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Empire and Post-Empire




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 100/200-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


Nowadays the world is divided in nation-states and this is seen as completely logical. However, only slightly more than sixty years ago approximately half of the world population still lived in large multi-national or multi-ethnic empires, while the nation-state itself is not much older than two hundred years. The idea that every nation should have its own state is of quite recent origin, but the implementation of nationalist ideals went quite quickly. It first made headway in Western Europe and the Americas. During the nineteenth century it also began to affect the Ottoman Empire, where Greece and some of the Balkan states gained independence. After the First World War, the Austrian Empire disappeared and was succeeded by a whole number of new nation-states, while Ireland gained independence from Great-Britain. In the decades following the Second World War most African and Asian countries gained independence, thus dissolving the European colonial empires. The last empire to collapse in the early 1990s was the Soviet-Union.

There has been a lot of debate on the origins, causes and consequences of the rise nationalism. In this course, we will take the classical study of Ernest Gellner on the transition of large, stable agricultural empires into dynamic, industrialized nation-states (published in 1983) as a starting point. Gellner focuses mostly on Europe, but in the course we will also deal with similar processes in the rest of the world.

Course Objectives

  • Understanding of causes and consequences of the rise of nation-states in the period between the late 18th until the late 20th century

  • Insight into the impact of nationalism and the dissolution of empires

  • Understanding of key issues in the relevant literature, both from a more general perspective and about one more specific case

  • Develop a more distanced, comparative and critical approach to current issues involving state-formation and nation-building

  • Improve your abilities in finding, digesting and analyzing substantial amounts of information

  • Improve your presentation skills, both in oral and written form

Mode of Instruction

This course will be conducted as a seminar, meeting for two 2-hour sessions per week. During the first half of the course, in each session we will discuss a set of assigned readings, while beforehand students are required to provide some comments on these texts on blackboard. After the first 3 sessions the students (or pairs of students) will choose one empire and give a short presentation on the rise of nation-states in their particular area. Since these areas are selected from around the globe, the course will have a strong comparative component. During the second half of the course the students will give a more substantial individual presentation on a smaller topic, which will also be the focus of their research paper. Before they give their presentation, the students should also post a provisional draft of the introduction of their written paper on Blackboard, which will be commented upon by the other students. Both the presentation and the paper should be the result of an in-depth analysis of one, more specific topic. This could be for example an imperial reform project, a national movement, a nationalist leader or a specific event.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

In-class participation and web-postings for each session (± 200 words): 30%
Two presentations: 30%
Final research essay (3500 words), based on about 10 secondary studies: 40%


It is highly recommended to purchase:

  • Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca 1983; or later edition).

Further we will read chapters 6-16 from (available at library):

  • John Breuilly ed., The Oxford Handbook of Nationalism (Oxford 2013).

Possible extra readings will be made available via Blackboard.

Contact Information

dr. Eric Storm
Institute for History
Doelensteeg 16, room 2.02a

Weekly Overview

Week 1:
Session 1: Gellner’s theory on the rise of nationalism
Session 2: Gellner’s theory on the rise of nationalism
Week 2
Session 3: Gellner’s theory on the rise of nationalism
Session 4: the Americas and Europe 1770-1815
Week 3
Session 5: Central and Eastern Europe in the 19th century
Session 6: The Middle East and East Asia (China, Japan, Korea)
Week 4
Session 7: The rise of nationalism in India and South-East Asia
Session 8: The decolonization of Africa and secessionist nationalism in the Soviet-Union
Week 5-7
Sessions 9-14: Individual presentations by the students on the topic of their own research
Week 8: Reading week

Preparation for first session

Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca 1983; or other edition) chapters 1-4.

Those who have a limited knowledge of some parts or periods of world history between 1770-2000 could possibly do some extra readings in advance. In the course syllabus you can find some recommended handbooks (see week 1, session 1).