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The Roots of Nationalism

Rank the influence of historical, political, economic, social and geographic factors in the development of nationalism in a specific case study.

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

Students examine the development of nationalism by ranking the factors that contribute to nationalist sentiment within various historical and contemporary disputes.

Introduce the roots of nationalism
As an introduction to the roots of national sentiment, present students with a political speech, e.g., by a Québécois nationalist leader, or a movie clip/trailer expressing national sentiments; e.g., Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion or The Patriot, a Hollywood film depicting the American Revolution. As students listen to the speech or view the film, instruct them to record key statements or quotations, e.g., "Give me liberty or give me death," that express a feeling of nationalism and to indicate the factors, e.g., desire for political freedom, that seem to contribute to the nationalist sentiment. Following the presentation, arrange for students to share their quotes and explain the factors contributing to nationalist sentiments revealed by the quote. Invite students to identify one or more of the following factors which may have influenced each of the identified comments:

  • historical—attachment to longstanding conditions and practices
  • political—desire for power or autonomy
  • social—concern for group values, customs and traditions
  • economic—concern for standard of living or monetary gain
  • geographic—affiliation with particular territory.

To meet diverse learning needs, consider targeting particular segments of the speech or movie clip/trailers and provide focus questions and/or exemplars.

Identify multiple perspectives
Suggest to students that nationalist sentiments vary depending on the perspectives of various groups involved in a particular situation or state. For instance, students' identities and allegiances will likely differ even though they all live in Canada. Ask students to consider different perspectives of various groups involved in the movie or speech they have just examined. For example, when examining Québécois nationalism, one group's perspective may be that Québéc should be part of a federalist state (Canada). Suggest to students that this could be identified as a federalist perspective. Another group may have the perspective that Québéc should separate from Canada or have a separatist perspective. Ask students to consider how the varying perspectives contributed to the conflict. Invite students to consider the factors that may have given rise to the differing national sentiments in each group; e.g., a federalist perspective may be rooted in historical factors, whereas the separatist perspective may be more heavily rooted in social and political concerns.

Identify national movements
Assign students to work in groups to examine selected nationalist movements. This research may be a continuation of the case studies examined in Effects of Nationalism (Critical Challenge). To meet diverse learning needs, you may want to have some students conduct independent research, while providing other students with background reading from a textbook, selected Web sites or prepared briefing sheets. Encourage students to consult more than one source. This background information should focus on the underlying historical, political, social, economic and geographic factors influencing the nationalist movement. Possible case studies include the following:

Possible case studies (20-1)

Possible case studies (20-2)

  • French Revolution and Napoleonic era
  • Canadian nationalism
  • Québécois nationalism
  • American nationalism
  • First Nations and Métis nationalism
  • Inuit perspectives

  • French Revolution
  • Canadian nationalism
  • Québécois nationalism
  • First Nations and Métis nationalism
  • Inuit perspectives


Other contemporary case studies might include the following:

  • Tamils in Sri Lanka,
  • Tibetan independence,
  • Northern Ireland independence.

Explore underlying factors
Explain to students that their main task is to determine the factors in the development of nationalist sentiment in their case study. Encourage students to identify the underlying factors and offer evidence to support these conclusions. Remind students to examine the factors from the varying perspectives of groups involved in the dispute.

To structure and assess this activity, you may want to adapt one of the charts and rubric in Supporting Conclusions (Support Material).

Rank the underlying factors
Ask students to rank the factors—historical, political, economic, social and geographic—in order of their importance in shaping the nationalist sentiments in the dispute. Encourage students to consider the following criteria when ranking the various factors:

  • intensity of the sentiment (Was it a minor or major motivation?)
  • breadth of the sentiment (Were many or few people motivated by the factor?).

To structure and assess this activity, you may want to adapt the strategies and rubrics found in Rating Options (Support Material).

Share results
Ask each group to present its conclusions and supporting evidence to the class. Record the ranking of factors for each case study. Invite the class to draw collective conclusions about the two or three most significant factors in the rise of nationalist sentiments.

Last updated: May 30, 2008 | (Revision History)
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