HIS 323 European Minorities

Minorities are everywhere, and have been everywhere throughout history. However, minorities became far more visible in society – and debates concerning minorities more prominent – in the modern era. But what, exactly, constitutes minority status? Should minorities be protected and allowed a certain level of autonomy within the modern state or should they be encouraged (or forced) to assimilate into the majority? With the modern era promoting democratic forms of governments, should the majority rule?

Following the French Revolution, the relationship between individuals (or groups) and the state were radically changed from being subjects of a monarch (who often had absolute power) to being citizens of an increasingly democratic state. This shift saw new political actors and ideologies that challenged the status quo. In the nineteenth century, large empires dominated the landscape, in many cases made up of numerous languages, religions, and ethnicities. Nationalist movements emerged and gained momentum throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, seeking greater autonomy within those empires and challenged the existing political structures, which led to the establishment of numerous small states in the wake of the First World War. Following the Great War, the trend was for the emergence of states based on national unity. While this change concerned more people involved in the politics of the state, others were excluded. No state was completely homogenous, and nationalist conflict continued, as minority groups sought increased protections or levels of autonomy. What determined this exclusion? Who determined who belonged to the majority?

In order to understand some of these dynamics, HIS 323 begins by focusing on nationalism theory. We explore what is meant by “nationalism” along with some of the different European variations of the “nation.” We consider definitions of nationalism, how states define their populations and conceptualize minority groups, and how minority populations fit in to or are excluded from state policies. We delve into how the theory and various definitions influence the identification and treatment of minorities in society, including trends to either assimilate, segregate, or even outright exclude those who were considered different throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The course takes a broad look at minorities and move beyond just ethnic and racial minorities. States define their populations in numerous ways, ranging from identifications based on language, religion, culture, ethnicity, or race. But those are not the only categories; populations are also divided by age, class, gender, sexuality, and/or disability to name a few. How a state defines the majority versus the minority population can give us tremendous insights into the internal structures of governing, the values of the state in question, and how groups and states define the “other.”

HIS 323: European Minorities is an upper-level history seminar at Gustavus Adolphus College, taught by Associate Professor Glenn Kranking in Fall Semester of odd years. Students are typically juniors or seniors majoring or minoring in history. The focus of the course is on weekly discussions of readings with an in-depth research project throughout the semester.

This site is a collection of the student research projects from HIS 323.

Gustavus Adolphus College History Department