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Thread: Nation-building and National Myths

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    Nation-building and National Myths

    Nations are imagined communities. This idea was put forward by Irish political scientist and
    historian Benedict Anderson in his 1991 book Imagined Communities. They are imagined
    “because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their
    fellow-members, meet them, of even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image
    of the communion.” As nations are imagined, nation-builders have to construct the nation
    out of the past, while similarly projecting the modern nation into the past. In the words of Eric
    Hobsbawm: “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.” This idea has been elaborated on by historian Stefan Berger. In the book
    Writing the Nation: A Global Perspective he argued that the history has been used by
    nation-builders as a tool to create a nation. It was the most important precondition for
    establishing shared national identity, while it also gave the nation a place in world and time.
    From this follows the conclusion that without history, the nation cannot exist. Nineteenth-century nation-builders looked to the distant past in order to construct the nation. In this process, longevity is key. The older the nation was, the more authentic it became. If nation-builders could claim ancestry of an ancient people that lived in the same area as they did, surely they can also claim this territory as historically theirs. Beliefs that the nation has existed for a substantial amount of time reinforced the being of that nation. Thus, nations are not only imagined constructs between modern-day citizens, they are also imagined into the past. It is here that historians have an important role to play: it is the
    historian who constructs the nation out of the past, and similarly projects it into the past.
    The formulation of national myths has proved a useful tool to construct the nation: by
    providing a nation its national heroes, birthplace, or tales of eternal suffering at the hands of
    terrible enemies, the historian connects the modern nation with its distant past and
    legitimizes it both as an abstract concept and a territorial being. It is this construct of national
    myths that shapes the nation, the national consciousness, and the national identity. The
    historian hereby holds great influence over a nation’s past and present.

    Yet, national myths have proved problematic. For the myth to remain intact, history is
    presented in a way that is favourable to the nation. Cultural and historical distinctiveness is
    overemphasized, threats posed by other groups exaggerated, whilst the nation’s own
    agency in causing conflict and pursuing national goals through violence is diminished.
    Factual evidence that would contradict the myth is left out of the narrative. Moreover,
    nation-builders have to present their nation against other nations. As a consequence,
    national myths can legitimize repression or lead to ethnic conflict. It is for this reason that,
    post-World War II, historians started to critically reflect on their national myths. While this did
    not deconstruct the nation altogether, it did open the discussion on the national past - i.e. the
    nation’s role in colonization, slavery or ethnic violence.

    However, while the appeal of national myths has withered away in Western Europe, it
    re-emerged in formerly communist Eastern Europe. As federative states, such as the Soviet
    Union and Yugoslavia, fell apart, successor states experienced a new wave of nationalism
    which was strongly connected to history: as nations had to be reinvented, they invoked
    national myths in order to legitimize themselves against their neighbours. This thesis will
    focus on national myths in historiography, and how historiography can shape and influence a
    nation’s political culture and national identity. Central is the case of Kosovo

    - Melle Havermans
    Last edited by 1337; 13-08-22 at 14:47.

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