Fewpal
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How was the history of nationalism in Britain unlike the rest of Europe?

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The history of nationalism in Britain was unlike that in the rest of Europe in the sense that it was forced down upon the masses. There was no concept of a British nation prior to the eighteenth century. The region was in fact inhabited by different ethnic groups (English, Welsh, Scot, Irish). Each group had its own cultural and political tradition. However, as the English state grew in terms of wealth, importance and power, it was able to extend its influence over the other states of the islands. The English parliament, which had seized power from the monarchy, played a crucial role in doing away with the ethnic distinctions and uniting the different groups into a British nation-state, with England at its centre. The ethnic nationalities were, directly or indirectly, forced to join the English state to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The symbols of new Britain—the British flag, the national anthem and the English language were widely popularised, while the distinctive identities of the other joining states were systematically suppressed. English culture dominated the British nation, while the other states became mere subsidiaries in the Union. Thus, nationalism in Britain did not come about as a result of the people’s desire to unite or countrywide movements for the same, but from the decisions of the people in power.

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The history of nationalism in Britain unlike the rest of Europe because:

  • In Britain the formation of the nation-state was not the result of a sudden upheaval or revolution.
  • The primary identities of the people who inhabited the British Isles were ethnic ones - such as English, Welsh, Scot or Irish.
  • The Act of Union (1707) between England and Scotland resulted in the formation of the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain' meant that England was able to impose its influence on Scotland. Scotland's distinctive culture and political institutions were systematically suppressed.
  • The Scottish Highlanders were forbidden to speak their Gaelic language or wear their national dress and large numbers were forcibly driven out of their homeland.
  • The English helped the Protestants of Ireland to establish their dominance over a largely Catholic country. Catholic revolts against British dominance were suppressed. Ireland was forcibly incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801.
  • The symbols of the new Britain - the British flag, the national anthem, the English language were actively promoted and the older nations survived only as subordinate partners in this union.

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