Why was Nationalism European? Political Ethnicity in Southeast Asia and Europe c. 1450-1850

Presented by Victor Lieberman, Univ. Michigan, at the Center for Historical Research, Department of History at The Ohio State University on December 5, 2014.

Between 1400 and 1800, as relatively isolated economic and political units cohered to form larger, more internally specialized systems, culture also was transformed. The cultural norms of emergent cores, particularly the ethnic identities of elites within those cores, radiated to dependent areas and became publicly recognized symbols of inclusion within the new polities. This process -- the politicization of ethnicity -- occurred with growing force in much of Eurasia, especially in regions protected against Inner Asian conquest. But only in Western Europe did political ethnicity separate substantially from religious universalism to assume those secular, horizontal, territorially circumscribed features characteristic of "nationalism." Using Burma and Britain as case studies, this paper asks: a) Why political ethnicity after 1400 became ever more closely coordinated across much of Eurasia. b) Why in Western Europe alone we find that peculiar form of political ethnicity known as nationalism.

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