Cultural production and nationalism

Literature, visual arts, music, and scholarship have complex relationships with ideological forces.


The 19th Century

In the 19th century nationalism was an especially potent influence on all of these fields. To summarize, every established national group used cultural productions to assert and strengthen a sense of national unity and destiny; less politically consolidated groups, especially those pursuing the goal of nationhood, used them in the same ways, though often with a note of determination that makes them easier to see from our contemporary point of reference.

Natural admiration for excellence and justifiable pride in a predecessor's achievements is sometimes difficult to sort out from other intentions. Dante was a great poet, the Societa Dantesca Italiana did great work in editing and publishing a usable and affordable text, but the Divine Comedy was certainly used by the newly unified Italian government (see History of Italy) to encourage a more homogeneous, Tuscan-influenced dialect for the whole peninsula (see Italian language).


the Kalevala
folklore collections
the Brothers Grimm

Visual Arts

the Nazarene movement
Gothic revival
art history and nationalism


Richard Wagner

The Academy

This relationship between ideology and serious work is particularly ambiguous in the academic fields of historical importance. Much as 19th century science is often treated as the inventor of conceptions of evolution and race which had serious negative political and social consequences, many 19th century historians pursued what they intended as reasonably objective research projects in the history of their own and other regions either to end by themselves using the results to support nationalistic goals or to see their work used that way by others.

More politically consolidated nations sponsored historical research projects which produced results of permanent value - such as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica ("Monuments of German History") project. The MGH is a vast series (it runs to hundreds of volumes and is still publishing) of edited primary source material essential for scholarly work on late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. However, the term "German" in the title was interpreted in the broadest possible sense, and its initial royal patronage made the connection clear between a perceived unity of Germanness in history and 19th century Germanness.

See also

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