Please join us on Friday, December 1, 4-6pm, in the Main Conference Room of the National Humanities Center for a discussion with Professor Maarten Van Ginderachter of the Department of History of Antwerp University, Belgium. We will be discussing a draft of the introduction and one chapter of his monograph in progess, Workers into Belgians and Flemings: Everyday Nationalism and Social-Democracy in Belle Époque Belgium.
Nineteenth-century Belgium was the paragon of European modernity. Densely populated and urbanized, covered by a network of busy railroads, canals and highways, it was the first industrialized country on the continent. Its liberal constitution and its freedoms of religion, press and association supported a thriving civil society in which conservatives interacted with progressives, Catholics with anti-clericals, and French-speakers with Flemish-speakers. In short, a framework to mass-produce citizens was in place. Historians have consequently argued that Belgium was one of the earliest European states to turn peasants and workers into Belgians, to adapt Eugen Weber’s famed phrase. But was it? What if scholars shifted their focus from the explicit purveyors of nationalism in government agencies and bourgeois associations to the audiences they targeted? A different picture would arise. This book sets out to uncover the experience of ordinary people in fin de siècle Belgium. Examining the grassroots supporters of the socialist Belgian Workers Party, it reveals the limits of nation-building from above and the potential of agency from below.
The paper is currently available in the password-protected Papers section of this website. Please contact one of the co-conveners for this month’s password.