The academic study of nationalism may have taken off in the twentieth century, but nationalism itself, as an ideology and a social and political movement, has been very much in evidence since at least the end of the eighteenth century. Much ink has been spilled since then, first by philosophers and later by historians and the founding fathers of social sciences, trying to come to grips with it as it soon became clear that nationalism was not simply a temporary stage in the historical evolution of human societies. Interest in nationalism throughout much of this period was more ethical and political than analytical, but this was the ‘age of nationalism’, and no one involved in the intellectual or political debates of the time could remain indifferent to its emotional appeal. Political or not, however, these contemplations bequeathed important theoretical insights to succeeding generations, and it would be myopic to discuss contemporary theoretical debates on nationalism without taking this wider historical context into account.
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