Diffusion through multiple domains: The spread of romantic nationalism across Europe, 1770-1930

  With Professor Andreas Wimmer, Columbia University 

  Department of Sociology (42-43 Park End Street) or Online

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How do we explain the spread of transformative new ideas? We examine a particularly consequential case: the rise of cultural nationalism during Europe’s long 19th century, which prepared the intellectual ground for subsequent waves of nationalist political revolutions.

We study where this new cultural frame resonated as well as the pathways through which it diffused, using regression analysis with 2,300 cities as observational units and a large number of geo-coded data sources. Romantic nationalism resonated most in states ruled by dynasties of foreign origins, which contradicted nationalist ideals of self-rule. Other frame resonance mechanisms (such as cultural compatibility or empirical credibility) do not seem to have played a consistent role.

Regarding pathways, we show that romantic nationalism proliferated across linguistic, religious, and political boundaries and simultaneously through personal networks, cultural institutions, and within clusters of cities that had been connected since late antiquity. By contrast, diffusion did not percolate through more generic channels less specific to intellectual life (such as contemporary transportation networks).

The article makes three contributions. It advances the study of multiple and multiplex diffusion processes by going beyond the analysis of a single network, thus helping to overcome the widespread confirmation bias. It mobilises the concept of frame resonance for diffusion research to more systematically explore where new ideas fall on fertile grounds. It furthers our understanding of the global spread of nationalism by offering the first quantitative, data driven account of its early, cultural stage.  

This event will be followed by a drinks reception.