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Historiography and nationalism

historiography nationalism
Historiography is the study of how history is written One pervasive influence upon the writing of history has been nationalism, a set of beliefs about political legitimacy and cultural identity Nationalism has provided a significant framework for historical writing in Europe and in those former colonies influenced by Europe since the nineteenth century According to the medievalist historian Patrick J Geary:

The modern study of history was born in the nineteenth century, conceived and developed as an instrument of European nationalism As a tool of nationalist ideology, the history of Europe's nations was a great success, but it has turned our understanding of the past into a toxic waste dump, filled with the poison of ethnic nationalism, and the poison has seeped deep into popular consciousness1


  • 1 Origins of national histories
  • 2 Time depth and ethnicity
  • 3 Nationalism and ancient history
  • 4 Study of nationalist historiographies
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 References
  • 8 Further reading
    • 81 Nationalism in general
    • 82 Specific nationalisms
    • 83 Recent conferences
  • 9 External links

Origins of national historiesedit

Although the emergence of the nation into political consciousness is often placed in the nineteenth century, attempts by political leaders to craft new national identities, with their dynasty at the center, have been identified as early as the late Roman Empire The Barbarian rulers of the successor states crafted these new identities on the basis of descent of the ruler from ancient noble families, a shared descent of a single people with common language, custom, and religious identity, and a definition in law of the rights and responsibilities of members of the new nation2

The eighteenth and nineteenth century saw the resurgence of national ideologies During the French revolution a national identity was crafted, identifying the common people with the Gauls In Germany historians and humanists, such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, identified a linguistic and cultural identity of the German nation, which became the basis of a political movement to unite the fragmented states of this German nation3

A significant historiographical outcome of this movement of German nationalism was the formation of a "Society for Older German Historical Knowledge," which sponsored the editing of a massive collection of documents of German history, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica The sponsors of the MGH, as it is commonly known, defined German history very broadly; they edited documents concerning all territories where German-speaking people had once lived or ruled Thus, documents from Italy to France to the Baltic were grist for the mill of the MGH's editors4

This model of scholarship focusing on detailed historical and linguistic investigations of the origins of a nation, set by the founders of the MGH, was imitated throughout Europe In this framework, historical phenomena were interpreted as they related to the development of the nation-state; the state was projected into the past National histories are thus expanded to cover everything that has ever happened within the largest extent of the expansion of a nation, turning Mousterian hunter-gatherers into incipient Frenchmen Conversely, historical developments spanning many current countries may be ignored, or analyzed from narrow parochial viewpoints

Time depth and ethnicityedit

The difficulty faced by any national history is the changeable nature of ethnicity That one nation may turn into another nation over time, both by splitting colonisation and by merging syncretism, acculturation is implicitly acknowledged by ancient writers; Herodotus describes the Armenians as "colonists of the Phrygians", implying that at the time of writing clearly separate groups originated as a single group Similarly, Herodotus refers to a time when the "Athenians were just beginning to be counted as Hellenes", implying that a formerly Pelasgian group over time acquired "Greekness" The Alamanni are described by Asinius Quadratus as originally a conglomerate of various tribes which acquired a common identity over time All these processes are summarized under the term ethnogenesis

In ancient times, ethnicities often derived their or their rulers' origin from divine or semi-divine founders of a mythical past for example, the Anglo-Saxons deriving their dynasties from Woden; see also Euhemerism In modern times, such mythical aetiologies in nationalist constructions of history were replaced by the frequent attempt to link one's own ethnic group to a source as ancient as possible, often known not from tradition but only from archaeology or philology, such as Armenians claiming as their origin the Urartians, the Albanians claiming as their origin the Illyrians, the Georgians claiming as their origin the Mushki, or Hindu nationalists claiming as the origin of their religion the Indus Valley Civilization see Indigenous Aryans India — all of the mentioned groups being known only from either ancient historiographers or archaeology

Nationalism and ancient historyedit

Further information: indigenism

Nationalist ideologies frequently employ results of archaeology and ancient history as propaganda, often significantly distorting them to fit their aims, cultivating national mythologies and national mysticism Frequently this involves the uncritical identification of one's own ethnic group with some ancient or even prehistoric known only archaeologically group,5 whether mainstream scholarship accepts as plausible or reject as pseudoarchaeology the historical derivation of the contemporary group from the ancient one The decisive point, often assumed implicitly, that it is possible to derive nationalist or ethnic pride from a population that lived millennia ago and, being known only archaeologically or epigraphically, is not remembered in living tradition

Examples include Kurds claiming identity with the Medes,6 Albanians claiming as their origin the Illyrians,7 Bulgarians claiming identity with the Thracians, Iraqi propaganda invoking Sumer or Babylonia,8 Georgians claiming as their origin the Mushki, Hindu nationalists claiming as their origin the Indus Valley Civilization — all of the mentioned groups being known only from either ancient historiographers or archaeology In extreme cases, nationalists will ignore the process of ethnogenesis altogether and claim ethnic identity of their own group with some scarcely attested ancient ethnicity known to scholarship by the chances of textual transmission or archaeological excavation

Historically, various hypotheses regarding the Urheimat of the Proto-Indo-Europeans has been a popular object of patriotic pride, quite regardless of their respective scholarly values:

  • Albanian nationalism: Protochronism, descent from the Illyrians and Pelasgians
  • Northern European origins of an Aryan race Germanic mysticism, Nazi mysticism, Ahnenerbe
  • "Indigenous Aryans" and Archaeoastronomy and Vedic chronology in Hindu nationalism see also Out of India theory
  • Pan-Turkism and Neo-Eurasianism postulate mythical origins of humanity or culture in Central Asia, Sun Language Theory, Arkaim
  • Dacomania or Protochronism is the corresponding concept in Romanian nationalism
  • Slavic nationalisms: Sarmatism, Macedonism, Illyrian movement
  • Armenian nationalism: Armenia, Subartu and Sumer
  • Pakistani nationalism: Indus valley civilization

Study of nationalist historiographiesedit

Nationalism was so much taken for granted as the "proper" way to organize states and view history that nationalization of history was essentially invisible to historians until fairly recentlydubious – discuss Then scholars such as Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson, and Anthony D Smith made attempts to step back from nationalism and view it critically Historians began to ask themselves how this ideology had affected the writing of history

Speaking to an audience of anthropologists, the historian E J Hobsbawm pointed out the central role of the historical profession in the development of nationalism:

Historians are to nationalism what poppy-growers in Pakistan are to the heroin-addicts: we supply the essential raw material for the market Nations without a past are contradictions in terms What makes a nation is the past, what justifies one nation against others is the past, and historians are the people who produce it So my profession, which has always been mixed up in politics, becomes an essential component of nationalism9

Martin Bernal's much debated book Black Athena 1987 argues that the historiography on Ancient Greece has been in part influenced by nationalism and ethnocentrism10 He also claimed that influences by non-Greek or non-Indo-European cultures on Ancient Greek were marginalized10

See alsoedit

  • Ethnic nationalism
  • Ethnogenesis
  • Gothicism
  • Historical revisionism
  • Historical revisionism negationism
  • Historiography
  • Irredentism
  • National mysticism
  • Nationalism
  • Nazi archaeology
  • Primordialism
  • Pseudoarchaeology
  • Romantic nationalism


  1. ^ Patrick J Geary, The Myth of Nations, Princeton: Princeton Univ Pr, 2002, p 15
  2. ^ Patrick J Geary, The Myth of Nations, Princeton: Princeton Univ Pr, 2002, pp 60–62, 108-9
  3. ^ Patrick J Geary, The Myth of Nations, Princeton: Princeton Univ Pr, 2002, pp 21-25
  4. ^ Patrick J Geary, The Myth of Nations, Princeton: Princeton Univ Pr, 2002, pp 26-29
  5. ^ 1
  6. ^ The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds in Turkey Martin van Bruinessen http://wwwletuunl/~martinvanbruinessen/personal/publications/Bruinessen_Ethnic_identity_Kurdspdf
  7. ^ Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers and Bernd Jürgen Fischer Albanian Identities 2002, page 73-4
  8. ^ Harkhu, Umangh 2005, "Does History Repeat Itself The Ideology Of Saddam Hussein And The Mesopotamian Era" PDF, Scientia Militaria / South African Journal of Military Studies, 33 1: 47–71, ISSN 1022-8136 
  9. ^ Hobsbawm, E J 1992 "Ethnicity and Nationalism in Europe Today” Anthropology Today 81: 3-8
  10. ^ a b Cf Arvidsson 2006:50-51


  • Arvidsson, Stefan 2006, Aryan Idols: Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, translated by Sonia Wichmann, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press ISBN 0-226-02860-7

Further readingedit

Nationalism in generaledit

  • Anderson, Benedict Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 2nd ed London: Verso, 1991 ISBN 0-86091-546-8
  • Bond, George C and Angela Gilliam eds Social Construction of the Past: Representation as Power London: Routledge, 1994 ISBN 0-415-15224-0
  • Díaz-Andreu, Margarita A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology Nationalism, Colonialism and the Past Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0-19-921717-5
  • Díaz-Andreu, Margarita and Champion, Tim eds Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe London: UCL Press; Boulder, Co: Westview Press, 1996 ISBN 1-85728-289-2 UCL Press; ISBN 0-8133-3051-3 hb & 978-0813330518 pb Westview
  • Ferro, Marc The Use and Abuse of History: Or How the Past Is Taught to Children London:Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0-415-28592-5
  • Geary, Patrick J The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-691-11481-1
  • Gellner, Ernest Nations and Nationalism Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983 ISBN 0-8014-9263-7
  • Hobsbawm, Eric Nations and Nationalism since 1780 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 ISBN 0-521-43961-2
  • Hobsbawm, Eric J and Terence Ranger, ed The Invention of Tradition Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 ISBN 0-521-43773-3
  • Kohl, Philip L "Nationalism and Archaeology: On the Constructions of Nations and the Reconstructions of the Remote past", Annual Review of Anthropology, 27, 1998: 223-246
  • Smith, Anthony D The Ethnic Origins of Nations Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1988 ISBN 0-631-16169-4
  • Suny, Ronald Grigor "Constructing Primordialism: Old Histories for New Nations", The Journal of Modern History, 73, 4 Dec, 2001: 862-896
  • Bergunder, Michael Contested Past: Anti-Brahmanical and Hindu nationalist reconstructions of Indian prehistory, Historiographia Linguistica, Volume 31, Number 1, 2004, 59-104
  • G Fagan ed, Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public Routledge 2006, ISBN 0-415-30593-4
  • Kohl, Fawcett eds, Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology, Cambridge University Press 1996, ISBN 0-521-55839-5
  • Bruce Lincoln, Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship, University Of Chicago Press 2000, ISBN 0-226-48202-2

Specific nationalismsedit

  • Krapauskas, Virgil Nationalism and Historiography: The Case of Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Historicism Boulder, Colo: East European Monographs, 2000 ISBN 0-88033-457-6
  • Chapman, Malcolm The Celts: The Construction of a Myth New York: St Martin's Press, 1992 ISBN 0-312-07938-9
  • Dietler, Michael "'Our Ancestors the Gauls': Archaeology, Ethnic Nationalism, and the Manipulation of Celtic Identity in Modern Europe" American Anthropologist, NS 96 1994: 584-605
  • James, Simon The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention London: British Museum Press, 1999 ISBN 0-7141-2165-7
  • Duara, Prasenjit Rescuing History from the Nation: Questioning Narratives of Modern China Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997 ISBN 0-226-16722-4
  • Abu El-Haj, Nadia Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001 ISBN 978-0226001951
  • Uri Ram, The Future of the Past in Israel - A Sociology of Knowledge Approach, in Benny Morris, Making Israel, the University of Michigan Press, 2007
  • Raja, Masood Ashraf Constructing Pakistan: Foundational Texts and the Rise of Muslim National Identity, 1857–1947, Oxford 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-547811-2
  • Díaz-Andreu, Margarita 2010 "Nationalism and Archaeology Spanish Archaeology in the Europe of Nationalities" In Preucel, R and Mrozowksi, S eds, Contemporary Archaeology in Theory and Practice London, Blackwell: 432-444

Recent conferencesedit

  • Nationalism, Historiography and the Reconstruction of the Past, University of Birmingham, 10–12 September 2004

External linksedit

  • Antiquity Frenzy
  • The Hall of Maat

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