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Level 6

6AACHI60 Origins of nations and nationalism: identity in the Hellenic world

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Professor Roderick Beaton
Teaching pattern: 20 x 1-hour classes (twice weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essays of 2,500 words (50% each)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

It has been hotly debated in academic circles for the last thirty years whether the concept of the nation as it has developed today, with its ideological underpinnings in nationalism and national identity, is an invention of recent times or has origins in the medieval or ancient past. The case of Greece, violently born as a nation-state in the early nineteenth century, but inheritor of a written and spoken tradition unbroken over more than three millennia, merits special study as a test case. The module examines the process by which a modern Greek national identity came to be established and consolidated over the past two hundred years, through reviving and re-interpreting aspects of much older civilisations. We then move backwards in time to consider evidence from key moments belonging to that past, separated from each other by many centuries, and consider the very different ways in which speakers of Greek have defined their communal identity in antiquity, during the Middle Ages, and in the Early Modern period.

The module assumes no previous knowledge and aims to introduce students to contemporary debates among historians and political scientists about the nature and origins of nations and national identity. They are then presented with historical and cultural information about the formation of the Greek state and Greek national identity since the 1820s, examined as a test case. The role of past civilisations – principally that of ancient Greece and the medieval Christian empire of Byzantium – in this process is examined critically, in relation to literary and documentary sources originally written in Greek, and drawn from widely separated periods of the past. Students are encouraged to develop their critical thinking in relation to a) contemporary theories of nationalism and national identity, b) the ‘construction’ of a specific national identity, that of modern Greece, and c) the similarities and differences between a modern nation and older forms of political and social organisation for which Greek texts provide crucial evidence.

Teaching plan

  1. Nations and nationalism: modern perspectives and debates
  2. Greece old and new: defining identity
  3. Imagining the Greek nation, 1: Rigas, Korais, Solomos
  4. Imagining the Greek nation, 2: ‘Romantic Hellenism’ in Europe
  5. From revival to continuity: Paparrigopoulos’ History of the Greek Nation (1860-74) and its influence 
  6. Reclaiming the past: Saint Sophia and the sculptures of the Parthenon
  7. Voices from antiquity: Homer, Iliad II; Herodotus, Histories VIII, 144
  8. Voices from the Byzantine millennium: ‘Romans’ and ‘Hellenes’ 
  9. After the Crusades: Greek voices from the Peloponnese, Cyprus, Crete 
  10. Discussion and conclusions 

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Doumanis, Nicholas, A history of Greece, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, and review by Roderick Beaton, European History Quarterly 42 (2012), 342-343 (online)
  • Smith, Anthony D., Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, Cambridge: Polity, 2001
  • Zacharia, Katerina (ed.), Hellenisms: culture, identity, and ethnicity from antiquity to modernity, Farnham: Ashgate, 2008
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