Universiteit Leiden

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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

Our groups research interests cover three main realms. Firstly, we explore the cultural dimensions of politics, examining the skillful use of religious and rhetorical tools, the translation of values, habits, and norms into both foreign and domestic policies, and the influential role of ideologies such as socialism, populism, (neo)liberalism, and nationalism in shaping modern political systems. Secondly, our research investigates diverse forms of collective socio-political behavior, broadly encompassing non-state actors, citizen groups, and social movements that operate both within and across national boundaries. Thirdly, we focus on the political implications of long-term historical processes including state- and nation-building, the establishment of new ethos and ideas of governance, the development of historical memory, and the evolution of identity politics.

Such an all-encompassing research agenda allows us to analyze how cultural dynamics intersect with politics, providing a critical and historically informed understanding of some of the most pressing issues characterizing the transformation of modern societies, from culture wars to political polarization, from the rise of techno-politics to the challenges posed by environmental and climate issues.

Beyond traditional borders

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, or American exceptionalism). Today, however, we adopt comparative methods, transnational approaches, and planetary perspectives in order to complement (and overcome the limits of) the traditional focus on national uniqueness. This makes our research cluster constantly exposed to interdisciplinary exchanges and our fields of study open to new research and innovative contributions.

Our expertise in the field of national history mostly focuses on the connections among different national cases. As cultural and political historians, we utilize concepts such as cultural transfer, “cross-fertilization,” and “hybridity” to explore the adoption of and the adaptation to foreign models on a national scale. For instance, we analyze how social movements, parties, and parliaments institutionalize symbols, material objects, and cultural practices from abroad. Similarly, we investigate phenomena of national resistance to foreign inputs. In so doing, we combine our historical inquiry with social scientific methods to better understand these developments in a constantly changing world. Looking beyond traditional geographies and focusing on transnational crossings, we problematize and expand the breadth of national histories.

Our approach cuts across national borders, is grounded on comparative analysis, and is fully embedded into the transnational turn. For this reason, we draw on sources from a variety of local and national contexts and interrogate them about their regional and global relevance. This multi-level analysis is meant to render the complexity and diversity of national histories, as reflected in our group’s title: Politics, Culture and National Identities, in the plural. Leiden University offers an ideal environment for such an approach, due to the presence of experts on the history of culture and politics of all the regions of the world, and the many possibilities of fruitful interaction that the Institute for History promotes on a constant base.

Related research

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