Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The "Z" Effect: The History of 150 Years of Analytical Writing about Nationalism

Perry Biddiscombe.

The paper is based on a Kuhnian interpretation of the analytical writing on nationalism dating from the 1860s to present. Based on the assumption that succeeding generations of analysis have been largely conditioned by cultural developments and by dominant events, the "Z" effect refers to changes in the mood of the literature if such tendencies are graphed with the vertical axis representing the passage of time from the 1860s to present and the horizontal axis representing the shift from favourable to negative interpretations. The largely favourable literature of the mid-to-late 19th century, influenced by the dominant liberal and positivist ethos of the age, shifted during the interwar period to a negative assessment, as suggested by the role of nationalism in the world wars and by the ultimate failure of the Paris Peace Settlement. In the years after World War Two, there was a shift back to a more favourable view, given the predominance of modernization theories and anti-colonial sympathies, while recent decades have yielded a more critical assessment based on the inadequacy of nationalism as a defence against globalization and the appearance of violent "tribalistic" nationalisms in the ruins of Yugoslavia and the USSR. The article questions whether or not true advances are being made in an understanding of nationalism, or if succeeding waves of analysis simply reflect changing cultural criteria.


Perry Biddiscombe  (Canada)
Associate Professor
University of Victoria

Historian of Modern Europe; specializes in political, military and social history. Author of _Werwolf!_ (1998) and _The Last Nazis_ (2000).

  • Nationalism

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)