Memory Lane sign by Martin Bennett / Stockimo Source: Alamay Stock Photo

Those Were The Days

Nostalgia in American History

It’s common for folks to look back on a time gone by and romanticize it as “better days.” But is nostalgia a harmless yearning for the past, or a distraction from what’s happening in the present?

This episode and related resources are funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this {article, book, exhibition, film, program, database, report, Web resource}, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Nostalgia in American History Lesson Set

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Nostalgia is a sentimental longing for something from the past. It is a universal feeling that exists in different ways in our popular culture and politics. Just as the television show “I Love The 90s” appealed to a population of millennials, Donald Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again” harkens back to a bygone era of American history.

This lesson, and the corresponding BackStory episode, examine different examples of nostalgia throughout American history, including music, television, architecture, and politics. With each example of nostalgia presented, students should be encouraged to consider why it gained traction among a certain population of Americans. Additionally, students need to consider whether the idealized version of America conflicts with the experience of different minority groups.