Social Science Baha
Official

The State, Ethnic Diversity and the Development of National Identity: Comparisons between Nepal and the British Isles

26 July, 2004

John Whelpton
on
The State, Ethnic Diversity, and the Development of National Identity: Comparisons between Nepal and the British Isles

In comparison with Nepal’s enormous cultural and linguistic diversity, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is often seen as highly homogenous. However, even leaving aside the complexities of the Irish dimension, this image is belied by the persistence of separate English, Scottish, Welsh national identities within the island of Great Britain, whilst these separate components themselves evolved out of an earlier, much more complex mix of ethnic groups and political units. In particular, the extensive replacement of Celtic dialects by the speech of Germanic settlers from the 5th century AD onwards is similar in some ways to the less complete, displacement of Tibeto-Burman languages by Khas Kura/Nepali in the Himalaya. The talk will consider this basic parallel and the way in which the state in Britain and in Nepal sought to weld together originally distinct elements both by conquest and by drawing on common experience and cultural symbols. It will, in addition, discuss how more recent nationalist historiography in both countries has interpreted the historical record to serve contemporary political ends.

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John Whelpton has been teaching English in Hong Kong since 1987 and has continued writing on Nepalese history and politics. His major publications include Kings,Soldiers andPriests: Nepalese Politics and the Rise of Jang Bahadur Rana, 1830-1857 (1991), Nationalism and Ethnicity in Hindu Kingdom: the Politics of Culture in Contemporary Nepal (edited with David Gellner and Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka) (1997), People, Politics and Ideology: Democracy and Social Change in Nepal (with Martin Hoftun and William Raeper) (1999), and A History of Nepal, Cambridge University Press, due for publication in January 2005.