Question of the Month: November

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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 ( 


Dear Contributors,

Another month has passed and it's time for another installment of H-Nationalism's Question of the Month. This month we are tackling perhaps one of the most difficult questions in the study of nationalism, and we expect a lively and well-informed debate as we ask:

Some scholars have put forward the idea that anti-colonial nationalism often mutates into a more exclusionary nationalism in the post-colonial context. Examples include the rise of Hindutva in India, the persecution of the Rohinga in Burma, the rise of far-right politics in the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe, and the rise of authoritarian regimes in the Philippines and Uganda. Is this assessment correct? If so, what are some of the major factors that contribute to the shift towards exclusionary nationalism? What does this shift tell us about the broader history of nationalism around the globe and across time? 

As always we eagerly anticipate your insights on this complex question.

Best wishes,

Simon Purdue, Series Editor, H-Nationalism's Question of the Month

Regarding Eastern Europe, Epp Annuss convincingly demonstrates this point in her most recent book on soviet post-colonialism (Soviet Post-Colonial Studies: A View From the Western Borderlands). Indeed, at least in Baltic republics soviet colonialism (coloniality) bred national essentialism as its opposite; the soviets went to dumping ground of history in 1990, but nationalists are still with us.

Dear All, 

This is just a quick note to say welcome to the many people who have subscribed to H-Nationalism over the last several months in response to this series. Please feel encouraged to contribute to the discussion by using the reply feature. Responses, both long and short, are welcomed, and several of our past questions of the months contain excellent models for how to frame contributions. As a rule of thumb, we recommend full references to any studies or other readings you mention, substantive discussion of them and the issues under debate, and direct but civil debate (no ad hominem attacks, or any of the other negative behaviors associated with the internet [baiting, hearsay, etc.]).  Scholars are welcomed to address questions from the perspective of their own research and to reference their own works, but please make sure to discuss them in detail and to bring them into conversation with other comments; avoid narrowly promotional language. 

Best wishes, 

David Prior
Board Member

Regarding India, I think the answer lies in what Partha Chatterjee borrowing from Gramsci calls the 'passive revolution', whereby the largest possible 'nationalist' coalition was built against the British. This passive revolution was geared towards gaining political independence from the British, while all the underlying structures that engender oppressive hierarchies were left intact. Furthermore, much of the colonial framework of governance in terms of structures and laws were also retained that have been used time and again to suppress what Chatterjee ironically calls 'fragments'.

However, I cannot help but point out the role of Gandhi in all this. Gandhian politics largely is a precursor to Modi's antics, Tagore appeared to have realised that, which was the basis of disagreement between them. In conversation with David Barsamian, the late Eqbal Ahmad poignantly points out that it was Gandhi and not Jinnah who smuggled religion into the realm of politics during British colonial rule. Ahmad obviously is a bit sympathetic to Gandhi and doesn't call him a Hindu bigot per se. However, according to Frykenberg Gandhi was a 'latent Hindu nationalist'. Coming to Gandhian body-politics [this is something I'm working on, so I can't go into it at great length atm]. But, nevertheless, if we are to analyse Gandhi's body-politics through a Foucauldian lens, we realise that he made his own body a site or lab for certain practices that he aspired that the entire putative Indian nation would subscribe, these being vegetarianism, celibacy, and healthcare. Given that Gandhi did not have access to state power, he sought to use the network of ashrams to popularise these ideological projects of his. Fast forward to Modi's India, partisans of the Hindutva project now have access to state power to the extent that they can raid people's refrigerators, declare them guilty and deliver violent 'justice' on the spot. Ironically, this is what I am tempted to call Gandhian project of Gandhi killers.

Dear All, 

Toms and Idreas raise some interesting points that help underscore the diversity of empires and colonies as well as anti- and post-colonial contexts. One question I would ask is whether this question is best understood as pertaining to the period ranging form the mid-20th to the early 21st century. I'm not quite sure myself what the answer to that is, but found myself pondering a couple of questions. 

The first is, does the U.S. revolutionary experience line up with this. I think Idreas's point about the underlying oppressive structures being left in place applies as well to the American Revolution, which has often been framed as a political and not a social revolution in which the local elites stayed in power (there is of course a very old debate on this topic). Gordon Wood, is his classic, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1993), argued that there were underlying social changes, namely in the dismantling of a political order built around deference and formal, aristocratic hierarchy, but other scholars put their emphasis elsewhere. Jack Greene has argued that the story of the British colonies through the early history of the United States is one of continuity, marked by locally-directed expansionism as the expense of Native Americans and African Americans. See, for example, 

Jack P. Greene, et al., “Roundtable: Colonial History and National History: Reflections on a Continuing Problem,” William and Mary Quarterly, 64 (Apr. 2007): 235-286

Steven Hahn, in his recent, A Nation without Borders (2016), very much picks this theme up, arguing, in effect, that the United States is best understood as born as an empire that continued practices and behaviors inherited from Britain, and that only later, namely through northern triumph in the Civil War, did the U.S. become more of a nation-state.  In essence, Greene and Hahn are pointing to the continuities of those oppressive hierarchies, especially race-based chattel slavery, along with modes of landed expansion.

There is much more monographic literature relevant to these questions that likely also warrants consideration, but these comments suffice, I hope, to illustrate that there is a question of whether the revolutionary experience in the United States corresponds with the anti-/post-colonial tranistion alluded to in the opening post. I could also see a case for suggesting that the "Age of Jackson"--with its explicit racial voting qualifications and forced displacement of Native Americans--represents the rise of a post-colonial exclusionary nationalism that, the definciencies of the American Revolution as a social revolution noted, nonetheless deepened exclusionary practices. In that sense, the U.S.-American case might conform to the pattern that applies elsewhere.  

A second question I would ask is whether the anti-colonial movements of the Ottoman Empire were not exclusionary from the get-go. I'll certainly defer to field specialists on this topic--my own interest in it comes from looking at U.S.-American interest in an insurrection on the island of Crete from 1866-1869, where, as the secondary literature suggests, ethnic and religious animosity was integral to mobilization against the Ottoman state, as well asl local Muslims, many of whom were Greek-speaking, from the get-go. But perhaps placing the emphasis there discounts the liberal and romantic threads of nationalist thought informing early Greek nationalism, as well as philhellinism.  

I was particularly interested to hear some about nationalism in the post-soviet states, and how that experience compares to the states that emerged out of the British and French empires. Given the mobility of texts and people in the 20th and 21st century, I was also curious about how issues of inclusion and exclusion played out in discussions across revolutionary movements post-colonial contexts. And does the Irish case conform to this anti-/post-colonial transition? 

Best wishes, 

David Prior
Assistant Professor of History
University of New Mexico
Board Member



Dear Subscribers,

Many thanks to those who contributed to this month's discussion on post-colonial nationalism. It is clear that one of the overarching themes is the divisive nature of colonial rule, and the lasting impact that it has in the post-colonial era. The colonial and post-colonial construction of artificial borders and national boundaries contributed to the rise in toxic nationalism, as did the exacerbation of religious, ethnic and cultural differences, perhaps most notably in India, Ireland and Rwanda. Furthermore, the construction of racial, cultural and social hierarchies in the colonial world has left lasting fissures, and the legacy of colonial racism has undoubtedly had a major impact on post-colonial identities and nationalisms. In former settler colonies this is amplified, where a sense of exceptionalism and white supremacy built on genocide, erasure and slavery has continued into the modern world. These are just some of the myriad of factors that contribute to the rise of exclusionary post-colonial nationalism, and our contributors so far have highlighted the complexity and importance of this issue.

With about a week until our December question launches, there is still time to contribute to this complex debate. As always we welcome all ideas and perspectives, so if you have an opinion or an insight on post-colonial nationalism please leave a comment!


Simon Purdue