S·P·I·N - Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms

FAQ (frequently asked questions) concerning the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe (ERNiE)

1. What is “Romantic Nationalism”?
2. What are the beginning- and end-dates of the period covered by ERNiE?
3. What is the “Europe” covered by ERNiE?
4. What is the reasoning behind the selection of trends in Part 1?
5. What is the reasoning behind the national/regional breakdown of Part 2?
6. Why are certain individuals included in / excluded from the name-list in Part 3?
7. What about politics?

1. What is “Romantic Nationalism”?
The concept of “Romantic Nationalism”, now increasingly common in the fields of music history and architectural history, appears to have practical value for wider usage. It refers to that cultivation of national identities in the “long nineteenth century” which

  • – invokes cultural traditions and myths or formative episodes from the past as the essence of nationality,
  • – privileges cultural fields (letters, the arts, historicist learning) as expressions or dissemination channels for national ideals
  • – partakes of the Romantic penchant for idealism and emotional enthusiasm, using this for the purpose of ideological mobilization. [top]

2. What are the beginning- and end-dates of the period covered by ERNiE?
Beginning- and end-dates cannot be rigidly established. There are no suddenly incisive discontinuities in cultural or intellectual history, and different regions of Europe followed different lines of development. Still, it is possible to thematize the “long nineteenth century” (1789-1914) as a coherent and distinct period in the development and spread of cultural nationalism. Its beginning is marked by the amalgamation of three new intellectual trends in the decades around 1800:

  • – the rise of historicism
  • – ideas concerning the transgenerational persistence of cultural and ethnic identity
  • – the ideal of self-government of the nation.

The Paris Peace Treaties of 1919, in which many national aspirations were to some extent realized politically, is used as the cut-off point.

There are, of course, continuities beyond the cut-off dates. While these will not be disregarded or filtered out, they do not in themselves suffice to invalidate the cut-off dates altogether. [top]

3. What is the “Europe” covered by ERNiE?
ERNiE is concerned with the spread of intellectual and cultural trends. While some of these trends spread also into the trans-Bosporus Ottoman Empire, British India and the United States, they did so in a reduced intensity, and in a one-way direction (without feedback traffic into the European continent). Moreover, they did not obtain the same nationalist instrumentalization in those areas as they did in Iceland, Bulgaria or Finland.

When looking at the intensity of cultural traffic and the spread of ideas, we can observe processes takes places between urban nodal points each with their rural Hinterland. These nodal points cover an area of which the outer rim is demarcated by Istanbul, Athens, Lisbon, Reykjavik, Helsinki, Moscow and Odessa.

There are, of course, patterns reaching out beyond this rim. A penumbra of less intensive and more passive-receptive participation in this exchange includes Malta, Northern Scandinavia (Saami), the trans-Volga and trans-Bosporus parts or the Russian and Ottoman Empires (especially the Caucasus), the Americas and British India. While these wider ramifications should not be disregarded or filtered out, their existence is not in itself sufficient reason to ignore the particular communication density within the European core area.

Is this approach Eurocentric? No: it does not wish to apply specifically European patterns at a universal or global level. On the contrary, it believes that nineteenth-century European "romantic nationalism" stands apart from, and cannot be automatically compared with, other forms of nationalism world-wide (e.g. decolonization in the twentieth century in Asia and Africa). [top]

4. What is the reasoning behind the selection of trends in Part 1?
The rationale for these trends is set out more fully in the article “Nationalism and the Cultivation of Culture” (Nations and nationalism 12.4 (2006): 559-578), a preprint version of which is also posted at the SPIN website under “Documents”.

Romantic nationalism involves a reflection on cultural practices and traditions, and investing these with added meaning and symbolism as representing the nation’s identity. Culture is, in other words, no longer an unreflected social praxis, but becomes an object of cultivation in its own right. Culture is also used to denominate and articulate the identity of nations which later on will spawn national movements, and provides a basis for subsequent instrumentalizations of such a “national  culture” as nationalist propaganda, or as an entitlement to autonomy or self-determination. These processes can be observed in different national cases. ERNiE wants to map the terrain, not on a country-by-country basis, but by tracing the patterns of the “cultivation of culture”. These patterns are best mapped by cultural field or genre. [top]

5. What is the reasoning behind the national/regional structuring of Part 2?
In tracing the forms of sociability and institutionalization which formed the public ambience for the “cultivation of culture” (the establishment of clubs, periodicals, festivals, academies etc.), we are dealing with developments within a sociopolitical context: affected by government policies in specific social circumstances and a “public sphere”, regardless of the specific culture invoked.

Thus, while Bretons may have looked to the Welsh cultural community for inspiration (as fellow-Celts), their public life took shape within the French state. For that reason, Breton cultural trends will be grouped under the “Celtic” in part 1, while Breton associations and periodicals are grouped  as part of “France” in Part 2. Again, the emergence of a public sphere in Malta took place under the inspiration of the Italian Risorgimento, much as the Arberësh activities of someone like Girolamo da Rada, for all that they really belong to the history of Albanian cultural nationalism, were inspired by the Risorgimento ambience.

In order to reflect these conditions, Part 2 follows a broadly regional organization (not a national one).
Nationalities are almost intractably problematic and impossible to map into a geographical taxonomy, certainly for the earlier period.

Baltic studies were undertaken by people who may have defined themselves as ethnically and politically German; the pre-1850 distinction between Iceland and Denmark is a porous and fluid one; and within the category “British” the English or Scottish or Welsh subcategories are not easily marked off, and do not occupy similar taxonomic positions mutually. The same goes for the fact that many aspects of romantic nationalism in Italy, e.g. folklore research, were conducted regionally (Sicily, Piemonte etc.).

Part 2 negotiates, then, [a] the polity as it existed in the nineteenth century (Ottoman Empire,  Russian Empire etc.) and [b] the present-day country now identifying with the nationality of nineteenth-century activists (Albania, Poland, Estonia...).
Within the nineteenth-century states, additional subsidiary categories are distinguished if these could at any point become oppositionally distinct. These sub-categories are complementary or subsidiary, not divisional. This reflects the fact that in such areas (Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Luxembourg, Friesland) regionalism could co-exist (and politically compete) with separatist nationalism.

“Heartland regions” such as England (within Britain) or Holland (within the Netherlands) did not organize an oppositional sense of identity and as a result are not marked out separately in Part 2 (though, like other  movements which in their public organization were regional, e.g. Sardinian and Occitan, they can be covered as to their distinct cultural self-placement in the relevant sections of Part 1). [top]

6. Why are certain individuals included in / excluded from the name-list in Part 3?
ERNiE does not claim to outline the rise of national cultures in 19th-century Europe; that would amount to a cultural history of all European nations, a quixotically vast agenda. Rather, the aim is to document the spread of cultural nationalism in the wake of Romanticism. Many important individuals involved will be mentioned in the course of Parts 1 and 2, and mentioned in the Index. Part 3 is specifically meant to highlight those individuals who had a salient position as mediators, either between countries, or in spreading national thought from one cultural field to another (e.g. between history-writing and the historical novel, or between linguistics and archeology, or folkmusic and classical music). This means that canonical composers like Carl Nielsen or Johannes Brahms may not be covered in part 3, whereas less well-known ones such as  Andrejs Jurjans or Manolis Kalomiris will. [top]

7. What about politics?
ERNiE want to place the specifically cultural concerns of national thought and national movements on the agenda for historical investigation. Nationalism has until now been studied predominantly with an emphasis on social or political history, with cultural activities treated only as by-products, mere illustrative material or rhetorical packaging for the purportedly “real”, “deeper” or “underlying” issues. ERNiE is intended to redress this imbalanced view by concentrating on the agency of cultural actors and processes. This is not to deny the importance of political and social developments, but rather to correct the heedlessness of cultural developments evident among social and political historians. [top]