Forging the Swiss nation, 1760-1939 : popular memory, patriotic invention, and competing conceptions of nationhood
This dissertation examines the reproduction and transformation of Swiss national identity in the period from the late eighteenth century to the beginning of World War II. To this end, the major part of the thesis focuses on four relatively short time frames, all of which were characterised by heightened concern with questions of national identity; a) the period 1760-1798, which witnessed the rise of an early, elite-centred Swiss national movement, b) the civil war of 1847 and the subsequent founding of the modern Swiss nation-state in 1848, c) the late nineteenth century (1880-1900), when Swiss nationalism entered its mass phase, and d) the 1930s (1933-1939), when authoritarian volkish nationalism from Germany challenged Switzerland's poly-ethnic conception of nationhood. Two questions guide my analysis in the substantive part. First, to what extent can nationhood be invented or fabricated. And second, how are 'civic' and 'organic' conceptions of nationhood related to each other in this process of national reconstruction, and what causes shifts in the balance between the two. A final part (part III) addresses these question by way of comparison. The first comparative chapter contrasts Switzerland with Germany, arguing that there was more scope for inventing nationhood in the German than in the Swiss case during the last third of the nineteenth century. I attribute this difference to the fact that in Switzerland a popular ethno-symbolic memory posed cultural constraints on the activities of national ideologues, unlike in Germany, where pre-modern national myths and symbols never developed a constraining capacity. The second comparative chapter examines the role of landscape symbolism in the construction of national identity in Switzerland, the United States and Canada during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I attribute the prominence of geographical determinism in the national discourse of these three societies to the divergence between the nationalist ideal of ethno-cultural homogeneity and their polyethnic composition.