As Americans, we are constantly encouraged to be patriotic. We’re told to support our troops and our government, and we plaster our cars with flags and stickers that praise our nation. This patriotism is simply a facet of nationalism, an ideology that developed in Europe in the eighteenth century. Many conditions of modern life aided in the development of nationalism. However, the emergence of print technology had, perhaps, the greatest effect. The reliance of modern societies on printed materials led to the development of nationalism in three ways: it helped to create and standardize national languages, it created in people a sense of time and history, and it led people to the realization that they were connected in certain ways to other people, including those whom they’d never known.
Nationalism is the idea that members of a nation share certain commonalities. Members of a nation believe that they are connected to other members of that nation, even those they never have or will know, by the things they share: a common language, a common complaint about their political system, a common existence in a period of time, etc.
The first effect that the establishment of a print culture had on the rise of nationalism was the development of standardized national languages. These languages, known to us today as English, French, Spanish, etc., led people to find one commonality among the other members of their nation: a shared form of communication. In his book, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson asserts that the heightened production of print materials brought on by capitalism helped to create these national languages (43). Prior to this modern language development, there were only two classifications of language: Latin and vernacular. Latin was used in religious texts and among the educated. Vernacular was the language of the common people of individual territories and was fragmented by various dialects. The emergence of a print culture created a standard among the dialects, thus allowing people from separate ends of a nation to communicate with each other.
The second effect that the establishment of a print culture had on the rise of nationalism was the creation in people a sense of time and history. Prior texts, such as the Bible, portrayed time as stagnant and history as nonexistent. The rise of nationalism followed the appearance of certain books that gave people a sense of chronology-the books were written in chronological order. Additionally, they gave people a sense of history by the use of flashbacks by characters, or by the appearance of an old book. Old books that had yellowing pages and dry-rotting covers were tell-tale signs of a book’s age. Therefore, people shared another commonality-their existence in a common period of time (26-27).
The third effect that the emergence of a print technology had on the rise of nationalism was the acknowledgement that members of a nation shared certain commonalities. In José Joaquín Fernandez de Lizardi’s novel, El Periquillo Sarniento, certain aspects of colonial Mexico are satirized. This novel connects all Mexicans of that time period by showing them that they share a common opinion on certain aspects of their culture. Therefore, people were connected to other members of a nation by their common beliefs and opinions (29-30).
Prior to the rise of nationalism, people viewed themselves more as individual entities than as members of a community. The emergence of a print culture led to the rise of nationalism because it allowed people to understand that things they cannot see still exist. Even though one may not know all of the citizens that belong to their nation, they know they exist, and they know that they share a common language, a common existence in a simultaneous time period, and certain common opinions and beliefs. Thus, nationalism was born.