This panel explores how people build national communities and identities through shared memories of conflict or fears of future war. A state is geographic borders and autonomy. But how do you unite people into a social and cultural nation? This panel explores the history-based stories—the mythologies—that different nations have sought to use to define themselves. The papers investigate cases in which memories and fears of past and future warfare have crafted a new, national identity.
Moderated by Juan Sebastián Lewin. Juan Sebastián studies History and Pedagogy at the Del Atuel Institute for Higher Education in San Rafael, Argentina. They are a researcher with the Catholic University of Chile, specialising in the human component of Romantic-era composition, the lives of Romantic composers, and in the historical and musicological analysis of Latin American folk music. Other research interests include colonial and post-colonial Native American studies in the Río de la Plata area, with a specific emphasis on the development of systemic genocidal policies against native populations in the early national period of Argentina. They are part of the AskHistorians moderators team.
“Building a nation, dreaming its destruction”: Australian Federation and Fantasies of War, by Liam Connell
In 1901, six colonies federated as the Commonwealth of Australia. It was a moment of optimism, a chance to build a new and fairer British democracy -and it was tinged with fear. From the 1880s to the 1910s, Australasian novelists, politicians and newspapers imagined a coming conflagration in the Pacific. Local ‘Invasion Literature’ warned that sooner or later, Australia would face the Chinese, or the Japanese, or the Russians, or all at once. The process of successful federation was launched by politicians worried that Australia was surrounded by expansionist French and German imperialists. This paper describes how a moment of intense geopolitical change in Oceania was driven by people who feared that they were scant years from a rupture in their political, cultural and racial worlds. Fear built the ‘White Australia’ regime. Fear affected the relationship of those emerging countries to the wider British Empire. Fear marked how they saw the islands of the South Pacific. These coming wars -that never came- would shape the peace of Australasia.
Liam Connell is a PhD student at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His dissertation, ‘A Loyalty More Personal and Fervent: Australasian Imperial Identities, 1892-1902’ will be, COVID willing, finally completed in early 2021. His research interests include the idea of ‘Greater Britain,’ the Irish-Australasian diaspora, and studying Britain’s settler colonies as serious leaders and shapers of the Empire in their own right. He completed his M. Phil at the LSE in 2014, where he won the Iris Forrester Prize. Previously he studied history at the University of Sydney and at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand,) and he has also completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Trinity College Dublin.
War: The Defining Catastrophe of 17th Century Moldavia, by Andrei Oprea
Moldavia in the 17th century, an autonomous principality under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, has had a continuous history of war, ranging from frequent violent struggles for the throne, constant frontier raids, and participation in the external wars of the Sublime Porte. As a result, war became an engrained characteristic of life in the minds of the Moldavian litterati. It is by far the dominant part of all of the country’s chronicles. The Chancery’s documents and the various scribblings left on manuscripts frequently mention it, and even use it to reference time. War is seen from various perspectives: as a plague wrought upon Moldavia by the greedy ambitions of monarchs, even its own rulers; an almost-inevitable consequence of life; and, at times, a chance to attain glory, riches, or vengeance.As a result, it garnered an incredible ideological importance in the minds of Moldavians, even down to the common people. My research focuses on the perception of war across the various sources: what is its relationship to the idea of political power? How is it portrayed by the various litterati of different backgrounds? And finally, what constitutes a “just war”, if anything?
Andrei Oprea is an editor at the “Magazin istoric” (“Historical Magazine”) popular history journal in Bucharest, Romania. He received his B.A. in History with the thesis “The Population of the Balkans in Arab-Muslim Writings of the 7th to 11th Centuries: Ethno- Cultural Aspects” in 2018, and his M.S. in Medieval Studies with the thesis “The Mentality of War, Military Knowledge and the Importance of the Army in 17th Century Moldavia” in 2020, at the Faculty of History of the University of Bucharest. His research focuses on 17th century Moldavian military history, a topic with meagre contributions in Romanian historiography.
The Balkan Wars from an Ottoman Perspective: Rupture as Creative Destruction?, by Buğra Can Bayçifçi
The importance of The Balkan Wars (1912-13) as a global milestone is well-documented and emphasised in the literature. Less is said on its psychological and ideological impact on the way Ottomans saw themselves. In this paper, I will investigate how the Ottomans made sense of the defeat, while briefly looking at how this compared with contemporary Western views. Then, I will consider how the Balkan Wars caused a ricochet effect. For this, I will focus on how from leaders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to participants and thinkers like Sevket Süreyya Aydemir and Kılıçzade Ismail Hakkı’s personal stories related to the war. I will seek to throw light on how the loss of their birthplaces changed their worldviews. As a result, I will argue that the Balkan Wars were a ‘creative destruction’ in the sense that they strengthened radical Westernisation and Turkish nationalism. I will show how the trauma of the Balkan Wars gave support to these previously radical views. I will conclude with remarks on how and why such ruptures and ‘creative destructions’, such as the one we are currently living through, can be seen as accelerators of history.
The full paper can be found here.
Bugra Can Bayçifçi is a PhD student at Bogaziçi University in Istanbul, the Atatürk Institute for Modern Turkish History. He holds a BA Hons History (top-scoring student) from Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul and an MLitt Intellectual History from the University of St Andrews. His research interests include Turkish intellectual history, Turkey’s intellectual encounters with the West, Turkish-Italian intellectual/ideological relations in the 1930s, historiography, and philosophy of history and social sciences. His MLitt thesis examines anti-Westernism in Turkey in the 1930s. He wrote and presented a paper, contextualising a key text of Ottoman Westernisers with the Balkan Wars.
‘Behold the Heresiarch’: Jan Hus, Mythologies, and Nationalism in Postwar Czechoslovakia, by Cullan Bendig
In the early 1950s, three films about the Hussite Reformation were produced by the Czechoslovak national film studio. Collectively known as the Hussite Revolutionary Trilogy, these historical epics presented Jan Hus and the Hussite Wars as a 15th century proto-Marxist revolutionary moment.
This paper explores how these films fit within a longer tradition of Czech political actors reinterpreting the Hussite Reformation through their own ideological lenses; Alois Jirasek’s rural conservatism, Tomáš Masaryk’s Christian humanism, and Zdeněk Nejedly’s state socialism. The modern secondary literature tends to view this trilogy as a cynical appropriation or misuse of national mythology, but this project of revising national myths to claim political legitimacy was not unique to the postwar communists. These films supported the communists’ ‘reevaluation of the national character’ by presenting Czech national mythologies in a way that resonated at the time with recent historical memory. This is not to diminish the impact that subsequent events may have had on how ‘Comrade Hus’ is seen today. Rather, the Hussite Revolutionary Trilogy exemplifies how nationalism is a core set of beliefs which can facilitate transitions between political orientations and national self-conceptions in moments where the old ideas have been discredited.
Cullan Bendig is currently a master’s candidate in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies
at the University of Texas at Austin. He received his BA in History from the University of
Vermont in 2016. He is interested in the role that popular digital media plays in shaping
historical memory and national identity, with an emphasis on the Czech Republic and other
postsocialist states. Cullan is an assistant producer and host on The Slavic Connexion, a podcast
run by graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in the Center for Russian, East
European, and Eurasian Studies.