Nostalgia as an emotional disorder in Colonial Algeria

RESERVED TO NYU STUDENTS AND FACULTY. People once died of nostalgia. While we all recognize nostalgia when we see it, and know that “it no longer is what it used to be,” few of us are familiar, precisely, with what it once was. Originally coined in 1688, the term designated an acute bout of homesickness right up to the late 1800s, when it fell out of medical usage and became associated to bittersweet—but quite innocuous—longing. What was this potentially fatal condition? Who did it affect and where? Why did it appear only to cease being considered harmful two centuries later? This presentation grapples with these questions drawing from archival research conducted on nineteenth-century French armies and colonial societies. In particular, it probes the unapparent connections between clinical nostalgia and psychological trauma, arguing that the former provides an earlier example of emotional disorders that have long been eclipsed by the luster of trauma within memory studies.

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