Clinical Nostalgia in 19th Century France

The October 2012 issue of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is now online.  Included in this issue is an article on the nineteenth century clinical category of nostalgia that may be of interest to AHP’s readers. In “The Time and Place of Nostalgia: Re-Situating a French Disease,” historian Lisa O’Sullivan (right) traces the history of nostalgia as a disease in post-revolutionary France. The abstract reads,

The history of nostalgia as a clinical category has many highly specific national stories. This paper traces an aspect of this history, examining aspects of nostalgia’s changing meanings in nineteenth-century France. Nostalgia was a disease triggered by displacement, which became medically and politically important after the French Revolution, when military surgeons encountered epidemics of nostalgia in the armed forces. Understood as a form of pathological homesickness, the category straddled environmental medicine and emerging ideas about insanity. The diagnosis became particularly important to Ideologue writers as a case study in regulating and redirecting the emotions, demonstrating the efficacy of their new “moral” treatments and an ability to generate patriotic attachment to the new nation state. Over the course of the century, nostalgia disintegrated as a medical condition reflecting a decline in environmental explanations for disease within medicine, and increasingly plastic meanings attached to nostalgic desire.

The full article can be found online here.

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