Debt, Nationalism, and Identity, from 1800 to the Present
The entwined histories of state-building and finance have been an important part of historical investigations of nationalism for generations. We know a great deal about the methods that the nation-states of the modern era used to encourage their citizenry to bind their financial futures to that of the state.
Much of this story, however, is top-down: we know how elites engaged with statecraft, finance, and the national projects of the past but we know rather less about mass participation in these processes. In addition, scholars have done little to examine the phenomenon as it manifested itself in national and anti-imperial movements that lacked the apparatus – and the formal recognition – of states. From the early-nineteenth century through the decolonisation movements of the twentieth century, secessionist movements challenged precarious empires and marketed themselves directly to domestic and international publics using various financial instruments. In short, we want to know how insurgent groups leveraged debt – traditionally considered a tool of the national/imperial state – to pursue their own, destabilising ends.
We are three scholars who have written about debt and statecraft, and who are interested in mass investment (and speculation) in new and emerging states in the modern era. These processes open up questions about everyday nationalism, allegiance and loyalty, and political identity that scholars have skirted around but not fully analysed. We are also deeply interested in the importance of materiality and the agency of objects in shaping the parameters of the (politically) possible. These are important historical questions for our present moment: debt, financial innovation, and the political subjectivities that each generate are inherent to our world. As scholars working in the long shadow of the 2008 financial crash, we have seen how ideas about sovereignty, indebtedness, and geopolitical configurations have generated and undercut national, international, and transnational solidarities. Thinking about these processes in historical and comparative perspectives – and bringing to bear a variety of methodological approaches to the examination of the past – is timely, valuable, and beyond the work of any single scholar.