Question of the Month: June

Simon Purdue's picture

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 at @simonp_92.


Dear subscribers,

Thank you to all who contributed to our first Question of the Month discussion. It is clear that the field of nationalism studies has a lot of room to grow and the research currently being done in the field is very promising. With this in mind we launch our second monthly question. With so much research being done, teaching inevitably follows, so we are asking:

What are some of the challenges of teaching about nationalism in the 21st Century? How should academics and teachers approach these challenges?

We look forward to reading your responses!



Categories: Discussion, Teaching

Dear All, 

This strikes me as a particularly multifaceted question that speaks to issues of audience, pedagogy, social and political context, and institutional support (or lack thereof).  I’ll be eager to see what others have to say, especially scholars and teachers working in disparate settings. 

I’m especially curious about the “audience” dimension at present, in part because I wonder what undergraduate students understand the term “nationalism” to refer to. The word has a long-standing association with conservatism and racism, although scholars typically use it in a broader sense to mean several different phenomenon, much as Nicholas Tackett’s comment explores with the term “nation” in his post on the previous QOTM.  Unfortunately it has been some time since I’ve been able to teach an undergraduate course devoted to nationalism—although I do usually try to unpack the topic in some of my other courses, such as an introductory course on the second half of U.S. history (1877 to the present) and courses on the U.S. Civil War and slavery and abolition. When I last taught a “Nationalism, Myth and Reality” course, I thought the subject matter was fairly straightforward for students. Since then, however, the word “nationalism” has, at least in the United States, become more narrowly associated with one part of the political spectrum through Donald Trump’s embrace of the term. So, all that is to say, one challenge facing teachers managing the imperfectly aligned popular and scholarly meanings of “nationalism” and related terms. 

Kind Regards, 

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

I have recently written about the positives in "Everyday Nationalism" found in contemporary East Asia international relations. I think some of the challenges include the realist approach that dominates international relations literature. Teachers and Academics could teach nationalism from a "soft power" approach. Think about food in "everyday nationalism", the role of Culinarydiplomacy or Gastrodiplomacy, even through pop culture. Japan in particular employs this form of "soft nationalism" very effectively.

A bit on Food and Nationalism
The consumption of food and nationalism stems from the food culture of a people, “[by food culture] we do not simply mean a particular diet, but rather the manner and methods, in which food is prepared, commodified and consumed by a particular society (Yonatan and Ronald 2014).” The food of a people allows the individual to see a reflection of identity in the state, “according to National Geographic…during the ‘Tortilla riots’ in Mexico, protestors shouted Tortillas si, Pan no!(Tortillas yes, Bread no!) (Ichijo and Ranta 2016).” Food sits between the political and mundane practices of everyday life for the individual. The past and present of the nations’ diet are reflections of the nations’ history. Food of a nation and the impact of globalization pushes the image of a nation from within towards the outside, “The national branding and labeling of food is literally found everywhere, conveying a particular image of the nation, constructing and reproducing it in our everyday lives (Ichijo and Ranta 2016).”

Dear all,

From a European perspective, I believe that one issue nowadays stems from the definitions of nation and ethnicity, which we mostly draw at the beginning of our courses, as these definitions cannot always accurately conform to each topic that we debate in the following weeks.
In previous years I got involved in nationalism courses as teaching assistant, where the professors first gave theoretical backgrounds of nationalism studies and then conceptualised ethnicity. The students were first made familiar with the approaches like the primordialist, modernist, or ethnosymbolist, and then asked to orient these approaches to their case studies. The presentations and following discussions, as planned in syllabi, evolved around the connections between nationalism, religion, and race. Scheduled presentations and debates also involved more ethnicity-oriented concepts such as diaspora and self-determination. Personally I ask myself how we can best cover these broad topics and their surrounding debates in one course, or whether we should do all of them in one course... In any case it is important not to reduce them to one narrow conception of nation. Second, if ethnicity and its debates will be added to the syllabus, its relevance to nation should be explored in the beginning.

Dear All,

I found myself wondering whether conservative nationalists around the globe haven’t taken control over the teaching of this subject, and did some browsing for op-eds, blog posts, and other short pieces to get a sense of the climate. No doubt many of you already read-up on these matters, but I wanted to share these for anyone else interested. I don’t think I’m alone in seeing this as a time of mounting pressure against scholarly approaches to teaching about nationalism, all the more so given the expulsion of the CEU from Hungary (addressed here for those unfamiliar with the development). I found each of these interesting in its own way.

Ola Cichowlas, How Russian Kids are Taught World War II

V. Geeta, Teaching the History of The Indian National Movement

Sven Saaler, Nationalism and History in Contemporary Japan

Joanna Perillo, Texas’s State Board of Education Exposes How Poorly We Teach History

Zia Weise, Turkey’s new curriculum: More Erdoğan, more Islam

Ahsan I. Butt, Teaching Nationalism in South Asia

Best wishes,

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