Masaryk University

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Monika Pospíšilová

English Historical Buildings as Symbols of

National Identity

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: PhDr. Lidia Kyzlinková, CSc., M.Litt.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Monika Pospíšilová


I would like to thank PhDr. Lidia Kyzlinková, CSc., M.Litt. for her kind supervision, enormous patience, valuable help and scholarly advice.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents 4

Introduction 5

1. National identity 7

1.1 Definitions of terms “nation” and “identity” 7

1.2 English national identity 8

1.3 Elements of national identity 11

1.3.1 Religion 12

1.3.2 Monarchy 14

1.4 Nationalism 15

2. English famous historical buildings 17

2.1 Architecture and nation 17

2.2 Choice of buildings 18

2.3 Religious Buildings 20

2.4 Governmental buildings and royal residences 26

2.5 National Heritage 33

Conclusion 35

Bibliography 38

List of Works Cited 38

List of Works Consulted 40

List of Reference Sources 40

Resume 41

Resumé 42


As title of this work signifies, this thesis will deal with themes of national identity, linking it with the importance of some English historical buildings. Historical buildings which preserved their functions and still operate have an essential significance for a nation and may be celebrated for many reasons, such as their historical and symbolic values. The thesis attempts to elaborate on the connection between the national identity and historical buildings; and the abstract sense of belonging to the nation and the concrete evidence, erected during the course of history. The main goal of this work is first to discuss some terms related to the concept of national identity and the concept itself, and to point out English famous buildings and their significance for the nation; and mainly, to support a statement that English historical buildings are symbols of English and also British national identity. The thesis is supported by opinions studied in works by many scholars, such as journalist Jeremy Paxman and theorist Anthony D. Smith, for national identity part; and for example sociologist Kenneth Thompson and historian David Watkin, for the part devoted to the historical buildings.

The work itself is divided into two main chapters which are further divided into individual subchapters. The first chapter deals with the theme of national identity and tries to describe various interpretations, opinions and approaches to definitions of the terms “nation” and “identity” and their importance; after that the term “national identity” and its concepts are explored. The following subchapter in this section elaborates on elements creating national identity and the last one provides a short survey into the topic of “nationalism”. In general, this chapter explains that the national identity of each nation is an extensive complex created by a large number of various elements and that historical buildings make a significant part among these elements.

The second chapter is concerned with the topic of famous historical buildings as a whole; it consists of five subchapters. First, the architecture and its connection to nation is discussed, second, a choice of buildings is explained on the basis of their significance; shortly the capital of London is examined as the unique metropolitan city, admired in different centuries for various reasons and loved by both the English and all the British. Furthermore, this chapter is concerned with the importance of religion and government, and also with the buildings and palaces which represent these institutions. It provides an outline of history the selected buildings experienced, related to themes of religion and royalty, in particular in the third and the fourth subchapters, which examine concrete buildings, their individual histories and their connection to famous historical events and historical figures. Finally, famous national institutions devoted to taking care of these and other valuable buildings are mentioned.

In the conclusion the most significant findings are presented and the importance of famous historical buildings as symbols of national identity is emphasized.

1. National identity

1.1 Definitions of terms “nation” and “identity”

There are dozens of concepts and definitions related to the topic of national identity, mainly because of a disputableness of the terms. The expressions “nation” and “identity” are certainly questionable, in particular, when tackled from different standpoints. The word “nation” can have many meanings ranging from the basic definition, “all the people in a country” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary) to the most widely known one, claiming it is “a country considered as a group of people with the same language, culture and history, who live in a particular area under one government” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). This definition is undoubtedly universal and easily applicable; moreover, it is generally accepted by the public. But concerning the United Kingdom it is not so easily applicable. While thinking of the “British nation” it is evident that the British use many languages (for instance, about 25% of the people in Wales still speak in their native Celtic tongue called Welsh, however, the official language is the so called “British English”, comprising different national, regional and urban variants). Logically, the different nations found in the British Isles, the Scottish, the Irish, the Welsh and the English, have also different cultures based on their own individual histories, although they also share some historical experience. The idea that the above definition is not so straightforwardly applicable is supported by Robbins, who claims that “nations may be defined by a supposed common ethnic origin, by use of a particular language, by a shared literary inheritance, by a reference to a well-defined geographical region – and so on – but few nations have all of these characteristics and some have none” (85). The simple definitions above should therefore be regarded as empirical inquiry and discussion would be necessary.

There are many other definitions based on various disciplines. For instance, famous historians, such as Von Ranke or Stubbs, look up on the term from a different perspective and deduce quite a different meaning: “nation is the appropriate unit for a historian to concentrate upon” (Constitutional History of England). Additionally, Kearney sees “nation” as “a term of rhetoric used to evoke feelings of unity in response to a particular situation” (4). These definitions stress the idea of ambiguity of the term “nation” similarly to political theorist and scholar Anderson’s opinion: “Nation, nationality, nationalism – all have proved notoriously difficult to define, let alone analyse” (3). Anderson’s text is one of the most important concepts in the political geography. He defines “nation” as ‘an imagined political community’ and ‘inherently limited and sovereign’ (Anderson 5). The rise of nationalism is in Anderson’s theory closely connected with the growth of printed books and with the technical development of print as a whole and today it could be presented only as a theory. For instance, an imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members.

Nations, nationalism and national identities should be treated as cultural phenomena. National identities could then be described both as personal and collective loyalties to the people’s nation, at the same time covering their families, regions, religions and so on. It is closely connected with the homeland and the membership. However, both historical and spiritual objects and monuments play a crucial role here as powerful symbols. As Smith puts it, through these symbols “members are reminded of their common heritage and cultural kinship and feel strengthened and exalted by their sense of common identity and belonging”(17).

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