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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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DE KLERK, Pieter. F.A. van Jaarsveld's The awakening of Afrikaner nationalism after fifty years. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.3, pp.338-356. ISSN 2224-7912.

F.A. van Jaarsveld is usually regarded as one of the most prominent South African historians of the twentieth century. In 1957 he published a monograph entitled Die ontwaking van die Afrikaanse nasionale bewussyn, 1868-1881 of which an English translation, The awakening of Afrikaner nationalism, appeared in 1961. For many years this book has been regarded by scholars of South African history as the major study on the origin of Afrikaner nationalism.Van Jaarsveld's contribution to historical writing has been discussed and evaluated by several scholars, but, although some of these academics refer to The awakening of Afrikaner nationalism as his most important contribution none of them provide an extensive discussion of this monograph. Since 1957 a number of scholars have been researching the topic of Afrikaner nationalism. This has led to new interpretations on its origin and early phase. The purpose of this article is to ascertain to what extent changing views of nationalism, and particularly of Afrikaner nationalism, have influenced the value of van Jaarsveld's book and whether it can still be regarded as the major study on this topic. Van Jaarsveld's use of the expression "awakening of nationalism" indicates that he was influenced by the views of nineteenth century German philosophers on the character of nations, but it is also apparent from his book that he was familiar with the studies of early twentieth century theorists of nationalism, such as Hans Kohn. Although elements of an Afrikaner nationalist interpretation of history appear in some of van Jaarsveld's writings, in The awakening of Afrikaner nationalism he describes and discusses nationalism, and also Afrikaner nationalism, from a critical perspective. He views nationalism as mainly a political phenomenon and argues that Afrikaner nationalism originated during the period 1868-1881 as a reaction to British imperialism in South Africa. However, Afrikaans historians such as J.J. Oberholzer and M.C.E. van Schoor maintain that the origin of Afrikaner nationalism dates back to the early nineteenth century. There are strong indications that their interpretations are influenced by an Afrikaner nationalist view of history. On the other hand there are a number of academics, inter alia Isabel Hofmeyr and Dan O'Meara, who argue that Afrikaner nationalism did not exist before the beginning of the twentieth century. Hermann Giliomee is of the opinion that the whole period 1870-1915 should be seen as the period of the origin and early development of Afrikaner nationalism, but that the years after 1900 were the crucial years in the formation of Afrikaner nationalism. It would appear that the scholars who regard the first decades of the twentieth century as the period when Afrikaner nationalism was formed are mainly influenced by theories that explain nationalism in the light of economic factors and the development of capitalism. Among these writers it is only Giliomee who has extensively studied the problem of the origin of Afrikaner nationalism. Although the theories of nationalism on which his study is based, especially the theories of Ernest Gellner and Tom Nairn, are still influential, they are not generally accepted. There is no consensus among theorists whether nationalism should be primarily regarded as an ideology, an idea or a political movement. Some of them emphasize the role of cultural and intellectual factors while others highlight the importance of political aspects. The work of John Breuilly, for instance, is regarded by recent writers on nationalism as an important contribution to the debate on the origin and nature of nationalism. Similar to van Jaarsveld Breuilly sees nationalism as a political phenomenon and emphasizes the role of political factors in the origin and development of nationalism. I would argue, therefore, that van Jaarsveld's book can not simply be dismissed as being outdated. On the contrary, it is one of but a few well researched studies on early Afrikaner nationalism and, regarded within the context of current scientific views of nationalism, it remains a valuable contribution to South African historical writing.

Keywords : Afrikaner nationalism; Afrikaners; nationalism; national consciousness; theories of nationalism; ideologies; ethnicity; imperialism; historiography; F.A. van Jaarsveld; H. Giliomee.

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