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The Rise of Banal Nationalism


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Michael Billig’s Banal Nationalism (1995) has already become a classic in nationalism studies, particularly because of its focus on how national identification functions in everyday life and in periods and situations when nationalism has cooled off and is no longer ‘hot’. Billig convincingly showed how people routinely divide the world into nation-states and identify with their own.

When we speak about ‘the government’, ‘the economy’ or ‘the countryside’, we generally understand that we refer to the government, economy or countryside of our own country. The identification with ‘our’ soldiers, sportsmen and singers is taken for granted as a natural phenomenon as is the division between foreign and domestic news. In the forecast, even the weather seems to abide by national frontiers.

In fact, the nation-state has become internalised as the ‘natural’ unit which we use to divide the world. These views have been elaborated upon and broadened substantially by other authors who not only deals with ‘unreflective linguistic practice in media, politics and academia’, which is the focus of Billig, but also with the quotidian reproduction of national identity in a multitude of spaces, objects and practices, such as a Britsh pub, a Japanese car or during Brazilian carnival.

Nevertheless, it is not very clear when exactly nationalism became banal. Social scientists have produced a large number of studies on manifestations of banal nationalism which almost exclusively deal with the period after 1945. Historians, on the other hand, have focused mainly on nationalism in its hot manifestations, such as the rise of nationalism, nationalist indoctrination, commemorations, wars of national unification and ethnic cleansing.

In this course we will investigate the rise of banal forms of nationalism. This can be done by studying nationalist understandings in the press or parliamentary debates, but also by focusing on more commercial uses of nationalism, such as defining food (French wine, Chinese noodles, Italian pizza), products (made in Germany, Swiss watches, Italian fashion), experiences (eating tapas, speedskating) and places (e.g. national parks) with nationally defined geographical spaces.

To start the course students will have to hand in a take-home exam (questions can be found on the Brightspace site of the course, hand in during first class) on the following book: Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (Sage 1995), e-book available via University Library

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  10. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtrack as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: political practices, symbols and perceptions, nationalism, and national identities in a cultural and societal context from 1800;

  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation Politics, Culture and National Identities, 1789 to the Present: international comparison and transfer; the analysis of the specific perspectives of secondary studies; a cultural-historical approach of politics and a political-historical approach of culture.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Has acquired basic knowledge and understanding of the process of national identity construction;

  2. Has acquired a thorough understanding of the concept of banal nationalism and its applicability to historical cases;

  3. Has acquired in depth knowledge of one particular case study;

  4. (ResMA only): Has acquired the ability to use a more complex corpus of sources in comparison to regular MA students; and/or the ability to set up and carry out original research which raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or and points to new directions for future research. (Etc.)


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-8, 12-15 (ResMA also: 9 and 16)

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 13-14

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 15

  • Participation and web postings
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 8, 11-14


  • Written paper: 70%

  • Entry test: 10%

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Participation and web postings: 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised. 

Reading list

  • Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (Sage 1995), e-book available via University Library

  • additional articles and chapters (will be announced via Brightspace)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.