Ler História 41/2001

Dossier Bilingue / Bilingual dossier
Histórias Nacionais: entre o Passado e o Futuro
National Histories: between the Past and the Future


Elenco dos Colaboradores / List of Contributors

Carlos Maurício e Magda Pinheiro

Maurice Agulhon
Os Historiadores Franceses e a Ideia da França desde 1918
Les Historiens Français et l'idée de la France depuis 1918

Thomas Bender
Escrever a História Americana numa Era Global
Writing American History in a Global Age

Prasenjit Duara
Historiadores: entre o Passado e o Futuro das Nações
Historians between the Past and the Future of Nations

Gérard Noiriel
Repensar o Estado-Nação. Elementos para uma análise sócio-histórica
Repenser l'Etat-Nation. Eléments pour une analyse socio-historique

Gyan Prakash
A Vida Incerta da Nação Moderna na Ásia Meridional
The Incertain Life of the Modern Nation in South Asia

Pedro Ruiz Torres
O Ressurgir da História Nacional em Espanha
The Revival of National History in Spain

Christopher Saunders
História e Nação na África do Sul
History and the Nation: South African Aspects

Henk Van Dijk
A Caminho de uma História Europeia
Towards a European History


Maria Manuela Rocha
"Entre nós basta a palavra": as práticas informais de crédito na investigação histórica

João Lourenço Roque
O "Mundo do Trabalho" e o Associativismo em Coimbra no Século XIX (1850-1870)

Rafael Durán Muñoz
Multidimensionalidade do Estado: trabalhadores mobilizados na "Revolução dos cravos"

Materiais da Memória

Magda Pinheiro
Associações para a História dos Caminhos de Ferro, Fundações, Arquivos, Museus e História Ferroviária: uma coordenação europeia em perspectiva





Ler História 41 / 2001

Dossier Bilingue
National Histories: Between the Past and the Future

Carlos Maurício e Magda Pinheiro

Fifty years ago, in the western academic circles, the discipline of History and the Nation-State were conceived as the natural outcome of two tight processes. The rest of the world, we can expect, will progressively access this ultimate stage in both domains.

Nowadays we are aware of the nation-state and the modern historiography as social constructions, related to the modernizing process experienced in the West, but not necessary in all world, and both overlap one another. Neither the epistemological and institutional acquisitions of western historical discipline, in the last two centuries, can be separate from the rising and strengthening of the nation-state, nor the way this last legitimises itself can be understood without the help of the teaching of national history, now provided with a “scientific method”.

In the West, national history reached its apex during the period starting with the liberal revolutions in Europe and the independence wars in the Americas. It began its decline with the Second World War and worldwide de-colonization. Some core beliefs transverse this period. From this point forward, the collective body of the nation – and not the realm – becomes the real subject of history. Only with the formation of the nation-state, which provided the nation with the most legitimate form of government, did the nation come into its fullest proportions. And so history, by way then of the production of a meta-narrative, comes to legitimise this vision. At the same time, it also becomes a constitutive element of national identity and cohesion.

After World War II the national histories register a disparate evolution. While in Europe and North America they lose general importance, in Latin America they maintain it. It is in Asia and Africa, however, that national histories have a period of vibrant affirmation in the wake of the numerous cases of new independence.

In western political and academic circles, nationalism, with its essentialist conception of the nation, came to be seen as the propagator of hatred between peoples and the cause of recent catastrophes. The only exceptions were the views coming from peripheral nationalities and authoritarian national regimes. Given this climate, the new social history - with its emphasis on economic, demographic, social and cultural structures, and its campaign against political, military and diplomatic history - brought about an epistemological relativization of the national framework.
In the mean time, in the recently formed Asiatic and African states, anti-colonial nationalistic histories flourished. The new nations vindicated their own national pasts, justifying independence, while putting history to work reinforcing patriotic sentiments and aiding in the search for identity and a place in the world.

But as was the case in the West, in Asia and Africa as well, strongly nationalistic histories started to decrease in the 1970s. This decline must be perceived as the result of either the exhaustion of certain post-independence nationalistic models or the dissemination of a historiographical approach focused on social groups (classes, castes) and concerned with an history seen from below. This decline did not means, however, that the national community and the nation-state ceased to be self-evident units for study by historians the world over. It is the ideology of the nation-state – even when not conscious of this – which leads great number of them to value phenomena like the strengthening of the state and national unification. It also contributes to the positive evaluation of economic modernization and, very often, of the consolidation of citizenship.
In the last decades the nation-state has been subjected to many challenges and transformations. We need only to recall: 1) the development of the international organizations – such as, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the North Atlantic Treatise Organization - leading to significant changes in the decision making structure of world politics, 2) the reconfiguration of national sovereignties in trans-national projects like the European Union, 3) the restructuring of the capitalist system under globalisation, 4) the secessionist claims of ethnic, religious or peripheral groups the world over, and, 5) the de-identification of sub-cultures (based on ethnics, religion or gender) with official nationality.

Intimately associated with the destiny of the nation-state, we can expect national history to reflect these challenges and transformations as well. In addition, being the academic discipline most centred on the national community, its internationalisation confronts history with problems non-existent for the natural sciences and felt less in the other social sciences. Finally, since the historiographical occidental pattern has developed in intimate articulation with the nation-state, the scientific rationality, a secular worldview and an ideology of progress, this pattern begins to be perceived as an informal mode of legitimisation for the superiority of the West.

The present dossier is the first outcome of a research project which will lead to an international meeting, hold by the Centro de Estudos de História Contemporânea Portuguesa / ISCTE in the next future. Defined in its general terms the set of problems posed by this dossier, we sent invitations to 36 historians of the entire world (10 Africans, 7 Americans, 5 Asians, and 14 Europeans). More precisely: 29 male historians and 7 female historians. Not all of them answered our invitation, and from the 15 who have done it, not all could send in time a final text. The global society that the new technologies of information seemed to place to our reach it is so seized by the past as pressured by the present. We are not always predisposed to answer solicitations coming from the other side of the globe. On the other way, submitted to increasing pressures to produce, we often fail the commitments we took.

Despite the gap between the former project and the final result, the set of papers we now publish is really valuable. It shows, in its diversity, some shared beliefs of the modern historians. The concern not to be the transmission vehicles of a new “usable past” (in Christopher Saunders’ words) is explicit in some of the papers and inherent to almost all.

Nevertheless, their reflections relate to different problems according to the contexts in which they have been produced. That doesn’t exclude, naturally, the existence of similar phenomena in countries with quite different traditions. Several historians refer the nationalistic concern with the “ignorance” of national history, sometimes enhanced by the alarm towards the lack of knowledge of the national anthem. Henk van Dijk even considers that, being periodical this practice seems to have some ritual function.
Not excluding generation related factors, which will make an analysis of the existing historiography more relevant than the perspectives of the future, the national context reveals all its significance in the texts now published. National context continues stressing the diversity of the struggles for history. Naturally, the times of national history are different in Europe, America, Africa or Asia, but they begin to get closer by the shared crisis and by the multiple bridges built by the globalisation.

Maurice Agulhon leads us through the idea of France and its history in the last century. France as a person, France as a land of exception, France as a very old nation is leading lines of his paper. The 1914-18 War does not appear as a turning point as much important as it looked at the beginning. All the great historians before II World War considered positive the role of France and justified its influence in the World. Consensus used to spread from left to right and to the vulgarisation literature. Only the transformations after the II World War – decolonisation, American cultural hegemony, etc. – changed that perception. Nation began to be seen as an endangered masterpiece. Histories of France multiplied after the 50’s. In the 80’s, historiography historians begin the radical demystification of national history. History of France is now focused as a construction, an intellectual object that can be critically analysed. And national mythology emerges as study object. An exemple: Astérix comics. An invincible Astérix, untameable, that resists to the roman world. A nation that sees itself as anti-imperial when hasn’t no longer the means to be it. A mix of resistance to globalisation.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Thomas Bender acknowledges as premature the vision of a post-national world. His essay shows, however, that USA historiography has deepened, in the last decades, the study of several subcultures in the realm of the nation and, more recently, is seeking to widen the space-time context of the national past. The affirmation of a multicultural history, in the 80’s, alarmed the liberal nationalists that feared a “balkanisation” of American history and fed debates in scientific reviews. The reconstitution of an historic narrative able to connect times and contexts, determining their relative importance is, for Bender, the essential of the present historic struggle. History of the national environment, of the migration, of the borders, of labour and of the American cultural influence abroad emerged as new research fields. And increase the need of the USA historiography to break the previous isolation through a comparative perspective. The author ends with a question: Who will subsidise a cosmopolitan history?
Prasenjit Duara distinguishes three tendencies, or temporalities, in the world historiography of the last half-century. In Western countries, with an ancient academic tradition, there is a deconstruction of national history. In emancipated countries after II World War, there is a resistance to that deconstruction. These tendencies are, nowadays, under the growing impact of globalisation. The controversies around textbooks are an answer to the perception that multicultural appropriations occur at the expense of loyalties to the nation. However, the revival of nationalist reactions has another meaning. The globalisation of the capital tends to place South and North in a common temporality under its dominance. The most observable answer is an intense adherence to nationalistic myths. The volatility of these feelings is enormous, easily de-territorializing in broader feelings like Hindu nationalism or Great China. This new nationalism, says Duara, will go on requiring history as main means to produce identity. Aware of this inevitability, historians must deepen the critical comprehension of their job.

The contribution of Geral Noiriel is of a different kind. It is the proposal of an research program on the topic of the nation-state building itself, a research field that would gather all the social practices developed by the individuals while members of the same sovereign community. That investigation would focus on the material proceedings required to the creation of links among the citizens. The proceedings of nationalisation of societies should be faced in their different aspects, gathering interest, oppression and belonging feelings. Therefore, national groups would be produced by the state they produce themselves. National history would be part of this process through education, but the belonging to the state would not abolish other identity elements such as gender, profession, etc.

Gyan Prakash begins facing British India history at the light of the imperialist imposition of a national space inhabited by a “people”. However, nationalists also had to face India’s history as a statement of difference to colonial domination. Therefore, until the 70’s, identities based on castes, religion or language have been silenced in benefit of the national emancipation and in the name of its modernisation. The crisis of the modernising programs, destroying the compromises in which they rely on, go with the emergence of the Subaltern Studies, centred on gender, castes, language and culture. This generated a criticism to nationalism and national history that made historians able to have a larger critical distance towards realities taken for granted before in the West. For Prakash, globalisation brings a challenge to historiography but, outside Europe, writing a post-national history will not be a totally new attempt.

Pedro Ruiz Torres chose to focus his study in history teaching in Spain, Here, the critic of nationalist history, after having contributed to the fall of Franquism gave way to a multiplication of perspectives subject to permanent revisionism. Either the peripheral nationalist movements or the central State struggled for the control of a chronological history teaching, based on great figures and significant facts. They only changed the entities on focus. In contrast with this perspective, the author proposes a social micro-history that would help to promote an historical view in an era in which, quoting Ryszard Kapuscinski, it would be possible “to find the global world in each village”.

Racial segregation until 1994 in South Africa had, according to Christopher Saunders, evident consequences in history writing. Since the 20’s racial perspective has been criticised by liberal historians writing in English. However, these historians didn’t use the concept of nation and preferred that of common society. Since mid-60’s a tendency to an history seen from below raised in South-African historiography, valuing class problems instead of racial ones. ANC had shared this vision while a new black conscience was emerging with consequent projection of a black past. Contrarily to what happened in other African countries, in post-apartheid South Africa it didn’t emerge a new nationalist history. If the crisis of the profession took proportions that brought to closure the South African Historical Journal, the government, on the other hand, has underlined the need of history learning as the best way for the youngsters get appropriate values. Nevertheless, Christopher Saunders questions the value of an “usable history”.

In his approach to the historical production of the last century, Henk van Dijk names some predecessors, like Burckhardt or Huizinga that, in the specific domain of cultural history, went further than the national framework. However, even Huizinga valued the representation of Holland as a tolerant and humanist country. Hardly historians could avoid the role of priests, teachers and guides of the Nation. The crisis of this discipline, evident on the lack of its university influence, which went with the debates about nation, may be recovered, they say, through comparative perspective.

Progressive adoption of this perspective requires a serious methodological analysis. Under apparent uniformity, coming from the fact that much of the data and documents had been produced in a national perspective, many geographical and social dissymmetries are hidden.



Maria Manuela Rocha
"Between us, word is enough": the practices of informal credit in the historical research

This article underlines the importance of informal credit as an area justifying further research. In clarifying the notion of informal credit, it is suggested that the central feature in its definition has to do with the nature of the word given by the participants in this process, which represents a clear sign of the quality of the social relationships existing between them. Based on what has been written about informal credit and through an analysis of credit practices in Lisbon between 1770 and 1830, the essential characteristics of this type of credit are presented: the importance of interpersonal trust; the risks and fragility of this credit system; the nature of the social, economic and political links between creditors and debtors; the functions performed by informal credit.


João Lourenço Roque
The "Working World" and the associativism in Coimbra in the XX century (1850-1870)

The focus of the present paper is greater Coimbra, a city whose scholarly dimension had important repercussions on the economic, social and cultural landscape. This was a "dual" landscape, where the prominence of the "service" sector combined with the crafts to give rise to a plurality of social and professional activities. A picture is presented here in which two kinds of images emerge against a changing background: the working word, oscillating between the bourgeois and the proletarian (or even "marginal") condition; and "associativism". As to the latter, a special emphasis is given to mutual help societies, , which aimed at alleviating workers' lack of protection while pressing for new values behaviours and solidarities. The "associativism" alluded to refers both to men and women, as is the case of the pioneering Coimbra Association for the Female Sex.


Rafael Durán Muñoz
The State multidimensionality: workers mobilized in the "Revolution of the Carnations"

The State is a complex actor to be taken into account in analysing both social mobilizations and regime changes. Perceptions of the State's willingness and capacity to act matter on those regards. As this study states, the State's multidimensional character is a crucial factor determining the nature of collective action during transition processes. Portuguese workers' forms of demand and protest between April 25, 1974, and November 25, 1975, illustrate such an argument in this paper.