Analysis & Application of Important Historical Concepts

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will lean about important historical concepts, including nationalism, culture, race, power structures, economics, and others. We will analyze these concepts and learn how these concepts can be applied to the study of history.

Core Historical Concepts

Congratulations, boys and girls! If you're looking for a highly academic and heavily theoretical lesson, you're at the right place! Sure, it might be much more fun to discuss George Washington or World War II, but when we study history sometimes we have to understand the core theories and concepts behind it. However, we'll try to break this down and make it easily understandable.

Basically we're going to be discussing the structures and concepts that cause history to ''flow''. We can think of these as core historical concepts. Culture, nationalism, race, political and economic structures all fall into this category. So, let's dig in!

Nationalism, the Nation-State, Race, and Culture

We'll begin with nationalism. Nationalism is extreme pride in one's nation, or the belief that one's nation is superior to others. Nationalism has played a profound role throughout history.

In the 1930s and 40s, nationalism was a key component of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. In fact the word ''Nazi'' is really a shortened form of National Socialism. Hitler and his Nazi followers believed the German people were superior to others and went to extreme lengths to promote German nationalism. Nationalism is kind of like patriotism, only more extreme.

The Nazis were known for the brand of radical nationalism.
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Throughout history, nationalism has also played an important role in the formation of nation-states. A nation-state is a sovereign state whose people are unified by a common bond, often a language, race, or ethnic background. The United States is a nation-state, as is Germany, Canada, Italy, and Japan. Most countries today are nation-states, but this hasn't always been the case.

Before Italy and Germany became nation-states, their land was made up of numerous local kingdoms. This is true for much of Europe. The kingdom of Austria-Hungary prior to World War I was not a nation-state, but an empire extending over variety of people groups. Nationalism among these people groups helped lead to World War I, and after the war, new nation-states such as Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, and Yugoslavia were created.

Race refers to a group of people united by common heredity or genetic traits. Today, common race categories are Hispanic, African-American/Black, Caucasian/white, Asian, etc. However, these categories can be broken down further into races such as German, Chinese, Japanese, etc. Racial conflict has been a driving force throughout history.

The Holocaust was racially motivated, and the Chinese and Japanese have had a long history of racial conflict. The creation of Israel in 1948 took place because the world community recognized the need for the Jewish race to have their own nation-state.

The nation-state of Israel was created in 1948 for the Jewish race.
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Culture can be defined as particular way of life for a particular group of people. As Americans we have our own unique culture, parts of which are actually blends of other cultures. Japan has its own unique culture; France has its own unique culture, and so on and so forth.

Culture gives people groups a sense of identity and a means of expressing themselves. Culture is an important concept related to history. If you have ever studied the 1920s in a history class, you probably discussed the culture within the decade. Jazz music, flappers, and Art Deco were pillars of 1920s culture.

Political and Economic Structures

By political structures we mean systems of government and political power. A dictatorship, a monarchy, a republic - these are all political structures. Feudalism can also be considered a political structure, although it is also an economic structure as well. If you remember your Middle Ages history, you know feudalism was system in which peasants lived and worked on land owned by nobility in exchange for protection and a meager share of the crops they harvested.

Political structures profoundly impact the flow of history. In many ways, we can think of history as the conflict between political structures. Think of the French Revolution or other revolutions. A government comes into conflict and is replaced by another type of government. In the case of the United States, the land used to be British colonies, until a revolution resulted in the formation of a new political structure (a republic).

This image depicts conflicting political structures during the French Revolution.
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