Colloquium: Homesickness and the Myth of American Individualism

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Colloquium

Tuesday 27 June 2017, 11:00
Small Conference Room, MPI for Human Development

 

Susan Matt, Weber State University

Homesickness and the Myth of American Individualism

Americans have long been celebrated as rugged, restless individualists, eager to strike out in search of new opportunity, able to leave the past, and home behind. This mythology has endured for over two centuries. However, the history of homesickness complicates this portrayal, bespeaking more communal sentiments. While the emotion has been overlooked by most historians, it has played a significant role in generations of Americans’ lives. For instance, nineteenth-century Americans often complained of homesickness; there were widespread reports of men and women dying from the emotion.  In modern America, homesickness is less publicly discussed, but still widely experienced, and suggests that other values besides individualism have left a deep and enduring mark on American social and cultural life.

 

Susan J. Matt is Presidential Distinguished Professor of History at Weber State University, in Ogden, Utah. She is author of Homesickness: An American History (Oxford University Press, 2011); Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890-1930 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003); and co-editor of Doing Emotions History (University of Illinois Press, 2013). With Peter Stearns, she edits the History of Emotions series for University of Illinois Press. She is currently finishing a book on technology and emotions co-authored with political theorist Luke Fernandez, tentatively titled Bored, Lonely and Stupid: How Americans Have Felt about Technology, from the Telegraph to Twitter (under contract with Harvard University Press).