Print Proposal – A Regional Analysis of US Nationalism

Nationalism is ever-present in the world today, with nation-states functioning as the basic building block of the international political system at least since the end of World War II, perhaps centuries earlier depending on who you’re talking to. While most of the time nationalism is largely talked about in terms of conservative politics, in reality it’s a universal political tool for people and parties all around the world.

Nationalism is based on the idea that there is one unifying identity that makes people in and from the United States fundamentally American. When investigated, however, it’s quite clear that what is considered “American identity” shifts depending on who is asked and when. While nationalist rhetoric is centered around the idea of stability and sameness, it’s highly adaptable and hard to concretely define. For this project, textual analysis will be used to pull out the broad strokes of what is considered a staple of American identity in different regions in the United States. National identities are constructed through (among other things) a construction of history that makes those identities seem timeless or inevitable, but different regions in the United States have vastly different histories and ways they teach and display those histories. I suspect this means that nationalist rhetoric found in the Northwest versus the Southeast versus the Northeast and so on all focus on different elements of regional histories and identities. By analyzing the language from political leaders and organizations separated by region, it will be easier to see both common aspects of American national identity, and any differences in emphasis between people in different regions.

There are several ways to break up the United States into regions based on several different factors. In a quick search, there are maps that have anywhere from four to nine regions in the United States when limited to splits along state lines, maps that ignore formal state lines can have regions well into the double digits. For the purpose of this project, I’m going to use five regions that will be separated from each other along state lines, which will ensure there’s some specificity and to keep central to the project the importance of borders in the construction of national identity. The texts that will be analyzed will be speeches and published writing from politicians and political organizations in each region, as those are the people and groups with the most direct involvement in crafting national identity and using it for their political goals. It also bears repeating that nationalism is not only used in conservative politics, but all mainstream political parties in a nation-state system, so the selected texts will come from politicians and organizations of all political orientations.

National identity is generally accepted as at least somewhat fundamentally true or important, in personal and psychological terms of identity and community formation for individuals, but also in more seemingly innocuous government functions. Whether you can travel to certain places, get certain benefits, participate in elections, and more are all regulated by the national identity attributed to each person at birth. While national identity is ubiquitous in the world today, it is not neutral or natural. It is constructed and utilized by power structures and power holders for explicit political ends. By exploring what constitutes “American identity” in different regions of the country, it is possible to illustrate the fundamentally artificial nature of national identity and nationalism, and make the language, context, and goals of people and groups that utilize nationalism more clear and concrete. It’s easy to say identity is constructed and learned, but it is much more important to break down how that construction works and how those constructions are helpful and harmful in the way people navigate the world around them.

2 Replies to “Print Proposal – A Regional Analysis of US Nationalism”

  1. Hi Corinne,

    The idea to explore differences between nationalism and regionalism is really interesting! Overall, I think the concept for your study makes sense and sounds like it could be really useful.

    If you were to run with this as your project, I think the biggest thing to pin down at this point is what specific texts you would focus on and the specific kinds of analysis you would end up doing on those texts. That is, “speeches and published writing from politicians and political organizations in each region,” is a great general frame, but it also leaves open a lot of potential options for what texts you would pull together. So to zero in on this, you might think about focusing on a specific set of comparisons, like is it major party senate candidates in 5 states that are representative of your regions? Or do you instead focus on Governor’s races given that these are likely to be more oriented toward some statewide concerns?

    Another question I had with this is what time frames you are looking at. I could imagine a version of this study that is more or less completely contemporary, looking at texts from the last few years, but I could also imagine a version of this that runs back further in time. If you do add that temporal part, you probably need to think about how to even more tightly scope your comparisons so that you aren’t completely overwhelmed with potential sources.

    When it comes to analysis of the texts, my next question is what kinds of terms or phrases would you be looking for that indicate differences relating to nationalism vs regionalism. It seems like there could be some interesting nuances there, like when are constituents being referred to as “Americans” vs “Georgians” or “Texans.” Or similarly, what kinds of “us” and “them” rhetorical comparisons are drawn between different kinds of people. Those are just a few initial thoughts there, but I do think if you were to get into this more that a big part of what you would need to figure out is what specifically are you looking for in these texts to draw out answers to your questions. In any event, excited to see this idea coming together!

  2. Corinne!

    I love this project idea both because it is an extremely interesting topic and a very important one. Nationalism is one of my areas of interest as well, but I have not done much deep-diving into the regional aspects of American nationalism. I’ve known superficially that speeches politicians give in Ohio are different from the ones they give in Georgia, which are in turn different from the ones given in Oregon. I am not sure what time frame that you are thinking of focusing one exactly, but one angle of this topic that fascinates me is how people transitioned from identifying, really, solely as “Virginians” or “Georgians” to identifying as “Americans” while still maintaining a lot of regional identity. How regional identities have shifted and blended with national identity over the years would also be a fascinating subject. This topic has so many branches and each one of them is just an interesting as the next one.

    I really like how you want to show, not just state, that nationalism and “national identity” are constructs and not natural occurrences–that these things are created, deliberately and with certain purposes in mind. I agree that it is important to unpack these constructed systems in order to reveal how and why these things are used by power structures and power holders as well as how this affects “regular” people. I think it can be hard for people to conceptualize how these are not neutral things, that American nationalism and the systems behind it have real-life consequences for all Americans as well as many, many non-Americans.

    If you do end up choosing to do this for your final project, I will be very excited to see where you go with it!!

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