Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel

What is Nationalism?

Instructor: Suzanne Schneider
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Long regarded as the stuff of 19th century romanticism and 20th century warfare, nationalism is resurgent on the global stage. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—globalization, instant communication, and the seeming erosion of state supremacy, ideas about national sovereignty, national economies, and the preservation of national character have gained greater purchase at the ballot box. Moreover, though historians widely agree that the division of peoples and states into nations is a decidedly modern phenomenon, nationalism is often regarded as the “natural” political order. Why is this the case? And how can examining the history of nationalism shed light on its continued salience?

This course will offer an introduction to nationalism in both historical and theoretical terms. Drawing on an assortment of sources, students will examine the material conditions that made it possible to conceive of political identity in national terms. We will ask: How did people come to think of themselves as naturally divided into distinct nations, and why has such thinking become so pervasive? What types of identity existed prior to the age of nation-states? What is the relationship between national identity and the institutions of the modern state, from the public school to the army? What are the fault lines between nationalism, patriotism, and other forms of civic association? Is nationalism necessarily exclusionary or chauvinistic? Finally, we will examine how a range of contemporary issues are threatening the logic of nationalism as a form of identity and type of statecraft—from ethnic and religious difference to the limits of sovereignty in the face of mass atrocities, and problems like climate change that require coordination on a global scale.

Readings will include selections by Johann Herder, John Stuart Mill and Ernst Renan in addition to canonical studies by E.J. Hobsbawm, Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson, and Eugene Weber, among others. Students will also examine more recent attempts to Make Nationalism Great Again alongside the critical reception such efforts have generated.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
March 08 — March 29, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open