Updated: Mar 21, 2019
Are historians and archaeologists more nostalgic than people in other professions? Does a professional interest in the past correlate to the level of enjoyment we receive in recalling our own, real or imagined pasts? Probably not - nostalgia is a widespread phenomenon and one that seems to relate to an individual's age rather than vocation. Throughout our lives, we experience nostalgia, often sparked off by small and fleeting sensory experiences: a remembered smell, a long forgotten song or tune, a colour or a written word. At a certain age, these experiences increase. Children experience some nostalgia, but it is later in life that it becomes more potent. At fifty, I felt a strong desire that I had not experienced beforehand, to revisit childhood places and reconnect with childhood friends. My love of history evolved much earlier, in my teens. The main difference between a passion for history and a sense of nostalgia is the personal element embodied in the latter. We are nostalgic to things we personally recall, and that is quite different to encountering someone else's past. If I find, as I once did, a necklace lying on a stone exactly where someone had placed it two thousand years ago, my imagination (as it invariably does in such events) sets me thinking about who placed it there and under what circumstances. That is highly emotional, but it is not personal. I do not have an intimate connection to the person who had placed it there. I don't recall him or her, or the moment that it was placed on the stone. My only connection is the present experience of discovery and the place where I allow my imagination to go.