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7-10-2015, 10:34


Volume 1:1770 to 1880 he first volume in our encyclopedia covers the period from 1770 to 1870. It was at the beginning of that era that we saw the emergence of the modern idea of the nation and nationalism. Although “nation” was used as early as medieval times to distinguish groups of students who came from the same region or country, it only became politicized in the 1770s. he inluence of the new conception of the nation was striking. Over the next 100 years, revolutions carried the idea across the Atlantic world and redrew the political map. Most of the European colonies in the Americas became independent states, France became a republic, and new nation-states such as Germany, Italy, and Belgium appeared in the center of Europe. he rest of the world was largely untouched by the new concept. China, India, Japan, and the African kingdoms focused inward and tried to resist European incursions. he only exception was Egypt, where Napoleon’s conquest and occupation laid the i rst seeds for national consciousness. he geographically limited spread of the modern concept of the nation during this early period explains why our first volume does not include case studies from sub-Saharan Africa or Asia.

We can identify four major changes that led to the politicization and subsequent spread of the idea of the nation and nationalism. First, the growing importance of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, which offered attractive alternatives to the prevailing absolutist and dynastic order. Second, commercial, industrial, and agricultural revolutions dramatically restructured societies in Europe and the Americas. hird, the control of empires and states over their populations increased and engendered resistance. Fourth, advances in communication intensiied social interaction, which allowed for more effective dissemination of information.

To elaborate, the first major change has to do with the Enlightenment thinkers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, who provided the foundation for the new perspective on the idea of the nation. he world of the late eighteenth century was dominated by empires. On all continents, political structures were highly hierarchical, and rule was absolute with very few exceptions. People were simply subjects of the authority and mired in rigid social codes, with little chance for mobility, by an order that was supposedly imposed by divine will. he Enlightenment offered an attractive alternative to this worldview. It stressed the fundamental freedom of the individual, secularization, general education, and new democratic forms of government. It argued that political power should rest in the people, who were termed a “nation” because they were deemed to share a common interest and identity.

Initially, nation referred to the population in a given political territory. his was the principle behind the revolutions in the Americas and France. In the Americas, the populations were heterogeneous, made up of a mix of European immigrants and indigenous inhabitants. While racism within these populations was prevalent and in most cases virulent, the fight against a clearly defined “other”—the colonizer—provided at least initially a common identity. In France, the existence of common government institutions, administration, and commerce over several centuries created social homogeneity and commonality among the people living in the state territory.

He idea of the nation took on a different meaning when it was adopted by proponents of Romanticism, such as Johann Gottfried von Herder and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. his philosophical and cultural movement developed as a reaction to the Enlightenment and proposed a different alternative to the prevailing dynastic and absolutist order. Instead of rational thinking and freedom of the individual as in Enlightenment thinking, Romanticism stressed the subjective, the emotional, the passionate in human beings, and the need for individuals to find solace in the “organic” community that was made up of those who spoke the same language, shared the same folklore and customs, and were attached to the same native soil. his meant that individuals had to follow the call of their blood and celebrate their ethnic culture. While there was still room for divine order, the emphasis in Romanticism on popular culture, common people, and idyllic communities in which everyone was equal made it incompatible with the hierarchical order of absolutist dynasties.

He Romantic version of the nation found an enthusiastic reception in central and eastern Europe where ethnic groups, such as the Germans, Italians, Poles, Czechs, and many others, lived in a complex regional mosaic. here were regions with homogenous populations, but the border zones were always intermixed. Moreover, some of these groups, such as the Germans, were widely dispersed into the main settlement regions of other groups. Finally, political borders of different empires cut across the ethnic groups and subjugated them to rule by other ethnicities. As a result, identity developed along ethnic lines rather than in existing state territories. he Romantic idea of an ethnic nation was much more volatile than the Enlightenment version of the inhabitants of existing states (civic nation)— it required redrawing political boundaries to give an ethnic nation sovereign control over its affairs in its own state. Given the complex mosaic of the distribution of ethnic groups and their intermixing at the borders, this Romantic version of nation invariably led to conlict.

He modern idea of the nation thus meant that self-determination could be demanded by ethnically heterogeneous inhabitants of existing states (civic nations) and by ethnic groups that occupied a state, part of a state, or were dispersed across existing political boundaries (ethnic nations). Starting in the late eighteenth century, the rallying call of the nation would be used to dethrone mon-archs and to liberate oppressed people, but also to expel or exterminate those who were considered different (“others”) or to wage wars of expansion.

He second major change that took place in this era was a radical restructuring of societies in Europe and the Americas through commercial, industrial, and agricultural revolutions. his period constituted the birth of the modern age. Expanding trade with overseas colonies and at home brought tremendous wealth to merchants and associated professions. A middle class, the bourgeoisie, emerged that had virtually no power but often had more wealth than aristocrats. he idea of the nation was an attractive proposition for this class since it promised a redistribution of power from the aristocracy to the general population.

He Industrial Revolution created huge job opportunities around factories and led to large-scale population movements from rural areas to urban centers. he agricultural revolution rang the death knell for the rural subsistence way of life. Family farming was replaced by large-scale mechanized agriculture. Villages became depopulated as younger people moved to cities, craftsmanship was no longer passed on through the generations in the same family but supplanted by specialized industrial production, places of residence and work were segregated, and people commuted increasing distances to their place of employment.

As a result of these commercial, industrial, and agricultural revolutions, traditional social ties in towns and in the countryside were severed; instead of communities where everyone knew each other (Gemeinschajt), we see the development of a society stratified by classes (Gesellschaft). For the growing middle class, a key issue was access to power; for the masses, it was the breakup of extended families and being crowded together with people from different places. Since traditional religions could not provide the spiritual support to meet these new challenges, the nation filled the gap. It offered solace from the alienation of modern living and a powerful sense of belonging.

He third change has to do with an increasing assertion of state power and a commensurate increase in resistance and demands for liberation. As economies became more complex from expanding overseas and domestic trade, and as people moved to urban areas and increased in numbers—this period was the start of a tremendous growth in the size of the human population—states and empires were challenged to centralize control over industries, commerce, financial systems, and their populations. To maintain an efficient administration, to have sufi cient food to prevent famines, to recruit enough soldiers for their standing armies, and to procure weapons of war for defense and expansions, states had to collect more information, whether in the form of surveys, maps, or censuses. As state surveillance increased, so did resistance.

Increasing state involvement in the educational system was a further factor. he need for a better-educated workforce and a uniform language for an efficient economy and army meant centralization and homogenization of the curriculum. Considering that empires and states included populations speaking various languages and practicing diverse religions, this standardization was bound to engender resistance, particularly when the dominant language and culture favored a small minority.

He fourth major change involves advances in communication. Newspapers and other literature were printed in larger numbers and disseminated through an improved transport system, such as regular postal services in Europe and the Americas. People could find out much more easily and quickly about new ideas or events. he 1848 republican uprisings started in Sicily and spread to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian empire within a few months. Increased communication and social contact meant that rulers could no longer keep their population completely isolated and in the dark.

Greater dissemination of the printed word also provided language with a fixed form and helped establish a dominant national language. Local dialects and the social and cultural differences they expressed became less important. For example, in the middle of the 19th century, the Germans Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm not only helped create a German national consciousness through their compen-diums on German mythologies and fairytales but established a uniform German language through their dictionaries and grammar books. he national uprisings in the Americas in the early 1800s similarly were augmented by newspapers that helped Creoles in the different colonies create “imagined communities,” to use the famous title of Benedict Anderson’s 1991 book. Printed language became the vector for the national idea, and its spread was unstoppable.