University of Sussex
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Encountering the French: a new approach to national identity in England in the Eighteenth Century

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:00 authored by Mark Anthony Williams
This thesis examines instances of sustained or regular encounter between British and French nationals in the second half of the eighteenth century and considers the evolution and form of a national identification which occurred for the English participants in the light of such contact. It is distinguished from previous historical studies of British nationality at this time in several respects. First, it is an approach derived from anthropological studies which have examined episodes of interaction between proximate national groups to consider the impact these have on the development of national awareness or identity. In choosing this approach the thesis, therefore, looks at encounters between people as opposed to between discursive frameworks, so often in the eighteenth century informed by stock and inaccurate stereotypes of the French to be found in British print culture and which constituted a form of 'virtual' encounter between the two nationalities. This study is distinguished in a further capacity in that it uses archival source material that was not produced with the intention of mass publication or readership, but which instead reflects personal or private opinion and identity with respect to the nation. That the French nation occupied an important and influential position in the development of national identities in Britain at this time is fully recognised. However, the principal argument is that notions of Anglo-French opposition and enmity frequently portrayed in the British press were inevitably modified by the experience of encounter between various respective national groups. As a result, the binary model of a developing British nationality in contrast and opposition to perceived French characteristics must likewise be re-assessed. Instead, this study demonstrates that the form of a national identification and its course of evolution, for those who engaged in regular encounter with the French, was fluid and differentiated for a variety of individuals and groups. Understood in terms of a process, this then has implications for the way in which nationality developed among those individuals and groups who had experienced no direct contact with the French.


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