#Emptyshelf17 #20 Home by @JoSwinney

Home: the quest to belongHome: the quest to belong by Jo Swinney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first heard that Jo was writing this book last year, when she saw a blogpost I’d written for Amy…. I’ve read this book mostly on the train, and have really enjoyed the mix of personal story (both Jo’s own & those she’s found) mixed in with drawing upon the biblical story of David. I’ve always been fascinated by how we find our identity, particularly in family, friends, work and place we live – and Jo brought so many of those out. Jo’s been quite vulnerable in this re struggles in finding her own place and identity, and that this will always be a lifelong journey – with a strong emphasis on learning to settle ‘where you are’ for as long as you are there.

View all my reviews


#EmptyShelf17 #7 Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture

Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer CultureRoyal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture by Cele C. Otnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s plenty to think about in this book about the significance of the British Royal Family to British culture, and just how much that converts into both social/emotional loyalty, but particularly cold, hard cash. Lots in there about meaning and a sense of belonging.

View all my reviews

History Reviewer

#EmptyShelf17 #3: The Ministry of Nostalgia by @owenhatherley

The story of Keep Calm and Carry On is largely one of the 21st century, rather than of the Second World War, when it was produced. Owen Hatherley uses the poster as a hook as he investigates the ‘nostalgia’ we have for 1940s, and use it to legitimise contemporary austerity. Hatherley refers to the use of this sense by the government as NOT heritage, but, quoting Raphael Samuel, as stealing ‘from the past at random’, as we deal with economic crisis and a technologically changing world, we look to nostalgia for a sense of who we are, and how we can manage in the present.

The claim is made that the image has ‘finally entered the pantheon of truly global design “icons”‘, with a logo that’s as recognisable as Coca-Cola and Apple, as various iterations and subversions of it can be spotted around the globe. Hatherley recognises that understanding the original story of Keep Calm and Carry On (as per my 2004 thesis, and 1997 undergraduate thesis) is key:

and references me here:

There’s plenty to chew on in this book, which in many ways is pretty easy to read. After the first chapter, it largely moves on from the story of Keep Calm and Carry On, and onto other aspects of government ‘paternalism’ and ‘surveillance’, considering futurism, gentrification, fiction and architecture, bouncing between the present, and those nostalgic items that we hark back to, to cope with living in the contemporary age.

Purchase the book (Amazon)

Other Reviews

It was interesting to note that in this review by Dr Charlotte Riley from ‘Reviews in History‘ a reference to my PhD:

He does not engage with the history of Second World War propaganda in itself, which is a shame; he gestures towards Rebecca Lewis’s work in his footnotes, but her research, along with the work of propaganda historians such as Jo Fox, would have contextualised the poster both in terms of theory and against a body of work surveying reception of these materials at the time.

There are a lot of reviews for this book, which has recently gone into paperback, including:


BBC Radio 4: Digital Human (Series 6:2014: Episode 4: Nostalgia) #DigiHuman


4/6: Nostalgia

We live in a world where the nostalgia for the past now permeates our present.

With online trends like ‘Throw Back Thursdays’, apps like Timehop and platforms which gives you the tools to make your digital image look like it was taken with an analogue camera, the internet has never seemed so backwards-facing.

In this week’s episode of The Digital Human, Aleks Krotoski visits imagined worlds and eras long past to explore whether the web is a nostalgia machine.

We speak with Professor of Svetlana Boym to trace the origins of the word back to homesick Swiss mercenaries in the 17th century, visit a water park in New Jersey which was reborn through the collective power of online nostalgia and take tea with a vintage enthusiast, who divides his time between working as an air host in a high-flying company, with living in the 1940s.

  • Disposableness of so much modern technology, but the (perceived) lasting nature of old technologies.
  • Nostalgia part of every-day life, in packaging, the hand-made, we make do and made, and nostalgia is so easy to access online, including pop-culture moments on Youtube, remixed tunes on Spotify, watch films that are remakes of originals on Netflix. Shaped to fill the sense we’ve lost something – is the Internet a nostalgia machine, and is it trapping us in a digital past?
  • Nostalgia is a longing for something that no longer exists, or indeed, may never have existed. People draw comfort from the past, because the future is unknown?
  • A feeling of nostalgia helps us part with our cash more easily (so a Vaseline tinted lens). Look and feel of technologies/apps – qualities of a past aesthetic gives a vision of the future. No one gets the grandeur of what you’re actually seeing, but an Instagram filter, etc. can give a sense of the emotion raised.
  • Online, so much of what exists has so little tangibility.
  • Music is tied up with so many things – and can definitely take you back to a moment.
  • E-book reader – re-creates the look of a book as how people accustomed to read.
  • Utopian nature of language used in ‘the web’ – nostalgia for somewhere with a ‘home’, etc. Nostalgia is built into the infrastructure.
  • The internet savvy generation can access nostalgia at any point – not having to wait for time to chill around a table with wine… can use the internet to create shared nostalgic experiences (in this case the world’s most dangerous water park). Lots of people had something to say to this.
  • When someone in 1940s house, someone who lived through that time visited and wondered why would choose to live that way…
  • The web has made nostalgia ‘nimble’ – can find things and make them present – including cherry picking aspects of your life and choosing how it looks…
  • There’s something more ‘wizard of Oz’ going on online… e.g. Spotify – understand what links to what … allows them to choose more ‘recommendations’ to present to the user. Personal data is not just used to sell us data, but to make us nostalgic. Invisible code in the software – can work out what is popular amongst your friends in their network.
  • Nostalgia = critical importance if take from that past experience to apply to the presence. We need a sense of ‘slower time’ – if only experience of presence is technological – are you really experiencing presence?
  • TimeHop and Throwback Thursdays = overt examples – difference between enjoying elements of the past, and getting stuck in a nostalgic loop, because the software is pre-empting your choices.

Comic Superheroes!

I’m fascinated by graphics, especially those that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, so this story in the Times Higher Education caught my attention:

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? This is a popular question in team-building exercises. Flight? Invisibility? Super strength? Would you want to be able to hurl balls of fire, communicate telepathically or run faster than a speeding bullet? Sometimes we imagine possessing the powers of other animals: flying like a bird, leaping like a tiger or swimming like a fish. Other times we imagine having supernatural powers, such as telekinesis or an ability to shape-shift, that as far as we know nothing has nor could possess. We might just imagine having more of what we’ve already got: strength, speed or heightened senses.

I can declare a degree of knowledge in such matters, having read superhero comic books from my early years. There were no books in the house when I was little, but a few pence bought the adventures of the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and, my favourite, Spider-Man. Initially my older sister read them to me, putting on different voices for each character. But they provided the perfect incentive for me to learn to read for myself.

The myth of the superhero and their supervillain counterparts appears firmly enshrined in popular culture, but the superpowered beings that are recognisable the world over today are relatively new. Superman dates back only to 1938, with merely a few prototypes preceding him. Yet the superhero may be merely the modern manifestation of a more persistent archetype.

Read full story.