In this week’s readings, the idea of nationalism as a reactionary force, rather than an internal process was an emergent thesis for me. Nation building and all that came with it – identity, tradition, culture was reliant on both internal and external factors of influence. At a time when parts of the world were trying to create their own unique brand came synchronously with a period of global exploration and migration. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, two seemingly opposite ideologies were emerging – nationalisation and globalisation. However, as Conrad argues, they were not two stages of consecutive process of development but were rather dependent on each other.  

Conrad includes two different but incredibly interesting examples of how the increasing mobility of the labour force led to nationalist sentiment in Germany and in the nations of those who were a part of this new migratory community. From these examples, it is clear that German nationalism and the idea of what it means for something or someone to be ‘German’ was a characteristic built on the comparison of the German nation with foreigners. This exposure with the Polish in the form of seasonal workers catalysed the process of protecting German nationhood from the threat of ‘foreignness’ – a discourse that even found place in ongoing research about disease and bacteria. In terms of China, the difference in attitude towards Chinese versus Polish workers proved that race had a place to play in how ‘foreign’ one was perceived to be. As such, the intersectionality of nationalism as a phenomenon has become clear to me – it is multidimensional, interlinking with colonialism, race, gender and science.  

One of the most interesting parts of this discussion on nationalism as being a reaction to globalisation is that in colonial relations the concept of the nation state was the result of cultural transfers. For many colonised lands, the nation was an imported idea from European colonisers, which transformed the way in which local people had initially organised themselves in terms of identity and social belonging. The concept of building the nation-state struck me personally as something that I had witnessed. Living in post-colonial country – Kenya – I have always been acutely aware of how multi-ethnic the country was. Peers would often describe the very distinctive qualities of the Kikuyu people versus the Luhya and so on. Politics in Kenya is still very much influenced by these ethnic divisions. Despite being a united nation, Kenyans still strongly identify with their specific ethnic group above being a Kenyan citizen. This proved to me how imported this idea of nationhood was – the British established the Kenya Colony in 1920 – setting and defining boundaries that had never existed in such a way before. Thus, nationalisation was also very much intertwined with concepts of modernisation and civilisation. Due to the transportation of ideas and people that occurred during colonisation, parts of the world such as Kenya reshaped how they viewed themselves. Part of this came from the need to organise a national force in the mid 20th century when the Kenyan independence movement gained traction, which grew out of the desire to defeat a shared enemy – colonial power. Here again, nationalism was a reactionary force but this time for Kenyan people to gain back control over their land, using nationalist rhetoric influenced greatly by their colonisers.  

It seems to me that the national and the transnational are completely dependent on each other – nationalism in its present-day form could not exist without transnational links – the very study of national identity is founded on how a nation both views itself and wants to be viewed on the global stage. I can’t help but wonder if we’ve almost been studying transnational history without realising it – or if in the past we just haven’t grasped how transnational national histories can be. 

Nationalism as a Reactionary Force