Question of the Month

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H-Nationalism’s Question of the Month series offers a forum for discussing the big questions surrounding research, pedagogy, and practice in the field of nationalism studies and the history of nationalism. Use the reply feature to join the conversation! Email Simon Purdue ( of Northeastern University if you’d like to propose a question of you own. If you need technical assistance with logging in and posting comments, please contact H-Net’s Help Desk ( You can also find H-Nationalism on Twitter at @HNationalism, and Simon Purdue at @simonp_92.


Dear Subscribers,


It is my pleasure to put to you, our community of scholars, H-Nationalism’s inaugural ‘Question of the Month’. For our first post, we are examining the field itself and asking:


What are the most important emerging research trends in the study of nations and nationalism? How do these trends promise to shape the field?


We look forward to reading your responses, and we welcome feedback as we seek to grow this new segment!



Simon Purdue

Categories: Forum

Dear Simon,

Happy to see that you raise the first question! For me an emerging field is the connections between the concepts, and therefore the studies, of nationalism and populism. A debate is burgeoning over whether populism and nationalism are interdependent or independent fields and which overlaps occur between the two areas (Rydgren, 2004; Kitching, 2012; Brubaker, 2019).

In this, Rogers Brubaker has just recently published his latest article and explained why the two fields intersect in certain ways. His work (Brubaker, 2019) approaches the use of 'people' in two fields, since nationalist and populist discourses particularly refer to people in an attempt to attract popular support for their ultimate causes. In populist discourse, appeals to people mainly involve vertical and horizontal uses. The first, vertical one is between elites and the people, or the 'silent majority' as the populists call, and the horizontal one stands for the typical in-group and out-group categories. Yet the literature mostly discusses the former use to be a primary element of both populist and nationalist discourses. Therefore the act of making identity-based binaries between 'self' and 'other' constitutes a critical intersection between nationalism and populism studies. More comparisons between these two fields will shape the emerging literature.

Gavin Kitching, Development and Underdevelopment in Historical Perspective (London: Routledge, 2010).
Jens Rydgren, The Populist Challenge: Political Protest and Ethno-nationalist Mobilization in France (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004).
Rogers Brubaker, 'Populism and Nationalism', Nations and Nationalism (2019): 1-23, doi: 10.1111/nana.12522.

Dear Simon and all, 

I'd be interested to hear what scholars think of the now well-established field of sensory studies and sensory history and whether these have or will have much impact on how we study the social construction of national identities and the process of othering. My impression from the scholarship on colonial North America and the United States is that sensory history has become more closely associated with the study of racial ideologies. There is, for example, a well-documented record of American white supremacists claiming that Africans and African Americans had a distinctive odor. I wonder if such sensory stereotypes have a broader history that scholars of nationalism have addressed or should address.  

Kind Regards, 

David Prior
Board Member, H-Nationalism
Assistant Professor of History, UNM

It seems to me that the ongoing trend in the study of nationalism is to find narratives that transcend national boundaries. Scholars have grown weary and suspicious of the "birth of nationalism / rise of nationalism / national awakening" template. There used to be a lot of studies that could be summarized as "origins of Ruthenian nationalism." Today, scholars want to study cosmopolitanism, multi-culturalism, loyalty to a particular city or region, "borderlands," mixed loyalties, the persistence of religious loyalty, socialism / communism, national indifference ... anything other than the rise of a particular form of nationalism. Several of these studies are excellent, and indeed shed a lot of light, including light on the particular questions of nationalism theory.

At some point, however, I think scholars should, after digesting the insights of all this work, return to the study of particular national movements. Given what we know about cosmopolitanism, regionalism, mixed loyalties, national indifference, etc., what are the origins of Ruthenian nationalism? I suspect that contingency will play an important role. Perhaps an emphasis on contingency can rehabilitate the "origins of nationalism / national awakening" narrative structure from its current unfashionability.

Thank you for the great responses so far and I hope the discussion continues to highlight the fascinating trends and ideas in the field of nationalism. Something that stands out for me, and which builds off Andrew’s point, is the general globalization of nationalism studies. It seems that nationalism is, both in practice and in scholarly work, being viewed in a much more global sense than it ever has before. Nationalism is now being seen as an inherently global phenomenon, which on the surface seems to be antithetical to its ideological values. However transnational nationalist solidarity and the construction of a network of co-operative, almost interdependent nationalisms seems to be a recent phenomenon that complicates our understanding of what nationalism is and can be. This seems to most often be built on ideas of racial solidarity and supremacy, and the global nature of modern white supremacism (so ingrained in nationalist politics in Europe, the United States, and Australia in particular) demonstrates the supranationalist elements of modern nationalist thought. The movement for solidarity with white South Africa in the late and post- apartheid years stands out as perhaps the best example of this. I’d be curious to hear opinions on this.

As a nationalism researcher who became a populism researcher I am struck by several patterns.
1. Globalisation, seen by cosmopolitan intellectuals, as the end of nationalism has in fact been a major cause of the revival of nationalism.
2. Many general political scientists often write about populism without any knowledge of its multiple characteristics, beyond people vs elites.
3. Neo-liberalism, or the reaction against it, arguably the other fundamental cause of the revival of nationalism and the emergence of populism is often missing from writings about populism and nationalism.

I totally subscribe to Caner Tekin's and Alexander Maxwell's points. To me the two most important recent trends in the literature have been precisely that triggered by the recent rise of the populist and radical right on the relationship between nationalism and populism, on the one hand, and, in a more historical perspective, the call to move away from methodological nationalism and adopt more global, cosmopolitan and transnational approaches, as well as to explore the idea of 'national indifference', on the other. With regard to the last point, I'd only add a few references to what has already been said above, notably Frederick Cooper's Citizenship between Empire and Nation (2014, Princeton University Press), Pieter Judson's Guardians of the Nation (2007, Harvard University Press) and Tara Zahara's Kidnapped Souls (2008, Cornell University Press). At the same time, on the limits of the global turn in the studies of nationalism, I'd recommend reading Marc Mazower's recent review of Patrick Boucheron's France in the World, A Global History appeared on the Financial Times under the title 'Gilets jaunes and the fight for French identity'.

Finally, in a European context, and judging more from debates with colleagues and participation in conferences rather than on a clear stream of publications, a trend that might intensify in the following years is that about 'unionist nationalism' in multinational democracies.

 I really agree with Simon's comments about the transnational nature of nationalism. Martin Durham and I co-edited a book, New Perspectives on the Transnational Right, that deals with the historical and contemporary realities of the Right's transnationalism.1

However, it's not just the Right that is transnational, so is the Left. Think of the twentieth-century anti-colonial movements in Africa, for example, that simultaneously fought their respective colonial ruler, worked to support other colonies fighting for independence, and built international solidarity movements.

I'd also like to thank Emmanuel for the great reading suggestions.


1) Martin Durham and Margaret Power (eds), New Perspectives on the Transnational Right, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

One emerging area for research in the study of nationalism is how majority nationalism is constructed, legitimised and rationalised in democratic states. However, it need not be restricted to democracies and recent research has also focussed on non-democratic and democratising states.

Alain-G. Gagnon, Director, Groupe de recerche sur les sociétés plurinationales and his associates have been studying this phenomenon for nearly twenty years. Some of the key issues involved are discussed in Alain G. Gagnon, André Lecours, and Geneviéve Nootrens (Eds), Contemporary Majority Nationalism, (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011), which is the best place to start. In his preliminary notes to this volume, Gagnon suggests that ‘it is useful to study nationalism from the angle of power relations among communities and their relationship to the state.’ In multinational or plurinational states, furthermore, majority nationalisms ‘drape themselves in patriotic discourse to protect existing nation-states and to oppose all other expressions of nationalism.’ The task in this area of research is to focus on how majority nationalism in liberal democratic multinational states such as Spain, Canada or the United Kingdom among others addresses the challenge posed by autonomist and separatist movements.

The study of unionism is at the heart majority nationalism. The relationship between the majority nationalism and the state reinforces this. One important question that emerges from the research to date is how majority nationalism is defined; are there different varieties of majority nationalism that pursue different unionist strategies in responses to internal and external challenges? Recent studies of this issue include Neophytos Loizides, The Politics of Majority Nationalism: Framing Peace, Stalemate, and Crises (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2015) and Harris Mylonas, The Politics of Nation-Building: Making Co-Nationals, Refugees, and Minorities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). The Centre for Constitutional Change, University of Edinburgh hosted a major international conference on these themes in February 2019, ‘Majority Nationalism in Plurinational States: Responding to Challenges from Above and Below’:
The participants have posted a number of blogs on their research which can be accessed at
Earlier research on similar themes include Michael Billig’s ‘banal nationalism’ ( and various iterations of ‘ethnic democracy’. For the latter see work of Sammy Smooha on Israel ( Brendan O’Leary’s work on the importance of an ethnic core for the stabilisation of federal states is also significant when studying majority nationalism and its influence (

Notwithstanding these contributions, there are a number of issues that require further assessment and conceptualisation. The first obviously is what constitutes a majority in any given state. A nation can be dominant in a state, though not constituting a majority. This is increasingly less likely as democracy has been promoted as the main source of political legitimacy. There is often an assumption among majority nationalists that there is only one nation in the state (see recent debates in Spain). Even when this is not the case, there is an assumption that outcomes based on a majority vote are legitimate. This confusion between democracy and nationalism is a significant focus for future research. What rights do non-dominant nations have in a context where they will be outvoted on issues of national interest by the demographically dominant nation? If the democratic principle is invoked this should not matter but if the principle of nationality is employed other factors have to be considered. For example nationalists in Scotland and Northern Ireland believe that their national interest has been ignored by the voting strength of the English majority in the controversy over Brexit. These concerns have been intensified due to the behaviour of the British government in the negotiations to leave the European Union.

Other insights offered by this research is the extent to which unionists and majority nationalism take it for granted that their objectives, culture and values should be given priority over alternative political projects (especially secession). A further aspect is the extent to which the majority nation ‘owns’ the state and its territory. This leads to determined opposition to secession and the insistence on protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Furthermore, the existing international system is infused with the priorities of majority nationalism. The defence of existing sovereign states is central to the United Nations and that body has codified the key assumptions of majority nationalism since the 1960s. This international system reflects the conceptual world of majority nationalism due to its ambiguity on the question of self-determination, the question of who the people are and its systematic rejection of secession as a legitimate political aim.

Among the further questions this research asks is what is the nature of nationalism in the twenty first century, the legitimacy of majoritarianism in addressing national issues and the essentialist foundations of state boundaries. It might also ask whether states are now pursuing a form of post-colonial colonialism in respect of their treatment of nations within the state (examples include Spain in respect of Catalonia; India in respect of Kashmir and China in respect of Tibet).

Hello all,

Many thanks for all the fascinating insights we’ve received so far. It is clear that the field of nationalism studies has a lot of room to grow and develop, and it seems that there is a lot of exciting research in the works! We hope to flesh out some of these ideas in this column over the coming months, as we explore some more specific questions and problems in the field.

For those of you who still wish to contribute to this thread, we encourage you to submit your thoughts within the next week or so. Our next Question of the Month will be launching on June 1st, so if you have any thoughts on research trends in nationalism studies, now is the time!

We are delighted with the response that the series has elicited so far, and we look forward to growing the project over the coming months with the help and input of our community.



Dear All,

I’ll chime in as a historian with a few brief proposals (inspired by my own recent work) on how some historians may wish in future studies to approach the history of nationalism:

1) I think it is worth disaggregating a set of inter-related phenomena: “national consciousness” (defined perhaps as the powerful feeling of belonging to a homogeneous community of compatriots), “nationalist ideology” (the political principle that the territory of the state ought to correspond to the geographic extent of this community), “nationalist movements” (which seek to implement the nationalist agenda, through mass mobilization, military action, etc.), and the “nationview” (a worldview that sees all nations as modular replications of each other, and all territory and all people as belonging to one and only one nation-state). Each of these phenomena likely has its own history, and each may be tied to somewhat different ways of conceptualizing the “nation.”

2) It is also useful to distinguish elite phenomena (e.g. ideas circulating among intellectuals) from mass phenomena. Prior to the twentieth century, nationalism was more likely an elite phenomenon, as elites may have been more likely to possess a panoramic vision of the state and its relationship to the larger world—a context in which the idea of the “nation” makes far more sense.

3) For pre-modern historians (like myself), I think it may be more productive to look for “alternative nationalisms” than to look for “proto-nationalism.” By positing that there existed in pre-modern times a “proto-nationalism” that would inexorably evolve into modern nationalism, one is in many ways buying in to the teleology of modern nationalist myth-makers. Moreover, I am also skeptical (as a pre-modern historian) of efforts to exoticize the past and its people by imagining the past as an era when only “proto-” phenomena could have existed. My own view is that there were notions of political community in the past, some of which can productively be compared to nationalism as it exists today. These notions reflected earlier iterations of the phenomenon of nationalism, i.e., “alternative nationalisms.” It is worth observing that “alternative nationalisms” serve to denaturalize the modern nation-state not by calling into question the “naturalness” of the idea of the nation in human societies, but rather by calling into question the “naturalness” of the specific boundaries (territorial, ethnic, etc.) that define particular nations today.