Comparison of State-Level Nationalism — Final Paper and Reflection

Nations are the default state of the global political system today, and everyone is expected to have some sort of national identity. Nationalism, however, didn’t emerge from nowhere, but is instead a political tool that is used to create and mobilize a community that wouldn’t necessarily identify with each other otherwise. This is normally done from a position at the top of a hierarchy, like the executive of the federal government, but what happens when state-level executives use the same rhetorical flair to assert a unique state identity?

To explore this idea, I did a comparative text analysis of State of the State addresses from California and Texas since 1980. To get a quick summary of my findings in that analysis, take a look at my poster below! If you wanna read more about what I found, what I want to do moving forward, and what the research and writing process was like, keep on scrolling!

I originally intended to do a regional analysis of the use of nationalist rhetoric—especially references to historical figures and moments as informative of national character—in the United States, but a combo of inaccessible State of the State transcripts from before the mid-2000s and the time limits that come with a very busy semester narrowed my focus down to just two states that I had put in the same region already: California and Texas from 1980 to 2023.

Turns out, it was awesome really helpful to make this shift! First off, putting thee documents together into a corpus for Voyant took waaaaaaay longer than I expected. Like, several days were dedicated to copying the speeches into a single document that didn’t have the superfluous language from either the web page (for CA) or the procedural text of legislative notes (TX). Once that was finally done, I put the collections of speeches into Voyant Tools individually and together, and used various tools on Voyant to find what terms were common and find passages that contained them for close reading. (Here’s the combined corpus, in case you want to mess with it on your own)

The terms that I chose to search for in the corpus were words that, honestly, I just kind of figured would be related to concepts of community, statehood, insular group identity, and competition with “outsiders.” I made sure these terms were also relatively common across the combined corpus, and included variants on the words, such as “nations” and “national” as variations of the word “nation.” You can see a table with the words I searched and the appearances of each term across the combined corpus below.

TermAppearances with variantsTermAppearances with variants
appearances of selected terms and their variants across the CA and TX State of the State addresses

There were several trend that stuck out both in the relative frequencies of specific terms and close readings of passages that contained the terms above. One specific point that stood out was the difference between the relative frequency of the terms “border” and “world” in the California versus Texas speeches. “Border” was used several times more in Texas addresses than in California, and the opposite was true of “world,” which was much more common in California than Texas.

This may point towards a trend that emerged in the close readings, which was that while CA and TX often framed themselves as leaders of the United States, but Texas was often in a much more oppositional framework, leading states towards the light by fighting the wayward federal government. California, on the other hand, was either framed in relative harmony with the country as a whole or as an essentially independent entity, referencing the state’s position in the world without mentioning the rest of the US.

If you want to mess around with looking up specific terms for their relative frequencies between the two sets of speeches, feel free to mess around with the chart below by searching terms you’re interested in in the bottom left corner! Poke around and see what you can do!

In terms of historical references, both states talked about specific historical figures—like Sam Houston in Texas—and events—like the Gold Rush in California—that are tied to their state history, adding some level of unique flair to the identities that those people and moments supposedly shaped for the states in the following centuries. However, even though the specific historical moments were unique to each state, the supposedly fundamental characteristics of their citizenry that those things helped shape are anything but. Governors across my period of study claimed that Californians and Texans were especially “creative,” “hard-working,” and “innovative” in a way that was tied to their fundamental California-ness or Texas-ness.

How can these different historical events all point to the same fundamental and “unique” character of each state? They don’t. These moments are essentialized to construct an imagined shared history meant to mobilize a population to specific political ends. There is nothing fundamentally Californian or Texan that someone is born with by virtue of being born or growing up there. To speak and act as if there is simply creates divisions and competition between people who are, at their core, more alike than they are different.

There’s more where those few notes of interest came from, so if you’re interested in seeing my other conclusions please read my paper attached at the end of this post! It’s kind of a lengthy one, but I’m really happy with the work I was able to do with Voyant! I was really intimidated and unsure how to use it at the start of this, but now even with the little of it that I’m more familiar with I feel more confident that I can dig deeper with this tool and expand on this project in the coming months!

For my immediate plans, I’m going to use this as a jumping off point for my Research Seminar over the summer, and expand my work both by expanding the timeline I’m working with back as far as I can to see trends over time, and to introduce topic modelling to the process! Since we first talked about it in class at the start of the semester I was hoping to do it at some point, and this seems like just the project to try it out with. Past GRS, I’m hoping to eventually follow through on my initial idea, and put Voyant text analysis, topic modelling, and good ol’ close reading to analyze these speeches from states in different regions of the US. Nationalism is a construct meant to inspire political mobilization and unity in opposition to an “other” based on some sort of historical precedent, there’s simply no way it’s uniform across every state in a single country that took literal centuries to reach the 50 states we’ve currently got.

Anyways, thanks for reading all this, and here’s my paper! Cheers!

4 Replies to “Comparison of State-Level Nationalism — Final Paper and Reflection”

  1. This is a great combination of the digital tools we discussed in class and academic writing. I especially appreciate the figures you incorporated into your paper and you provide great explanations and interpretations of them. Great work!

  2. Corinne!
    I love your project and I think that it really, tangibly shows how ridiculous a lot of these nationalistic speeches talking about how people from a certain state are the most special Americans or whatever actually is because we see how similarly two states that are seen as about as drastically different as its possible to be espouse their supposed “specialness.”

    I would love to see you continue to be able to add more states and more regions to your overall analysis because the results from that are just bound to be super fascinating. If Texas and California use so many of the same rhetorical and propagandist tricks then it feels safe to assume that those same tricks are being employed by political figures all across the country.

    I whole heartedly agree with you that this type of project is important because it is essential to reveal that nationalism is merely a facade, often used to divide people in a time when we need to be more united than ever.

    I definitely want to see what your project looks like if you do ultimately continue with it in GRS!!

  3. Hello Corinne,

    Great to hear you found some very useful information from this project that can be used in future projects as you continue to research. Nationalism is term that has both positive and negative connotations from the Great War to the Space Race. It is very interesting to see how this term has been used throughout time and regionally. I am glad you were interested in the term’s use in my home state of California! I also am glad to see you have ade use of the digital tool Voyant to assist in your research. Digital tools such as Voyant that create corpuses are invaluable to historians as they seek to make sense of huge amounts of information. I hope that you continue your research and build this project into bigger and broader scopes.


  4. Corinne, I love how you utilized the digital tools we learned in class to create this paper. I know that you originally wanted to do regional analysis, but I think comparing Texas and California is equally interesting. Especially since both states are known to be polar opposites of each other in regards to politics. Being from Texas, it is not surprising to see which terms showed up the most in governor’s speeches, but it is still neat to see to what extent certain terms are utilized. I think you could definitely use this as a launching point for another research paper investigating different regions. It would also be neat to point out how some archives only go back as far as the 1990s and ask why? Anyways, this was wonderfully written and very interesting topic!

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