Research Stream


Helen Dell
The University of Melbourne

Longing for the Medieval

This project centres on nostalgia, considered as an emotion, or as a concept or structure comprised of various, sometimes conflicting emotions. The project investigates aspects of ‘medievalism’ – the modern recreation of the middle ages – as forms of nostalgia, a longing for the medieval past, however that past is conceived or imaginatively constructed.


Nostalgia may be felt for a distant past as well as a past in living memory. As Susan L. Holak and William J. Havlena have pointed out, nostalgia ‘may involve […] fantasies about a remote time or place with which the individual has no direct experience’ (‘Feelings, Fantasies, and Memories: An Examination of the Emotional Components of Nostalgia’. Journal of Business Research 42 [1998]: 217–26, 2). This project investigates such nostalgic fantasies of the remote, medieval past and their emotional quality. It approaches the medieval past not as a history directly shaping the present but as a nostalgic fantasy back-projected in order to stand in as a lost origin for the present. Such an approach rests on the premise that history, amateur and professional, is written from present to past and is thus subject to the pressures, emotions, desires and ideologies of the present. In other words, history cannot be emotionally neutral; nor is it temporally straightforward. ‘History’ is being used here in a very broad sense, to include a variety of narratives about the past and its relation to the present. We all write history. This research will result in the submission by Helen Dell of two papers to leading refereed journals. One will examine the emotional cast of nostalgia in online audience responses to song videos of popular neo-pagan medieval bands and the often violent exchanges between commenters. The other will consider the theoretical and ethical implications for historiography of the nostalgic aspect of emotional attachments to the medieval past.

Relevant publications

Dell, H. Fantasies of Music in Nostalgic Medievalism’. Revising ms. for publication with Boydell & Brewer.

Book chapters
Dell, H. ‘Musical Medievalism and the Harmony of the Spheres’.  In Cambridge Companion to Medievalism, edited by L. D’Arcens, pp. 60‒74. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Dell, H. ‘The Medieval Voice’.  In Since Lacan: Papers of the Freudian School of Melbourne 25, edited by L. Clifton, 247‒58. London: Karnac, 2016.

Journal articles
Dell, H. ‘Nostalgia and Medievalism: Conversations, Contradictions, Impasses’. Editor’s introduction ‘The Medievalism of Nostalgia’, special issue, postmedieval: journal of medieval cultural studies 2.2 (2011): 115‒26.

Dell, H. ‘“Yearning for the Sweet Beckoning Sound”: Music and Longing in Medievalist Fantasy Fiction’. ‘The Medievalism of Nostalgia’, special issue, postmedieval: journal of medieval cultural studies 2.2 (2011): 171‒85.

Dell, H. ‘Music for Myth and Fantasy in Two Arthurian Films’.  ‘Screening Early Europe: Premodern Projections’, special issue, Screening the Past. (2009). No longer accessible.

Edited special issues
Dell, H., L. D’Arcens and A. Lynch, eds. ‘The Medievalism of Nostalgia’, special issue, postmedieval: journal of medieval cultural studies 2.2 (2011).

Some of these are available on my Academia page.

Image: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden 1828, Thomas Cole (1801–1848), Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Wikimedia Commons.