Imagined communities (Benedict Anderson, 1983, 1991) is a classic study of the nation-state concept

As I’ve noted elsewhere, we know little about the personality of Colonel Samuel Smith.

Because he built a cabin in 1797, after the American Revolutionary War, on what is now the school grounds of Parkview School at 85 Forty First Street in Long Branch, in the southwest corner of the City of Toronto, his story is of interest to me. Colonel Smith was a Loyalist military officer.

In order to understand the story, I’ve developed an interest in the history of the British Empire and in military history.

Among my favourite passages in Imagined communities (1983, 1991) is a footnote at the bottom of p. 83, in which Benedict Arnold remarks that what eventually became the late British Empire had not been ruled by an ‘English’ dynasty since the early eleventh century, after which the imperial throne had been occupied by Normans (Plantagenets), Welsh (Tudors), Scots (Stuarts), Dutch (House of Orange), and Germans (Hanovarians).

“No one much cared,” he notes, “until the philological revolution and a paroxysm of English nationalism in World war I.”

Benedict’s book is subtitled: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism.

The chapter in which the footnote appears deals with official nationalism and imperialism, beginning with a reference to the philological-lexicographic revolution and rise of intra-European nationalist movements.

Other chapters deal with, among other topics, patriotism and racism; the role of census, map, and museum; and memory and forgetting.

With regard to the latter topic, Benedict refers to the usefulness of “History emplotted in particular ways.”

He notes that, in that context, that, “As Hayden White remarks, it is no less striking that the five presiding geniuses of European historiography were all born within the Convention’s rupturing of time: Ranke in 1795, Michelet in 1798, Tocqueville in 1805, and Marx and Burckhardt in 1818.”

The Convention referred to is the Convention Nationale, which on 5 October 1793 decided “to scrap the centuries-old Christian calendar and to inaugurate a new world-era with the Year One, starting from the abolition of the ancien régime and the proclamation of the Republic in 22 September 1792.”


Also of interest: Extremely Violent Societies: Mass Violence in the Twentieth Century (2010).


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