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Portraits of the Nation

Stamps, Coins and Banknotes in Belgium and Switzerland 1880-1945


Alexis Schwarzenbach

Portraits of the Nation offers a fascinating insight into the construction and development of national identity in two multilingual countries - Belgium and Switzerland. This book not only shows that multilingualism was no obstacle for the development of national identity - in both countries it was used as a positive means of collective identification - it also demonstrates that other means of identification were much more important. These were found on a national and supralinguistic level - in Belgium the Royal Family and in Switzerland the Alps - and on a local and sub-linguistic level - in Belgium mainly the provinces and in Switzerland the cantons. This study also shows that, contrary to what might be expected, Belgium was often more successful than Switzerland in constructing and adapting its national identity, especially in the inter-war years. Combining written and iconographic sources found in the archives of the national banks, mints and Post Offices in Berne and Brussels this book furthermore fills in an important historiographical gap using stamps, coins and banknotes as historical sources for the first time. Often neglected by historians, Alexis Schwarzenbach successfully argues that these sources have to be seen as important lieux de mémoire and that they are ideally suited for the study of the interrelated topics of memory and identity.
Contents: Production, Commissioning and Choice of Imagery - Iconographic themes, Belgium: Progress and Prosperity - Memories of the Great War - Astrid and the Royal Family - Switzerland: Linguistic, Cantonal and Confessional Diversity - Alpine Dwellers, Alpine Landscape - WW II Martial Imagery.