Smith, one of the founders of the interdisciplinary field of nationalism studies, states that “nationalism creates national identity” (Smith 71) and he provides the definition of the term ‘nationalism’: “Nationalism is an ideology, a sentiment, a form of culture, or a social movement that focuses on the nation” (Smith 72). This definition is widely accepted by specialists claimed by Smith himself when quoting from the text by Gellner. “Nationalism as a sentiment, or as a movement, can best be defined in terms of this principle...” (Gellner 1). The beginnings of nationalism are closely related to the formation of a modern state from the 18th century also mentioned by Smith: “As an ideology and a language nationalism is relatively modern, emerging into political arena over a period in the late eighteenth century” (Smith 71). Since that time, nationalism and self-determination have become political and social phenomena, especially in the British Isles.
Gellner begins his text by defining nationalism and provides relatively clear definition: “primarily a principle that holds that the political and national unit should be congruent” (1) and he elaborates on all other concepts, from culture to industrialisation and from equality/egalitarianism to modernity which are much more complex. Gellner also explores reasons that cause a strong response in terms of nationalism. of his examples are that ‘the political boundary of a given state can include all members but also some foreigners’ and ‘a nation that may live, unmixed with foreigners, in a multiplicity of states, so that no single state can claim to be the national one’ (Gellner 1). Both of these examples could be applied to the United Kingdom but some problems inevitably arise. In the first case, it is a true that there are many foreigners (members of different ethnic communities) within the United Kingdom and it is also true that the members of the four nations (England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) can be perceived as foreigners in the different country than theirs in the United Kingdom. Both arguments could be, however, disproved because there is no legal way to brand a citizen of the United Kingdom as a foreigner. In the second case, the United Kingdom could be viewed as multiplicity of states but each of them can still have its own nationality based on their own and also shared historical experience.
Although there are many concepts of nationalism, all of them have in common a central idea of ‘autonomy’ and ‘identity’, which is supported and completed by Smith: “Nationalism,...,is an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining the autonomy, unity and identity of a nation” (74) and Smith himself adds that he derived this opinion on the basis of ‘philosophical, historical and anthropological discourses’ (74). Therefore, nationalism is closely connected to the identity of a nation. Furthermore, nationalism does not disappear but remains a political force within the nation, and inspires political parties and movements; these further develop their nationalist concepts according to their need to secure power.
Historical buildings could have an enormous significance in connection with nationalist feelings and shared emotions, contributing to a sense of nation. They provide unquestionable continuity and stability and serve therefore both as symbols and preservations of the institutional character of the nation. However, when contemplating on significance of historical buildings, one can, of course, suppress some negative national events associated with them in the past. On the other hand, the nation can use these to commemorate the nation’s fame, the fact that nation was saved and became even greater. For instance, the Gunpowder plot is connected to both religious and governmental crisis. The event gave rise to widely acknowledged national celebrations, lasting over four hundred years.
2. English famous historical buildings
2.1 Architecture and nation
Almost every settled society, that possesses the techniques for building, produces architecture. Roots of the English architecture date back to a few thousand years before Christ. The English architecture has been developing together with the English themselves during centuries. Every English building was designed, built and used by people. Therefore, the architecture is closely connected to the English nation and, as a matter of fact, it is an integral part of national culture. British historian Allsopp writes about the connection of architecture and people in his English Architecture. The author, among others, provides the following definition: “It is an art which, like all the other arts, employs a medium – in this case building – and gives it qualities which it does not have out of its own nature”(Allsopp 7).
Buildings are viewed as cultural and political symbols and that is the reason why concrete buildings can be perceived as symbols of a nation. All buildings are created to fulfil the specializations of an individual or a group (e.g. a nation), such as domestic, religious, governmental or educational buildings and according to this division this thesis will concentrate on main representations of these sections.
Of course, there is an uncountable amount of buildings in England but there are also real jewels of architecture and real symbols of national identity among them. The word “symbol” is often described as something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance and often means a visible sign of something invisible. Every single building in England has some value for an individual but there are also buildings that are valued by groups of people and even the whole nation.
2.2 Choice of buildings
In England and the whole of the United Kingdom many significant buildings of various types have their own histories and its connection to the people, regardless of ordinary or famous individuals, is obvious. Each individual member of a nation is part of the formation of a nation and the buildings, related to the people, are at the same time related to the whole nation. There are buildings which are so much valued and tied to a nation that could be characterized as symbols of national identity. Buildings are valued because of their histories, especially important historical events and important historical people connected to buildings (mostly famous inventors, writers, statesmen and so on...); or their position (usually near important centres of a society); or their purpose (religious buildings) or their architectural uniqueness; or their unique interiors and pieces of arts. These buildings are, by all means, situated in all parts of the world, in the United Kingdom and in its parts (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). To expose the best possible examples, this thesis will deal with famous religious and governmental buildings of England, because of the importance of a religion and royalty to the British people. These buildings, according to above mentioned values of buildings, are great representations of symbols of English and British national identities.
Most of the buildings explored in terms of symbols of the national identity are located in the capital of the United Kingdom and the largest city, London, which should be regarded an inseparable part of national identity. Famous British author, Dr. Samuel Johnson once said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” (Boswel 123) and that “by seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show” (Boswell 429). London certainly has a significant position in the United Kingdom; it is a centre of politics, government and culture at the same time and place of a unique mixture of architectural styles. London, among others, has fundamental representative function, as it is a home of many historical buildings and landmarks which point out both English and British history and tradition. In British Cultural Identities the authors describe London as ‘a collection of buildings, landmarks and monuments’ (Childs 63). But London fascinated people much more than as a collection of buildings as Boswell explains:
“If you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be
satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable
little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the
multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful
immensity of London consists” (Boswell 191).
London is considered to be great in all respects and is often described in superlatives, such as wonderful, beautiful and unique, although in the poem London by Johnson, London is depicted and treated badly as ‘the needy Villain’s gen’ral Home’ (Johnson 4). Johnson’s first major poem is a political satire, despite Johnson’s love for the city. London inspired many other famous writers, such as Shakespeare, Defoe, Wells, Orwell (Masters, Fallon, Maric 31). Contemporary writer and critic Peter Ackroyd in London: The Biography speaks about London as ‘an ugly city’ (Ackroyd 754) but even he cannot hide his fascination of London – he also describes it as ‘a living organism, with its own laws of growth and change’ (Ackroyd 399, 756). Moreover, London is animated by Ackroyd’s concern for the close relationship between the present and the past which proves London’s importance from the historical point of view. The historical importance leads to the importance of the individual historical buildings which are silent witnesses of historical events and blind observers of people living ages ago.