Conference 2015

'Nationalisms'

The Cambridge History Forum conference took place at Selwyn College on Saturday 7th March. The conference addressed the topic of 'Nationalisms' and the three lectures looked at 'Seventeenth century Nationalisms in the British Isles - and Twenty-First century resonances?', 'Religion and Nationalism in Modern European History' and 'Nationalisms in the Soviet Union and its successor states in comparative context'. The lectures were then followed by a forum discussion with all three speakers taking part.

The first lecture was given by Dr. Clare Jackson of Trinity Hall on Seventeenth century Nationalisms in the British Isles and looking at how we might see some of those ideas resonating in Britain today. Dr. Jackson started her lecture by looking at the unprecedented turn-out for the vote on the referendum for Scottish independence in September 2014, describing it as "a steroid injection for democracy". She looked at how the political 'make up' of Britain has been challenged in recent decades and how the single question of the referendum was controversial on both sides of the border. Dr. Jackson then went on to look at how the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707 had been controversial. She examined the roots of the Union from the 'Treaty of Perpetual Peace' which was signed in 1503, after the marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor through to the accession to the English throne of James VI of Scotland as James I of England in 1603. Under James there was no formal union, but there were clear links between the two countries and James pursued a 'union project' with a change in the coinage and in the mottos for the two countries. She went on to say that rhetoric had been key to James' project in the early Stuart period and the project also benefited from the fact that there had been a long period of domestic peace. After the execution of Charles I in 1649 which, as Dr. Jackson pointed out, saw Charles executed by one kingdom, but three kingdoms lost their monarch; Oliver Cromwell brought the union closer. With the Restoration in 1660, other tensions, particularly economic ones came to the fore and later, in 1688, Parliament considered whether union should be a condition of the Glorious Revolution settlement. It was under the reign of Queen Anne that the formal union between the two countries was finally achieved. Dr. Jackson concluded that whilst there were no direct links between the settlement of 1707 and the issues that exist today; in both cases pragmatism was and is key and the question is about the interests of those involved being threatened.

Professor John Pollard of Anglia Ruskin University and Trinity Hall gave the second lecture on Religion and Nationalism in Modern European History. He started by noting how important nationalism was as a factor in both nineteenth and twentieth century politics and how religion was also a key factor. This was particularly the case with the Roman Catholic Church being a trans-national organisation which caused problems as the Vatican was opposed to various nationalist movements. During the First World War, Pope Benedict XV condemned the war and attempted to bring peace. However, Professor Pollard said how the Vatican benefitted from the conflict and the subsequent peace settlements, which saw several states seeking diplomatic recognition from the Vatican in order to legitimise their newly independent status. By the time of the Second World War fascist regimes like the Nazi regime attempted to create their own 'religion' in opposition to the mainstream churches. Professor Pollard then pointed out the ultimate irony that in the Soviet Union Stalin performed a reversal in policy after the German invasion in June 1941, when he rehabilitated the Russian Orthodox Church in a patriotic revival against Germany. In the final part of his lecture, Professor Pollard looked at religion as an underlying factor in various campaigns and how it can been seen as a factor in the mass slaughter of ethnic groups and he also noted how many nationalist groups are using Christian imagery in their campaigns. He concluded by saying that despite decades of secularisation and a loss of Christian values, many nationalists are now appealing to the history and traditions of Christianity to further their cause.

Professor Archie Brown, Emeritus Professor of Politics at St Anthony's College, Oxford, gave the final lecture on Nationalisms in the Soviet Union and its successor states in comparative context. He began by examining the fact that neither the term USSR or the term Soviet Union had any acknowledgement of nationality in them, which illustrated how it was intended to be supra-national: an overriding nation state. He went on to say that the level of acceptance of the Soviet state from within varied from nation to nation. Whilst the Communist party remained hierarchical with authority over the republics little was likely to change. Following the Second World War there was a collective pride in Soviet achievements: the defeat of Nazi Germany, the first man in space and various sporting successes, all of which helped to enhance the idea of the Soviet Union. However, the advent of Gorbachev in the 1980s, who felt that republics should be able to choose their own political and economic systems and his policy of perestroika, brought grievances to the surface. It was then Yeltsin in 1991 that demanded Russian independence from the Union which dealt the 'death blow' to the USSR, demonstrating that ethnicity and other factors had superseded Soviet state nationalism and citizenship. After the collapse of the USSR some of the powers of the republics were greater than others within the region. Professor Brown concluded by observing that in a multi-national state, where different cultures and nationalisms live in the same place over a long period, groups can break off and reform fairly easily and that constitutional arguments are never truly settled if they are based on partisan principles.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion with all three speakers answering questions and drawing comparisons between the nationalisms of the past and those of the current day.

The conference was, once again, very successful with a considerable number of students from a range of schools attending. A buffet lunch followed, during which discussion about the lectures carried on.