Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research programme

Politics, Culture and National Identities 1789-present

The research group Politics, Culture and National Identities 1789-present investigates a wide range of national political cultures in Europe and the Americas in the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead of only analyzing high politics (the acts of governments and political parties), the research group focuses on political culture in a broad sense.

Maartje Janse

Three main realms

The group's interests cover three main realms. Firstly, the cultural aspects of the political realm, such as the use of religious elements and the 'sacralization' of politics, the rhetoric and debating skills of politicians, cultural diplomacy, and the relationship between the army, politics, and civil society. Secondly, forms of political behaviour in a broad sense of the word (outside of government), such as the role of civic associations, the relationships between socio-political institutions and the environment, and contested political ideologies like populism, (neo)liberalism, and nationalism. Thirdly, the social, cultural and intellectual embedding of politics, such as the political implications of nation-building processes, the rise of new moral ideas, and new forms of historical memory such as those concerning the Paris Commune and the Shoah.

National uniqueness?

Politics has to a large extent developed within national contexts, and as a result ‘national identity’ is often partly equated with ‘national’ traditions in the field of political culture. For decades the focus was on the ‘unique’ characteristics of individual countries (such as the German Sonderweg, Great-Britain’s splendid isolation, ‘pillarisation’ in the Netherlands and American exceptionalism). Today, comparative, transnational, and indeed planetary analyses help to overcome this excessive focus on national uniqueness.

Beyond traditional borders

Expertise in the field of national history reaches its full comparative potential if it also focuses on the connections between the different national cases. Political historians can utilize concepts such as ‘cultural transfer’, ‘cross-fertilization’, and ‘hybridity’, to explore the adoption of foreign examples and the inspiration which they engender, for instance by analyzing how social movements, parties and parliaments adopt and adapt symbols, material objects and practices from abroad. Social scientific methods can be applied as well to understand these developments in a changing world. Looking beyond traditional geographical borders of national, imperial, or even continental history can provide new ideas.

If we want to understand the recent challenges and changes of modern democracies, an approach cutting across national borders, grounded on comparative analyses, and fully embedded into a transdisciplinary turn is crucial. In so doing, we can draw on sources from local and national contexts asking questions that relate to the international, regional and, global level. This diversity is reflected in the research group’s title: Politics, Culture and National Identities 1789-present, in the plural. Leiden University offers an ideal environment for this approach due to the presence of experts on the history of politics of all the regions of the world and their constant interactions.

Connection with other research

This website uses cookies.  More information.