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Title: Nations  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Pan-Asianism, Lloyd Christ Wicke
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For other uses, see Nation (disambiguation).

Nation may refer to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, or history. However, it can also refer to people who share a common territory and government (for example the inhabitants of a sovereign state) irrespective of their ethnic make-up; that is, a nation state.[1][2] The word nation can more specifically refer to people of North American Indians.[3] Nation carries varying meanings, and the connotation of the term has changed over time.

An ethnic community, or ethnie, shares a common myth of origins and descent, a common history, elements of distinctive culture, a common territorial association, and sense of group solidarity. A nation is much more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its coherence, unity, and particular interests.[4]


The word nation came to English from the Old French word nacion, which in turn originates from the Latin word natio (nātĭō) literally meaning "that which has been born".[5]

As an example of how the word natio was employed in classical Latin, the following quote from Cicero's Philippics Against Mark Antony in 44 BC contrasts the external, inferior nationes ("races of people") with the Roman civitas ("community"):

"Omnes nationes servitutem ferre possunt: nostra civitas non potest."
("All races are able to bear enslavement, but our community cannot.")

Cicero, Orationes: Pro Milone, Pro Marcello, Pro Ligario, Pro rege Deiotaro, Philippicae I-XIV[6]

Unconventional uses

The term nation is a complex concept that has a variety of definitions. Factors such as time and location affect how people have to come to view the term. There are two widely accepted explanations of a nation, as stated above. To some nation refers to a shared cultural experience, such as the Nation of Islam; a religious organization that holds no physical borders yet shares a common bond because of shared beliefs. Inter-wound in those beliefs is also a recognition of a similar homeland: Africa. Some refer to one's nationality as their race or ethnicity; this often categorizes people of similar skin color into the same nation that others do not perceived to exist. Conversely, nation can be viewed as a legal state with internationally recognized borders. Neither definition is incorrect, that is why it is so complex. Each definition is valid and the definitions change over time. While the conventional definition is a people who share a common territory and government irrespective of their ethnic make-up, it is not the only explanation.

Medieval nationes

Main article: Nation (university)

A significant early use of the term nation, as natio, occurred at mediaeval universities[7] to describe the colleagues in a college or students, above all at the University of Paris, who were all born within a pays, spoke the same language and expected to be ruled by their own familiar law. In 1383 and 1384, while studying theology at Paris, Jean Gerson was elected twice as a procurator for the French natio. The University of Prague adopted the division of students into nationes: from its opening in 1349 the studium generale which consisted of Bohemian, Bavarian, Saxon and Silesian nations.

In a similar way, the nationes were segregated by the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, who maintained at Rhodes the hostels from which they took their name "where foreigners eat and have their places of meeting, each nation apart from the others, and a Knight has charge of each one of these hostels, and provides for the necessities of the inmates according to their religion", as the Spanish traveller Pedro Tafur noted in 1436.[8]

The African diaspora

The 18th century brought an alteration to the meaning and came to be more narrowly referred to as a group with a recognizable and sovereign government with physical borders. This new definition aligns more with the concept of a nation-state.[9] The nation began to emerge in the late 18th century as the leading form of government and social organization. The catalyst that brought about this change in meaning was the influence of the African diaspora and its people in other states, specifically in the United States. The national identity brought rights to vote, to hold office, and independence for a growing number of black territories held under colonial rule.[10]

This change occurred in the New World as Africans were brought as enslaved peoples. The white population of the new world considered these aliens to be in one category of nation that was based entirely on color and continent of origin. The identity of the enslaved at the time was then shaped by their skin color rather than what nation or tribe they truly originated from. Prior to the 18th and 19th century, the term mainly referred to a group of people unified by language, region and cultural background; what is now consider to be one’s ethnicity. It was through the process of emancipation and the end of the slave trade that the concept of nation began to shift. As the previously enslaved began to fight for rights they had to discover what kind of rights they were searching for. It was in this process of emancipation that nationality began to take on a different meaning. Language and cultural background were no longer the only requirements of nation. Instead, now the idea of an established government and physical boundaries also shaped what it meant to be a nation.[11]

However, within the diaspora, particularly among groups that have been politicized, the term nation has been used to describe a more abstract national experience, one that transcends physical borders and language differences. This description of nation is pinned to the shared experience of being radicalized and termed as Black. Through the expansion of Black Nationalism demonstrates that although some expanded the view that nation requires definable boundaries, those who shared the experience of the diaspora also found a nationality among themselves.

See also


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