Edited By Bo Strath
During the closing decades of the twentieth century Europe emerged as one of the main points of reference in both the cultural and the political constructs of the global community. An obsession with the concept of European identity is readily discernible. This process of identity construction provokes critical questions which the book aims to address. At the same time the book explores the opportunities offered by the concept of Europe to see how it may be used in the construction of the future. The approach is one of both deconstruction and reconstruction.
The issue of Europe is closely related in the book to more general issues concerning the cultural construction of community. The book should therefore be seen as the companion of Myth and Memory in the Construction of Community, which is also published by PIE-Peter Lang in the series Multiple Europes.
The book appears within the framework of a research project on the cultural construction of community in modernisation processes in comparison. This project is a joint enterprise of the European University Institute in Florence and the Humboldt University in Berlin sponsored by the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Fund.
Chapter 4: Foundation Myths and Collective Identities in Early Modern Europe 113
113 CHAPTER 4 Foundation Myths and Collective Identities in Early Modern Europe Peter BURKE The aim of this chapter is to discuss the use of the past in the formation of collective identities, taking its illustrations from Europe in the early modern period, from the Renaissance to the Enlighten- ment. In other words, this chapter looks at collective identities before the age of nationalism. In this period there existed a large family of stories about the origins of social groups and institutions, stories which, like a range of material objects (the regalia of monarchs, ancestral tombs, the Roman ruins surviving in certain cities, and so on), served to support collective identities, although they are now regarded by historians – in Eric Hobsbawm’s famous phrase – as invented traditions1. In this period as in the Middle Ages, the importance of “legitimation by descent” is clearly shown by these stories or myths. “Myth” is, of course, a slippery, ambiguous term. In the following pages I shall use this term to refer to a special kind of story about the past, one which symbolises the values of a group and legitimates their position or claims. The question of the possible truth or falsehood of these stories will be left in suspense, except in cases when it is raised within the period under discussion. Let us consider, in the first place, family identities. Ruling dynasties like the Habsburgs and Tudors encouraged the production of accounts of the past that emphasised the antiquity and the glorious deeds...
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