dipesh

starstruckbarbariancrown  asked:

Hi, I've been reading about nationalism and identity and a book I read argues that nations are an imaginary construct and I was wondering how this would effect the way history is viewed. Also, for you, how significant are the values a country has in the way that a country presents itself? Should there be a shared history for shared values? Apologies for this being quite long

Was the book Imagined Communities? That is an excellent book, but what you need to keep in mind is that, as a historian, theory is not intended to stand in as a narrative for us to fit facts into, but as a tool which allows us to find the language to understand events and ask questions. But it is still an ahistorical narrative, and we have to be careful not to treat it as fact.

That said, I think it provides a helpful way to look at aspects of modern history. Now I’m gonna be real for a minute and tell you that my response is about to get hella Euro-centric.

In the Early Modern period through the beginning of the twentieth century we saw the rise of the diverse, multinational empire. Those empires broke apart over the course of the twentieth century, and splintered into the nation-state; a political entity held together not by imperial bureaucracy, but by the idea of a shared historical identity and experiences. For that nation-state to sustain itself, there must be an other–a group which does not share that identity and those experiences–for the nation-state to define itself against. We also saw in the twentieth century, in the form of the Yugoslav Wars, the logical endpoint of the ethnic nation-state: genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Now, in the twenty-first century, the idea of the ethnically homogeneous nation-state is tearing apart at the seams as the globalized environment fractures. Nation-states must now confront ethnic, national, and racial diversity, forcing them to wrestle with how to accommodate the “other.” This is why you hear people (like me, alas) referring to the contemporary global environment as “post-modern.” It is also why so many “Western” nations are having a collective violent temper tantrum.

As you can see from what I just wrote, the discourse on the nation and identity etc provides a helpful lens by which to view the last 500 or so years of history. But the fact that it’s helpful doesn’t make it true. Every issue I addressed above is 1000x more complex than my two paragraphs will ever be able to convey, and that’s why the theory is a helpful way of processing large periods of history. But as your analysis becomes deeper and more nuanced this theoretical framework may (and probably should) feel more and more remote and overly simple to your analysis.

As for the last part of your question: “Should there be a shared history for shared values?“

That, to me, implies, that I can just imagine a past. Ethno-national groups do imagine their pasts, absolutely (if you get me drunk enough, you are likely to hear me yelling about how I’m mad at Ancient Rome for fucking with my people ~2000 years ago), but those pasts are nothing more than a collection of narratives strung together to serve some sort of ideological purpose. The reality of history is that one million narratives and chains of interaction are ongoing at any moment in time, and that historians can only incrementally understand them through careful questioning and analysis.

And as for “shared values,” aren’t those just as false as an imagined past?

I hope this answer was helpful; don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions if you have any. 

Some titles you might enjoy in relation to this line of questioning include:

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History) by Dipesh Chakrabarty

The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History) by Partha Chatterjee

Who Owns History?: Rethinking the Past in a Changing World by Eric Foner

The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past by John Lewis Gaddis

Writing History in the Global Era by Lynn Hunt

Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge by George G. Iggers

Can the Subaltern Speak?: Reflections on the History of an Idea by Rosalind Morris

Gender and the Politics of History by Joan Scott

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Historical Bibliography: Historiography, Narratives, Memory, and Theory

Intro/Methodology  •  Bronze Age Collapse-Roman Period    Byzantine Empire and the Rise of Islam and Caliphate Rule    Crusades, Medieval European Jewish History, and Sephardic Jewish History    Ottoman Empire  •  Early Modern and Modern European Jewish History    World War I, French Involvement, and the British Mandate in Palestine  • Holocaust History  •  History of Zionism  •  Post-1948  •  Middle Eastern and North African Jewish History  •  Arab Nationalism and the Modern Middle East

Historiography, Narratives, Memory, and Theory

Side by Side: Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine by Sami Adwan

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, Revised Edition by Benedict Anderson

The Location of Culture (Routledge Classics) by Homi K. Bhabha

The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories by Neil Caplan

Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History) by Dipesh Chakrabarty

The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History) by Partha Chatterjee

Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe by Saul Friedlander

Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution” edited by Saul Friedlander

Nations and Nationalism, Second Edition (New Perspectives on the Past) by Ernest Gellner

Remembering and Imagining Palestine: Identity and Nationalism from the Crusades to the Present by Haim Gerber

On Collective Memory (Heritage of Sociology Series) by Maurice Halbwachs

Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness by Rashid Khalidi

Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (Cambridge Middle East Studies) by Laleh Khalili

Co-memory and Melancholia: Israelis Memorialising the Palestininan Nakba by Ronit Lentin

Exile and Return: Predicaments of Palestinians and Jews by Ann M. Lesch

From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust (Columbia/Hurst) by Meir Litvak

Palestinian Collective Memory and National Identity by Meir Litvak

Making Israel edited by Benny Morris

The Collective Memory Reader edited by Jeffrey K. Olick

Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory (Cultures of History) by Ahmad H. Sa’di

Orientalism by Edward Said

Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue by Paul Scham

The Ethnic Origins of Nations by Anthony D. Smith

Memories of Revolt: The 1936-1939 Rebellion and the Palestinian National Past by Ted Swedenburg

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust: Three Essays on Denial, Forgetting, and the Delegitimation of Israel by Elhanan Yakira

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (The Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies) by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi

Recovered Roots: Collective Memory and the Making of Israeli National Tradition by Yael Zerubavel

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