Retro, history and nostalgia: rethinking popular memory and the 1950s

Sims, Stella Corinne (2015) Retro, history and nostalgia: rethinking popular memory and the 1950s. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis examines how and why we remember the 1950s in Britain in particular ways. The 1950s have become a popular and visible decade in the culture of 'retro' since the late-1960s; there is a stylistic fascination with iconic symbols that have become shorthand for the post-war era. Popular memory is the everyday sense of a past which circulates in a particular culture through the interaction of past and present, public and private, which is expressed and experienced through memory, media and commodities. I interrogate how popular memory is expressed nostalgically through 'Fifties' retro and heritage in Britain, revealing the tensions between past and present in the politics of remembering.

In the main, studies of popular representations of the past through nostalgia and retro have largely remained within the boundaries of academic disciplines such as subcultural studies, design/art history and collective memory theory. I use this scholarship in combination to analyse our popular historical culture because a popular sense of the past is created and experienced by an interaction of many different cultural expressions, experiences and representations. Using an interdisciplinary approach, this project blends interviews with fans of Fifties revival culture with other sources such as memories from the Mass Observation Archive, period dramas on film and television, retro in popular music, as well as press reception on retro and nostalgia. This innovative methodology foregrounds the tensions and politics of representing the past, challenging the notion of popular memory of the 1950s as merely 'retro' consumerism and manipulated history.

Recent academic thought has emphasised the 'presentness' of nostalgia; that this emotional, rose-tinted view of the past is actually a response to the present. This project suggests nostalgia can be used with agency - individuals and communities use nostalgic images for a wide range of personal and political meanings; nostalgia can also be dynamic and pleasurable. We remember the past through family albums and personal memory, but these interact with mediated pasts in retro popular culture, favourite films and period dramas. My research calls for a more democratic approach to historical study which considers not just 'what happened' in the past but the politics of how we imagine and re-imagine the past.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Media and Film
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA History of Great Britain > DA020 England > DA129 By period > DA300 Modern, 1485- > DA566 20th century
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 18 Jun 2015 13:51
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:37

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