This session will be held jointly by the International Commission on the History of French Revolution, the Japanese and Korean National Committees, and NOGWHISTO
Convenors: Koichi Yamazaki (Tokyo), Alan Forrest (York), Pierre Serna (Paris), Matthias Middell (Leipzig)
Revolutions may have universal objectives and speak the language of the rights of man, but they appear to produce an upsurge of nationalist sentiment and a unique sense of national identity. Revolutionaries often appear to believe that there is something unique about their revolution that is theirs and theirs alone, going so far as to proclaim that only those who are of their nation can truly understand or identify with the revolutionary cause. A global approach to revolutionary history allows us to overcome the narrowness of such national perceptions; indeed, it has been suggested that global history can provide the ultimate cure for nationalism. Recent political transformations as well as advances in the ways national histories can be written from a global perspective have led us to understand that nationalization is linked to global processes and can be interpreted as a reaction to increased interdependency and global flows. Following this logic, recent trends in global history- writing emphasize the interplay of the national and the global rather than focusing on the global alone. This approach can be used to revisit the role revolutions play in fomenting nationalism. We would propose to use this session to examine three different dimensions of this problem:
- The transnational circulation of ideas emanating from individual revolutions and leading to the concept of nationalism as a weapon both for and against revolutionary transformation which became a sort of a global norm. The North American and the French revolutions have already been extensively discussed as a point of departure for constitutionalism and nation-state building, with an enormous radius of diffusion. But does this not lead us once more to a Eurocentric story that tends to forget the interplay between revolutions in Western Europe and North America on the one hand and those in the Southern (Black) Atlantic and Asia on the other? A purely diffusionist approach seems inadequate, and we invite contributions that place emphasis on the exchange of ideas and interpretations between the various hot spots of revolutionary agitation.
- While nationalization and nationalism became a central tool in the arsenal of societies which had undergone revolutions (with a wide range of variants to be discussed), they also feature in societies which were less infected with the revolutionary bacillus (but which feared that they would be confronted with it). Here both the political and military elites and intellectuals developed their own forms of national consciousness in order to prevent their societies (or, more ambitiously, the world) from being further infected. This kind of anti-revolutionary nationalism merged with other topoi of counter-revolutionary discourse and worked as powerfully on future generations as revolutionary nationalism itself. To date it has been studied as the point of departure for individual national identities – most notably that of Germany – but little work has yet been done on its global outreach.
- The more societies distance themselves from their earlier revolutionary experience, the more a tension develops between their social-revolutionary and their nationalist heritage, opening up a space for new debates about the nature of nationalism. Should it be seen as the ultimate goal of their revolution, as an aberration from an earlier revolutionary message, or as an obstacle to later attempts to change society by revolutionary means?
This panel will be structured in such a way as to compare cases across time and world regions and to create a systematic encounter between historians of global history, of the history of nationalisms and nation-states, and of revolutionary history.