Question of the Month: January

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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 Subscribers,

A happy new year to you all! After what has hopefully been a rejuvenating holiday period we at H-Nationalism are starting the new year off with our next instalment of our ‘Question of the Month’ series. This month we are dealing with the question of affective studies and their relevance to the history of nationalism. To that end we are asking:

The past decade has witnessed cross-disciplinary interest in emotions studies that collectively amounts to an affective turn in the humanities and social sciences. Has this trend had much impact on nationalism scholarship? How have and/or should nationalism scholars engage with it?

As always we look forward to your responses! As we enter the new year we hope to increase awareness and engagement with the series, so please also share this question with anyone you think might be interested. We hope that the new year and new decade are productive and prosperous for all our subscribers.

Best wishes,

Simon Purdue

Series Editor



The 10th Gellner Lecture at the ASEN in 2004, which I gave, focused on the affective impact of nationalism. Indeed, I remember, at that time Anthony Smith found this turn surprising. This was followed by an interesting conference on ennui in Paris at Pantheon-Sorbonne in 2007, organized, among others, by Nathalie Richard. There I, again, connected this particular emotion to nationalism. In 2013 Harvard University Press published the third volume of my nationalism trilogy, MIND,MODERNITY,MADNESS: THE IMPACT OF CULTURE ON HUMAN EXPERIENCE. It dealt explicitly with the psychological dimension of nationalism, including its colossal contribution to our emotional repertoire. Among the specific emotions discussed were LOVE, AMBITION, BOREDOM, HAPPINESS -- and this is while the focus of the book was the specific form of suffering nationalism has created: depression with all its psychiatric complications. Like the first two volumes of the trilogy, the book was comparative, and the cases, as in Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, included England/Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Chikako Takeishi of Chuo University in Tokyo has been exploring the argument in the case of Japan.

I should be glad to engage with any of you on the affective relevance of nationalism.

Much of the work on emotions helps us to trace connections between the individual and the collective, and between the personal and the public, so I think it can teach us a lot about nationalism, particularly as it is experienced as part of the texture of daily life. In terms of methods, this can lead in a variety of different directions. A couple of examples from the literature on the United States:

In my own work on the coming of the Civil War, I trace how specific emotions—including indignation and jealousy—helped foster sectional identities that ultimately underpinned national loyalties after secession. People on both sides came to view themselves as part of a larger, like-hearted community which was defined by shared feeling with profoundly moral significance. (Emotional and Sectional Conflict in the Antebellum United States [Cambridge University Press, 2014])

Nicole Eustace has done fascinating work on emotion and the War of 1812, which was associated with a wave of nationalism in the US. In 1812: War and the Passions of Patriotism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), Eustace uses a wide variety of published texts to trace how writers shaped the feelings of Americans who remained distant from the actual fighting and whose political views and identities were profoundly shaped by how they felt about the conflict. The interplay between emotion and moral judgment here is quite interesting.

I think more could be done on grassroots mobilization and the emotional dimensions of nationalism. We often think about emotions in terms of manipulation—powerful people riling up the masses—but emotions can be harnessed by grassroots activists, too. A great example of scholarly analysis of this is in Deborah B. Gould’s Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight against AIDS (University of Chicago Press, 2009). I’d be curious to see a similar approach to writing about nationalism.

Thanks to Liah for this great comment and also for Michael’s fine follow-up!

There is a sizeable body of literature on the war enthusiasm of 1914. I was reminded of that when I recently read Zola’s novel La Débâcle, set in 1871, which evokes how Napoleon III had (as he himself later claimed) had been driven to engage in the 1870-71 war, not just by Bismarck’s machinations but also by the intense fervour of French public opinion. Demonstrations in Paris singing the Marseillaise and shouting "To Berlin!". Those passions were not just bloody-minded belligerence but expressions of nationalist fervour.

The affect that is involved here seems to me to be linked to the notion of charisma. Max Weber borrowed that term from theological usage to apply it to a certain type of leadership: much as God, in the theological notion of charisma, does not merely impose obedience through coercive authority, but instills a reverential joy that makes people glad, or even ecstatically glad, to serve his purpose, so too charismatic leaders impose authority by force of personality and the capacity to make obedience, amongst their followers, a joyful experience. Weber leaned (I believe) on Carlyle”s notion of hero-worship when developing this model c. 1918.
We are of course familiar with the many examples and instances of "charismatic leadership" (hoo boy...), and John Breuilly has done an excellent job of linking that, specifically, to nationalism, in his article “Max Weber, Charisma and Nationalist Leadership” (Nations and Nationalism, 17.3, 2011, 477-499). But I have a hunch that in the course of the 19th century it is "the nation" itself that becomes a charismatic entity - close, in other words, to the well-known notions of “secular/civic religion”, something also explored in the recent collection by Jón Karl Helgason and Marijan Dović, Great Immortality: Studies on European Cultural Sainthood (Leiden: Brill, 2019).

The nation as a charismatic object of joyful worship: that might almost be a definition of nationalism.

Thanks to Joep for bringing Max Weber into the conversation. The interpretation of the war enthusiasm of 1914 as a manifestation of the thirst for charisma, as Weber described it, is quite compelling. I would add that Weber's theories of rational-bureaucratic authority and of the historical interrelation of the three types of legitimate political authority can be quite helpful for understanding this war enthusiasm. In the German context, with which I'm most familiar, the enthusiastic response to the war was often articulated as an aspiration to escape from the materialistic, mechanistic, rational-bureaucratic order that was increasingly determinative of modern life. Young men who enlisted and wrote about their enthusiasm, such as Toller on the left and Jünger on the right, described enthusiasm for the purpose and adventure that war would bring and contrasted this to the dull, prosaic, work-a-day future that the rational-bureacratic order made the destiny of all. In Politik als Beruf, Weber described that destiny as the cold, icy future that humankind had to deal with. The enthusiasm for the war, he described as a fantasy of escaping that.

Jünger articulates this desire - described by David above - to "escape from the materialistic, mechanistic, rational-bureaucratic order that was increasingly determinative of modern life" at the beginning of his "In Stahlgewittern" (Storm of Steel, 1920):

‘Wir hatten Hörsäle, Schulbänke und Werktische verlassen und waren in den kurzen Ausbildungswochen zusammengeschmolzen zu einem großen, begeisterten Körper, Träger des deutschen Idealismus der nachsiebziger Jahre. Aufgewachsen im Geiste einer materialistischen Zeit, wob in uns allen die Sehnsucht nach dem Ungewöhnlichen, nach dem großen Erleben. Da hatte uns der Krieg gepackt wie ein Rausch. In einem Regen von Blumen waren wir hinausgezogen in trunkener Morituri-Stimmung. Der Krieg mußte es uns ja bringen, das Große, Starke, Feierliche. Er schien uns männliche Tat, ein fröhliches Schützengefecht auf blumigen, blutbetauten Wiesen. Kein schönrer Tod ist auf der Welt [...] Ach, nur nicht zu Hause bleiben, nur mitmachen dürfen!’ (p. 7)

I'm not sure the 19-year-old Jünger of 1914 saw the coming of war in quite the elevated terms he retrospectively employs here in 1920. In 1914, like so many other young men in Germany (and elsewhere in Europe), he was simply bored. Jünger had, after all, run away to Marseilles in 1913 to join the French Foreign Legion, only to be *bought* back by his wealthy father.

Jünger went on to develop his critique of "the materialistic, mechanistic, rational-bureaucratic order" in his other war writings of the 1920s and in "Der Arbeiter" (The Worker, 1932).

Hello all,

Thank you for your great comments so far. This has been a fascinating discussion on the role of emotion and affect in the study of nationalism, and I look forward to seeing the conversation progress over the next several days.

A new feature that we are incorporating into the QOTM series for 2020 is a Q &A with a scholar in the field, and to that end this month we have interviewed Reetta Eiranen. Dr. Eiranen is currently a postdoc at he Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX) at Tampere University. Starting from March, she will be visiting for one year at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the Center for the History of Emotions in Berlin. She has recently published an article on emotions and nationalism in Studies on National Movements ("Emotional and Social Ties in the Construction of Nationalism: A Group Biographical Approach to the Tengström Family in nineteenth-century Finland", For the European Social Science History Conference in Leiden in March 2020, she has put together the session "Emotional construction of national belonging and agency", which discusses both positive and negative emotions towards the nation. You can follow Dr. Eiranen on Twitter at @reetta_e. I hope you enjoy the interview!

SP: Firstly, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. To start, I wonder could you tell us a little about your research and how it relates to the study of nationalism and emotion?

RE: I wrote my PhD about the intersections of nationalism and emotions. The study deals with the Tengströms – an important family in Finnish mid-nineteenth century nationalistic networks - through their mutual correspondence. In this group biographical setting, the letters are analyzed as experiential and relational narrations, which construct the self and the world. The main argument is that the construction of nationalism and close relationships were emotionally tightly intertwined. The love for the fatherland and love for one’s closest people fused together.

It was a two-way relation between emotions and nationalism: the emotionally intimate relationships motivated and enabled nationalistic activities and self-construction and, at the same time, the shared nationalistic ideology strengthened and even created emotional ties.

The academic family circle of the Tengströms, which included the parents, one son, three daughters and three sons-in-law, formed an ideological-emotional group which provided the environment for fruitful nurture of ideological ideas and concrete activities like publications, scholarship, language studies, charities and business.

Nationalism was a resource of self-construction and the emotionally intimate friendships, siblinghoods and marriages were central spaces for this. At the same time, the relationships themselves were constructed in national terms.

Construction of nationalism was about concrete cultural, societal and political activities but I argue that the construction of nationalized selves and relationships was a crucial part of the project. In these processes, the emotions towards both the nation and the loved ones were a crucial driving force.

I prefer to use the term ’emotion’ instead of ’affect’, as in the established name of the research field, ’the history of emotions’. ’Affect’ often refers only to something prelinguistic, unreflected, physical, and so on.

In my future projects I am planning to look into emotions in ambivalent nationalisms. That is, in situations where several tensional or competing nationalisms are present in the lives of the individuals at the same time. I will analyze the role of emotions e.g. in the interplay of identifications and alienations, in the choice of societal activities and in the construction of groups and communities.

SP: It seems like family and nation are tied very tightly together in your work. Do you think the conflation--both rhetorical and affective--of family and nation was a deliberate effort in the process of nation-building, or was it a natural product of emotion and allegiance?

RE: It was typical to nineteenth-century nationalisms to draw a parallel between family and nation, and the strictly differentiated bourgeois gender order was reflected in the national ideals. I think these connections are complex social and cultural phenomena, which do not emanate from ’natural’ or teleological origins. How deliberate they were, is a tricky question, too.

In the case of the Tengström family, the family ethos and tradition affected, of course, the interests and ideological emphasis of the individuals. In their case, I think there were different levels of self-consciousness in linking the family and nationalism. In some cases, emphasizing the shared ideology can be seen as a conscious effort of strengthening the mutual relationship and setting the framework for it, e.g. when forming the ground for the future marriage in letter-writing during the courtship.

In a way, saying that something was ’deliberate’ makes is sound like it was somehow ’untrue’ or calculated. In my theoretical framework, a crucial point is that letter-writing was a means of constructing one’s experiences, relationships and reality and that they are ’real’ in themselves and not mere reflection of something ’authentic’ behind them.

It is interesting to note that the connections of nationalism and family were not only about the so called nuclear family. Siblinghood was also important – both on concrete and abstract level. In the Tengström family, it was this horizontal family with which the concrete national activities were carried out. Siblings and in-laws are interesting to nationalism also because in the rising ideology, the societal relations began to be comprehended through the vocabulary of siblinghood. After all, fraternité was one of the slogans of the French Revolution.

SP: What are some of the works that have influenced your approach? As you have developed your study, for example, have you found that the existing literature on nationalist movements offers good models for your own research? Can you recommend any key works that were formative for you?

RE: My approach has developed in the intersections of histories of emotions, nationalism and gender. An important influence for me has been my first professor Irma Sulkunen, who has been a pioneer in gender history and biographical approaches as well as in reinterpreting the national history in Finland. In the field of biography, the concept of ’group biography’, brought up by Barbara Caine, has been an important inspiration for my research setting. Also, the Finnish historian Maarit Leskelä-Kärki’s work on siblings and theoretization of relationality of letter-writing and self-construction has been important. These approaches trace back, for instance, to Liz Stanley and Adriana Cavarero.

Theoretically, I have originally been interested in experiences and approached them from existential-hermeneutical perspective, inspired by the usual suspects like Ricœur, Heidegger and Gadamer. Then I got interested in the rising field of the history of emotions, which has its own theoretical innovations and debates, e.g. William Reddy’s concept of ’emotive’ and Monique Scheer’s idea of ’emotional practices’. In my dissertation, I have aimed at adapting certain concepts of the history of emotions to my experiential framework.

In the field of nationalism studies, I have found Anthony Cohen’s concept of ’personal nationalism’ inspiring. It has perhaps been a bit overshadowed by more popular concepts like ’banal nationalism’ or ’everyday nationalism’, but I think that the idea of ’personal nationalism’ takes seriously the agents experiences, traits and background. It creates a good basis for approaching individual emotions and experiences.

SP: I’m fascinated by your planned work on “ambivalent nationalisms” and the role of affect within the context of competing national identities. Could you tell us a little bit more about how you see that project potentially developing?

RE: I am planning to focus on late nineteenth-century agents in the Grand Duchy of Finland, both women and men, who lived amid the conflicting pressures of Finnish-minded and Swedish-minded nationalisms. At the time, a language struggle between Finnish and Swedish intensified and also a special Finland-Swedishness began to develop. Finnishness and Swedishness intertwined or competed in their lives, for instance, through emotional family relations and friendships. The people I am looking at were active in various societal fields, such as politics, journalism, organizations and education and I hope to find out how their emotions vis-à-vis different nationalisms shaped their self-construction and agency.

SP: Thank you very much Reetta, this sounds like fascinating work!

Happy and productive New Year everyone!

I believe the affective turn is just what nationalism studies need, especially if one turns her attention to 'everyday nationalism'; emotions are the missing link between ideology and practice.
Last year I published an essay titled it "Imagined Latvia" (A volume "Varas Latvijā", published by University of Latvia 2019 - unfortunately, in Latvian only) as a tribute to Benedict Anderson, developing a hypothesis of religion-based emotional preconditions of so called national awakening in 19th century Livland (current Latvia and Estonia in European Union). That allows reconstructing the genesis of particular nationalism before the famous Miroslav Hroch's 'phase A'.

Hello all,

Thank you for your great responses this month. We have had a fascinating and productive conversation about the impact that the affective turn has had on the study of nationalism, and it is clear that there is great work being done in this field. Special thanks must go to our interviewee for this month, Reetta Eiranen. Dr. Eiranen shared her expertise on this matter and gave us some great examples of the intersection of emotion and nationalism in practice.

Our contributors this month have highlighted the ways in which nationalism has not only been moulded by emotion, but has manipulated the emotions of citizens. We have seen how emotions like pride, jealousy and anger have been at the center of a give-and-take relationship between the people and the state, and how factors like charisma have been so important in harnessing the power of emotion. We have also heard how nation and emotion have helped strengthen social ties, centering the nation and forming new, nationalistic bonds. Nationalism itself seems to have become an emotional range, both bonding and dividing.

There are still a few days to contribute to this discussion, and we look forward to hearing any further comments or opinions that you might have on this question.

Thank you for your continued support and your insightful comments.


Simon Purdue
Series Editor