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Sample text

They also show, in some detail, the ways in which specific versions of history serve to underpin specific ways of imagining specific nations. Throughout the discussion it has either been implicit or else explicit that the importance of these ways of imagining lies in the way that they relate to the practical creation of particular forms of national being. Because of this link, we find multiple historical versions and multiple versions of identity being advanced, each of which relate to a different set of practical ambitions and interests.

However, in what sense can they protect themselves from the treatment they mete out to others? This point can be illustrated by reference to the treatment of Scottish history and the assault that is mounted upon the antiquity of Ossian’s poetry, of kilts and of clan tartans. While Hobsbawm suggests that the works attributed to the ancient bard were in fact a latter-day invention by James MacPherson, others have claimed that MacPherson simply transposed old Irish works to Scotland where the boundary between Irish and Scottish was itself ambiguous (James, 1996).

Rather, it can be argued that these disciplines emerged as the handmaiden of nationalism. Pearton, for instance, argues that ‘historians had, in the most literal sense, nationalized the culture. In doing so, they had fixed the way of defining the nation, determined its characteristics – what are the essential properties of being Ruritanian? – and provided criteria for citizenship’ (1996: 7–8). Hobsbawm encapsulates the relationship in terms of a powerful image: ‘historians are to nationalism what poppy-growers in Pakistan are to heroin addicts; we supply the essential raw material for the market’ (1992: 3).

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