Ask Dr. Westphalia
Which piece of Australia is this site about?
New South Wales.
Why should I care about the Peace of Westphalia?
You shouldn’t, apart from the fact that it is the single most important document in the history of mankind.
We have the following interesting question from Hossein:
I watched your explanation on Youtube and I liked the intensity with which you tried to study your subject of interest. I am looking for the origin of the idea of “nationality”. It is said that the Peace of Westphalia is the origin of such context, but to be honest, I guess back then even those who signed the treaty would have not been able to give an example sentence with the word “nation”. I am using this picture to emphasize the idea that the term “nation” probably didn’t exist in the language back then, that’s a pure guess, because I am not a historian and I don’t know. What do you think? How would you describe the idea of “nation”? Or would you rather say, it was something invented by the governing body and the peasant nor had any idea what it mean, neither care about it, because there was not much difference in being a nation or an empire. How do you think does it come, that nowadays the majority of the population asks “where do you come from” and almost always answers it with a nation state. or if it is asked on national level, the answer is still a political definition, for example a province, a city …
Historians have devoted a lot of effort to asserting that the idea of a “nation” the way we think of it is a relatively modern invention, some time in the 19th century, and I am sure there is considerable truth in the notion. However, the concept was certainly not foreign to the 17th century. People around Europe were stereotyped based on national characteristics: the Spanish were patient, the French impetuous, the Swedes morose, and the Dutch inveterate drinkers, for instance. (This is elaborated in chapter 5 of my book.)
But people also had a national identity in a positive sense as well. This was most clear to me in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, which was, politically, one of the furthest away from a modern nation-state. Repeatedly, however, I read in the sources laments for “our dear German Empire” and the suffering it had gone through during the war. If such a diverse polity as the Empire could host national feeling, it is not surprising that states such as France and Sweden, which were largely unified linguistically, would have similar sentiments. Cardinal Mazarin experienced this in a negative way as the leading member of the French government: as an Italian, many French resented his power in their kingdom as they had resented another Italian, Concini, earlier in the century. Concini was assassinated, which cannot have been encouraging for Mazarin.
One state that seemed less subject to nationalism was Spain. Although there was undoubtedly a sense of Spanish identity — as far back as the early 16th century, they had resented having a Dutchman appointed as viceregent — their empire encompassed Italians, French, and Flemings, among other nationalities, and Spain does not seem to have attempted to Hispanicize them in any meaningful way. I was surprised at how easily the Spanish agreed to conduct negotiations with both the United Provinces and France in the French language, until I realized that the affected territory of the Spanish Netherlands was largely French-speaking, and some members of the Spanish delegation spoke French as their first language.
I wouldn’t say that national in itself played much role in the Congress of Westphalia. Ambassadors did speak occasionally of things like national boundaries, but most of the arguments were either legal (whether a state had the right to annex a territory) or political (whether it was advantageous to allow a state to annex a territory). Nationalism was a subtext that didn’t become developed for another 150 years.
Do you have a question for Dr. Westphalia? Ask him by email at drwestphalia at peaceofwestphalia.org.
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