The Past Is Never Dead. It Isn’t Even Past.

In my current position, I’m tasked with the goal of convincing highly distracted, unconfident college students to write effective, argumentative essays over a variety of topics. Some days, that task is more enjoyable than others. Admittedly, I could make my job much easier by employing topics of discussion that are more accessible to a group of inexperienced 19 year-olds. I could talk about current events. I could design units around high-stakes-but-well-worn topics like abortion, gay marriage, and legalizing marijuana. I could even look to appropriate the work of my colleagues and simply try out curricular flavors of the month. I don’t, though. I ask students to write about topics that produce papers I’m interested to read.

Yesterday, we framed a discussion in around the misplaced presence of revisionism in certain historical accounts, thus calling those accounts’ veracity or academic usefulness into question. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but the bulk of the lesson involved discussing two wildly divergent accounts for the origin of “the separation of church and state,” in the hopes that the students might see these accounts as politically motivated narratives as much as they see them as important records of the past.

What made the lesson fun for me was that we eventually worked our way around to a discussion of one of my favorite topics: nostalgia. Nostalgia comes from two Greek root words, nostos and algia, which almost literally translates into “an ache or pain to return home” or “homesick.” Originally coined as a term to describe the specific sadness that soldiers felt after having spent too much time away from home, the term has broader connotations now. Continue reading