Table of Content | Introduction | Freedom | Faith and War | Where we come from... | Impint


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For some years now the concept of the »nation« is on everyone’s lips again. This no doubt has to do with the fact that since the fall of the »Iron Curtain« and the collapse of the post-war order people have increasingly addressed the question of what their own country actually represents within the often cited European context. The question of the constituent elements of the nation touches not only on politics and economy, but also, and above all, on history.

Nations are not natural, elemental structures; instead, they must be understood as the result of political confrontation, social change and cultural development. Nation, according to Ernest Renan, is »a large, joint community, borne by the feeling of the sacrifices that have been made and the sacrifices people are still willing to make. It presupposes a past, and in the present it must be able to be summed up as a tangible factor: the agreement, the clearly expressed desire, to continue living together.«

Hence, the verification of a common history is of capital importance to the feeling of national solidarity and collective identity. But this historical identity is composed of invented, dreamt-of, constructed tradition. In all nations links to the past were forged with the help of historical events, often enough embellished with legendary elements. Uprisings and revolutions, battles and wars, victories and defeats were utilised to substantiate a seemingly ageless longing for national independence, governmental sovereignty, and collective and individual freedom, a longing that played an integral role in determining national unity. Self-determination and the urge for freedom, wars, but Christianity, too, served to confirm national identity. Not least of all it was the search for origins, for the beginning and source of the nation, that occupied all nations, and the events that were seen as the outset of national existence clearly illustrate the unreality of the construct of the »nation«.

The exhibition compares the historical myths of sixteen European nations during the 19th century between the French Revolution and the First World War.

It concentrates above all on the visual arts, without, however, ignoring arts and crafts and folk art, or the schoolbooks and illustrated stories which were responsible in a special way for anchoring the historical pictures of the nation in its collective visual memory.

The 19th century gave birth to national consciousness, but not always to the nation-state. When we speak here of the Polish, Czech or Austrian nation, we can therefore only do partial justice to the state of nations in the 19th century. We have nevertheless decided to call them by the names they have come to be known as, all the more so since the national (self-) consciousness that arose and developed in the 19th century is reflected in these names.

We regret that Russia had to be left out of this exhibition since the lenders' fees would have exceeded our budgets. In this context we would refer our visitors to the Exhibition Catalogue.

For technical reasons the Internet is not capable of recognising a number of special characters. We apologise to readers of these pages for this circumstance.

In case we have not been able to trace all copyright holders, they have the possibility of adressing themselves to the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Unter den Linden 2, 10117 Berlin.


Table of Content | Introduction | Freedom | Faith and War | Where we come from... | Impint

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