1. Early-stage projects and new fields of interest

2. Ongoing projects: SPIN, ERNiE, Imagologica

3. Digital humanities


1. Early-stage projects and new fields of interest

The completion of the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe (which is, however, ongoing as an online project, see below) has cleared my desk for further topics of interests, on which I hope to do more work in the near future, and where I would welcome collaboraton with like-minded researchers:

  • Populism as neo-nationalism. Populism is often studied by political scientists in the context of recent sociopolitical developments. As a cultural historian, I am interested in the ideological repertoire of European ethno-populism. Its ideas show the unmistakable provenance of early-20th-century social-darwinistic and völkisch nationalism. That raises the question how (and with what cross-currents from other ideologies) that ideological heritage was transmitted across two world wars and the Cold War period of internationalism. And how can we describe and explain how its period of relative latency, or dormancy, between 1945 and 1989 led into its resurgence after 1989?
  • Cultural nationalism outside Europe. I have been reluctant to apply “Romantic Nationalism” at a global scale because I felt that its emergence was made possible by specifically European conditions and its global application would be heedlessly eurocentric. There are some indicators however that the model of “Romantic Nationalism” (national movements instigated by intellectuals with a cultural and historicist interest in raising national awareness, and using literature, the arts, and knowledge production to broadcast this culturally-based national consciousness-raising) can also be encountered outisde Europe. Colonial nationalism in Latin America, the colonial presence of the Russian Empire in Asia and the Islamic world, the role of intellectuals in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, the early Africanists (DuBois, Garvey, Nkrumah), Japanese pan-Asianism and above all the well-documented and well-studied Bengal Renaissance seem fascinating areas for further investigating this hunch.
  • National identity as consumer spectacle: Tourism, sports events, festivals and World Fairs. The decades after 1850 saw a sharp rise in consumer leisure pursuits, mobility, and “display culture” memorably described in Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk. The display of cultural identities was enmeshed in this transformation. Tourism (including “armchair travel”) commodified the cultural interest of travel destinations, exhibitions and trade fairs (with at their apex the “World Fairs”) offered platforms for colonial empires as well as emerging nations and regions to showcase their specific identities, national and international sports spectales involved a central component of flag-carrying nationality celebrations. This ambience made it possible for nationalism to adapt to the mercantile climate of the 20th century and for nationality to become a feel-good “brand”. Nationalism became all-pervasive and “unpolitical”; 19th-century cultural nationalism morphed into 20th-century banal nationalism. The dynamics of this process deserve closer study. I am at present engaged in a project on World Fairs together with Eric Storm of Leiden University.
  • Liège and Cologne localism: from ancien-régime sovereignty to modern regionalism. Pre-1790, Liège and Cologne were independent municipalities in imperial prince-bishoprics; as such they cultivated their own city history and city culture in the usual mode of the early-modern and Enlightenment centuries. Both were amalgamated into post-Napoleonic states, The Netherlands (then, after 1830, Belgium) and Prussia, and henceforth their local “cultivation of culture” drifted to the mode of provincial regionalism; but it drew, not on the regionalist register of marginality, but on the heritage of an earlier autonomous history. How does this specific position fit the current models of nation-building and regionalism? What other analogues are there in Europe, besides the obvious cases of Venice and Dubrovnik? And what was the historical impact on the Meuse-Rhine region as a whole?
  • Memories Online. Oral history and memory studies rely on personal testimony, negotiating the interface between the personal experience and the collective inheritance, but we lack as yet a properly unified platform to repertorize and organize these testimonies and narratives and their metadata. I believe that recent advances in Digital Humanities have made it possible to create a database architecture that could serve as a baseline platform for managing collections of narrated memories. The applications are  very diverse, from popular culture to social history, but what is needed for all of them is a new standard in their online storage. This is a Digital Humanities project (see below).

2. Ongoing projects: SPIN, ERNiE, Imagologica


SPIN

  • The Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms aims to chart the cultural and historical root system of European nationalisms and to bring into focus those intellectual networks which carried and disseminated the emerging ideals of cultural nationalism in the Romantic period and in the long nineteenth century (1770-1914). <br>SPIN is funded by the Spinoza Prize which was awarded to me in 2008 by the Dutch funding organization NWO.
    An important and very complex cultural field/medium within this complex of nationalizing cultures is that of music. SPIN was able to develop this area thanks to an Academy Professorship award from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
    http://spinnet.eu/

Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

  • The Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism (ERNiE) is SPIN’s flagship project. It contains analytical articles on themes and persons, as well as historical documentation (Letters, Writings, Images, Music etc.), tracing and visualizing the transnational rise of national culture-building in 19th-century Europe.
    ERNiE is open-access and can be consulted at http://ernie.uva.nl
    ERNiE has also appeared in book form (2 vols., Amsterdam University Press, 2018; more info here). The online version is being corrected, expanded and updated on an ongoing basis.

Imagologica

  • The Imagologica website is dedicated to the critical analysis of cultural stereotypes. Imagology, a specialism originally developed in the discipline of Comparative Literature, studies how certain temperamental characteristics are stereotypically imputed to certain nationalities.
    http://imagologica.eu/

3. Digital humanities

Digital humanities is a tool rather than a project, but it is a tool which can teach us new procedures and methods of marshalling and presenting our materials. My research has always been database-based, starting in my student days with the scholar’s prime and primal accessory, the file-card box. Since then, the computer has established itself as the tool par excellence for managing databases. Initially, applications of digital tools to humanities topics were, by their nature, quantitative and statistical in nature (or else bibliographical); by now, digital humanities has progressed to the point where we can manage complex, multimedia datasets in a relational mode, allowing for the analysis of complex systems – and what is culture if not a complex system?

Work on Romantic Nationalism taught me to inventorize and describe biographical and historical materials involving textual, visual, and auditory formats, arranging them by parameters of time, nationality and cultural field. Recent developments in software technology (such as the nodegoat system developed by lab1100; ERNiE runs on nodegoat) make it possible to manage these datasets online in a browser and to map their network relationships. The field is now moving towards Linked Open Data models and I follow its development with keen interest.

I am also convinced that database literacy is a key requirement for today’s humanities students.