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on 31 July 2003
The re-issue in paperback by a general publisher of an academic work originally from the CUP is a rare event. But even the original edition cast a sidelong eye at the general public, who might be willing to bear with academic minutiae for the sake of its astonishing revelations (to all but professional historians) on a subject they thought they knew about.
If you're going to write an academic work, footnotes and all, for the "educated layman", you'd better be a good writer, lively and stylish, as well as a good academic. From that point of view, the essays in this collection are very uneven, ranging from the occasionally tongue-in-cheek polish of Hugh Trevor-Roper (on the invention of the Highland Tradition in Scotland) to the convoluted and occasionally asyntactic sentences of Prys Morgan (on "the hunt for the Welsh past"). The one invites you on an enthralling voyage of discovery, the other requires you to wade through a viscous Sargasso Sea. Nonetheless, both journeys are well worth undertaking, as are the others in the collection.
But perhaps the most valuable aspect of the book is that it encourages us to reflect in general, quite aside from the specific examples studied, on the human need for a link to the past and evidence of superiority, if not now, then at least in a prior Golden Age. If human communities divide the world into "them" and "us", how do they define who "we" are? And what makes "us" special? On the lines of Voltaire's famous comment that "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." we are forced to the conclusion that if a national history and culture do not exist, it is necessary to invent them. (A process traced also by Y. Nevo and myself in our study of the early history of the Umayyad State). It appears that the need to define one's community as valid -- by reference to an historic past -- is most acute when that community is only just established or is in decline. The lessons of this book should be kept in mind when reading the history of any nation.
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on 12 March 2013
I read this book while studying a post-grad course in history and had been looking for it for a while. The book is well written in a style that is easy to understand with the reader needing no previous knowledge of the subject. The authors describe how the cultural traditions that we assume have developed organically throughout the ages have in fact been reinvented, or in most cases invented, during the 19th century usually by the middleclass intelligentsia. It focuses on the cultural revivals that took place in Ireland and Wales and the origins of Scottish cultural traditions and how it was fabricated. The credentials of the authors, as historical and political writers, are beyond reproach and in this book they give a fascinating insight into how notions of national identity and culture are developed and manipulated and remind us how ethereal and subjective ideas of cultural nationalism are and how they are social and psychological constructs. One need only look at the development of the Ulster-Scots tradition in recent time to see the invention of tradition in action. The book reminds us that cultural nationalisms develop in opposition to each other and are socially divisive and can lead to more than just the simple, innocent pursuit of quaint regional customs, traditions and the differences in cultural idiosyncrasies. The book arrived on time and in very good condition.
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on 2 February 2016
An extremely interesting book. I don't believe a word of it but a very good read!
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on 30 January 2015
Really enjoying this demolition of silly nationalist ideas. Are we so easily manipulated? Looks like we are! Meanwhile, we can blame English antiquaries for "Scottish" bagpipe "music".
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on 2 August 2011
This collection of essays, edited by Marxist professor Eric Hobsbawn, is dedicated to the 'modernist' theory of nationhood. It contains essays from across the political spectrum, dedicated to the idea that symbols of national identity are something fabricated (after the French and/or Industrial Revolutions) often using modern media of communication, including newspapers, state education systems and more recently TV and radio.

Hobsbawm's take is that the fabricators were the 'bourgeoisie' (capitalists) and the workers who 'have no country' were thus manipulated to create uniform 'national' markets and will soon be 'betrayed' further by global capitalism as markets widen. Informed views which are less committed to the 'modernist thesis' in general and Marxism in particular are the prolific AD Smith's Nationalism and Modernism and Tom Nairn's more populist Faces of Nationalism.

One of the essays, Hugh Trevor-Roper's essay on the Highlands, had a life of its own in the debate on Scottish devolution. The idea in its starkest form was that 'highland dress' - having been abolished in one version in 1746 following the second Jacobite rebellion - was 'in fact' not invented until the 1780s, perhaps on the inspiration of an English factory owner. Turnbull & Beveridge's response in Scotland After Enlightenment was that there were obviously several forms of dress at issue and that, although witty, the point was not really relevant to a practical civic project of democratic renewal.

A notable limitation is the predominance of historians: there's nothing from social psychology for example. All in all, I found the book worth reading, but one-sided and tendentious in its selection of contributors and facts.
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on 7 January 2014
This 1983 book by Marxist academic, Eric Hobsbawm attempts to assert that ''national identities are artificial, invented and by implication, imposed.'' Throughout the book, he advances the claim that 'the nation' (author's inverted comma), ''was a comparatively recent historical innovation.'' He gives this period as 1870 - 1914 and claims this is when national identities were created.

The claim that nations and national identities are elitist, bourgeois creations falls down as the author cannot accept that a nation forms itself out of autonomous settlements, leading to small kingdoms (the seven kingdoms period in English history) and from there to a unified, single national state. Bede shows his strong English identity in his 'History of the English Church and People', therefore our national consciousness has preceded the formation of a unified state and is based on a common heritage and shared ethnicity rather than state power as the author would have us believe.

This, I believe is why there is a concerted effort to denigrate the early English accounts of the Germanic settlement of this country. Academic fashions come and go. Dogmatic theory cannot suppress the harsh facts that history keeps throwing back to the surface.
Peter Mandler exposed these fashionable theories in 1996 - ''Over the last fifteen years, a substantial literature has welled up, practically from nowhere, purporting to anatomise 'Englishness'. 'Englishness', this literature suggests, is not a true estimate of national charachter, but rather a historical constuct that was developed towards the end of the nineteenth century by the 'dominant classes' in British society in order to tame or thrawt the tendencies of their day towards modernism, urbanism and democracy that might otherwise have overwhelmed elite culture.''
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on 15 July 2015
Classic text
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on 23 February 2011
The examples of the precesses of invention should be appraoched in a larger scope, certainly from yhe 17th century on. An interesting study should be the confrontation of Anglo-Saxon an Continetal interpretations of Masonnic traditions (from the 17th cy till today).
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