Nationalism the most protean and successful of the modern political ideologies: the idea that people are above all identified by their nationality, that their nationality constitutes their primary focus of allegiance, that nationality therefore warrants political realization in self-determonation and self-government, and that the nation-state is therefore the default, most natural form of the modern state.

As a cultural historian I deal above all with the underlying idea of nationality: how it developed, and how it came to be instrumentalized into a political agenda. This interest also drives my research in imagology and in Irish and Low Countries studies.

I distinguish between the general affects of ethnocentrism and state loyalty and modern nationalism. That distinction itself makes me, in the parlance of nationalism theory, a “modernist”: nationalism, as a political agenda, arose after mid-eighteenth century, and our tendency to see analogues or forerunners in earlier periods is most often an anachronistic back-projection: we view the pre-19th-century past through a 19th-century lens. One of the most challenging tasks in studying nationalism is to assess how its short political history relates to its long cultural memory

That being said, I differ from most “modernists” in firmly focusing on the agency and indeed the primacy of culture in the development of nationalism. The long cultural memory of nationalism, its valorization of the nation’s identity, language, character and culture, are central to its agenda and typology. Culture is much more than just the outcome of social conditions or the barometer of political power distributions. Any study of nationalism that fails to take the autonomy and agency of cultural production and cultural reflection into account is, I believe, blinkered.

Finally, I believe that nationalism should be studied transnationally. Its manifestations and political impact may be registered most markedly in a given society or state; but is diffusion and development was part of a transnational dynamics.

In my work I have studied nationalism mainly in its European manifestations, lacking, as I do, a proper knowledge of the languages and history of the non-European world. But I am deeply and increasingly intrigued by my tantalizing encounters with culturally-driven nationalism in other continents.