Roundtable Comparing Modern Nationalism: Turkey, Crete, and the United States in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

AHA Session 202
Saturday, January 8, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Dartmouth Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Frank Towers, University of Calgary
John R. Pincince, Loyola University Chicago

Session Abstract

Historians generally consider nationalism as a corollary to the advent of the modern nation state in the 19th-century.   Nationalism can be defined as loyalty to a state based on politics, ideology, religion, language, and, or economic system.  Scholars have identified two different ways of creating nationalism.  Some, such as Clifford Geertz and Anthony D. Smith, argue that nationalism builds on organic, pre-existing cultural attributes and a shared common history.  Alon Confino agrees, arguing that local identities and affiliations help create the larger nationalism of the modern nation-states.  Eric Hobsbawm suggests otherwise, claiming that modern nationalists—specifically upper and middle class elites— have “invented tradition” to impose a sense of conformity and “national consciousness” on diverse groups of people and regions to support the creation of the bureaucratic state.    

The three papers in this panel seek to build off the insights of these historians and suggest new ways of thinking about nationalism.  Each covers a different time and place.  Adam Dean examines the United States in the mid-19th-century.  Selçuk Akşin Somel analyzes the creation of secular Turkish nationalism between 1876 and the 1920s.  Adam Trusner provides a contemporary focus, looking at the impact of the European Union on nationalism in Crete and what effects economic development has had on nationalism in Greece.   Through discussing nationalism in different contexts, new questions and insights can be discovered.  For example, how have political parties cultivated nationalist feeling?  What is the role of the state, in various stages of development, in creating nationalism? How does nationalism overstate differences between people?  What happens when there are two competing nationalisms in a nation-state? What about the influence of religion on nationalism? Most important, what does comparing different forms of nationalism across time and space tell scholars about the concept?  How has nationalism changed as new institutions and global connections arise? 

The panel seems especially appropriate given the theme for the 2011 AHA Annual Meeting—“History, Society, and the Sacred.”  Nationalism creates a shared “sacred”—the nation—that supposedly defines a people and a larger “society.”  Scholars interested in the similarities and differences of nationalism across the world will find the discussion particularly illuminating.  

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