions of nostalgia could range from reassurance or momentary relief from boredom and impersonal army routines, through flight from intolerable anxiety, to survival through the power of love. Although animated by solitude, nostalgia provided a means of communication with loved ones. Its emotional tones varied according to the soldier's age and the nature of his attachments to home. The young soldier's reminiscences of home conveyed, not just the comforting past, but the hateful present. Nostalgia, being rooted in early memories of care, could be a potent vehicle for arousing the anxieties of loved ones, especially mothers. Among married men, the desire to return to wives and children could provide a powerful motivation for survival. This analysis suggests a different and more varied account of the genesis of the 'disillusionment story' of the war than is put forward in some recent studies. Among men of the 'war generation' particularly, disillusionment was not only a post-war construction, an artefact of cultural memory, but a powerful legacy of the emotional experience of the war itself. © Copyright Cambridge University Press 2011.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Sociology, Department of
Depositing User: Jim Jamieson
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2013 10:45
Last Modified: 04 Dec 2017 22:35
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/5152

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