FYS 1399: RETRO: How and Why the Past Comes Back

In this course we will explore retro culture – our persistent tendency to become infatuated with cultural modes and artifacts of the past, especially the relatively recent past, often in ways that idealize that past. We’ll look at retro movements in music, movies, television, gaming, fashion, and especially technology – because using technologies from the past is one of the most common ways we express our fascination with it. We’ll explore the phenomenon of nostalgia. And we’ll try to understand how retro culture differs from the preservation of a living past – a past that still thrives in the present. 

Readings for this class will be in the form of PDFs, which I will usually hand out to you, though in some cases you’ll need to print them out. In the schedule below, I have links to the online versions of many of the things we’ll read, but that’s just for y’all to get a sneak peek — usually a week before we cover a topic I’ll hand out the relevant printout.

This class is also about helping you to get the most out of your college experience — but you’ll hear more from me about that in due course.

I’ve created a few webpages for my students:

But here are a few of major points for this class in particular:

  1. No digital devices of any kind in my class! We’re about paper and talking, for reasons I will explain.
  2. It would be best if you got a binder or folder to keep the readings in — that’s what I’ll be doing — so we can revisit earlier readings when necessary. You’ll have a nice collection by the end of the term.
  3. Our readings will almost all be short, but that’s all the more reason to read them with care. There will be regular quizzes!
  4. When you lead a discussion, you should do a good deal of further research on the topic, beyond what the assigned reading provides. You also might want to provide some added value by preparing a handout or having some show-and-tell stuff.
  5. Sometimes I might ask you to watch brief videos before coming to class — when you’re preparing to lead a discussion you should feel free to do the same.


SCHEDULE {discussion leader for each reading in curly brackets}

08.22 • Introduction to course
08.24 • Excerpt from Retro: The Culture of Revival, by Elizabeth E. Guffey {AJ}

08.29 • Mark Fisher and “hauntology”; “vibe shifts” {AJ}
08.31 • Molly Worthen on universities as monasteries {AJ}

09.05 • Stranger Things and the Eighties {AJ}
09.07 • Flip phones {Audrey H}

09.12 • Point-and-shoot digital cameras {Brooke T}
09.14 • Retro filmmaking by Steven Soderbergh {Lukas T}

09.19 • The vinyl revival — and, more recently, that of CDs as well {Anna C}
09.21 • Vintage musical instruments and equipment

09.26 • The appeal of film photography {Clay G}
09.28 • NO CLASS

10.03 • Handwriting {Taylor D}
10.05 • Old ways of printing books {Austin S}

10.10 • Retrogaming {Ben R}
10.12 • Steampunk {Ava S}

10.17 • Asteroid City and retrofuturism {AJ}
10.19 • How the past imagined the future: the Paleofuture website {AJ}

10.24 • Controversial retro fashion, which some people are too old to wear {Srisahiti M}
10.26 • NO CLASS

10.31 • War re-enactments: Civil War and World War II {Isaac B}
11.02 • Historical reality TV shows {AJ}

11.07 • Homesteading and off-grid life {AJ}
11.09 • New wisdom from old philosophers {Caleb G}

11.14 • Renewal of old religious forms: the Book of Common Prayer and the Latin Mass {Sydney W}
11.16 • The renewal of monasticism: one and two {AJ}


11.28 • “The Lost Tools of Learning” {AJ}
11.30 • Living without money {Ann A} and Rejecting all modern technology {AJ}

12.05 • Conclusion to course

12.08 • Final project due