• The Modern Homeland: From Above or Below?

    The Modern Homeland: From Above or Below?
    By Legio_Italica


    Where does the homeland come from? Is it an organic concept derived from communal tradition in a continuous teleological trajectory, or is it something else; a deliberate and artificial construct built with a set of tools? If the nature of the homeland can be said to vary along some spectrum of circumstance and design, can the modern homeland be said to result from one or the other, or some combination of the two? In answer to such a question, the argument of this paper is twofold: First, the modern homeland arises primarily from design rather than sheer circumstance, wherein the outcome, a homeland from “above” or from “below,” varies upon the historical and theoretical evidence in relative favor of one or the other. The homeland, then, is the deliberate creation of a mind or minds which have integrated their territorial vision upon a given group identity to create a unique sense of nationhood. Popular justification of the territorial extent of the homeland may arise from observance of shared belief systems, common language, or natural frontiers, but these justifications can be changed to some degree, systematically and in a “top-down” fashion, a unique capacity of the modern State. Second, as a progenitor of such a unique capacity, the advent of modern cartography, was instrumental to the very ability to design a territorial national identity, without which the modern homeland could not exist as we know it today.

    When one stops to think of his or her national identity, a group comes to mind. Whether this group enjoys a shared history, a common language, or some other binding principle, there is one which must certainly prove most salient of all in any case: A common territory. The advent of space as a marker of national group identity constitutes a revolution in the western international order, one which laid the basis of the modern State. In venturing to answer the question of where the homeland comes from and to what extent it is designed or “discovered,” one must first establish a number of precedents. First, the definition of “homeland” employed in this paper is not one of ethnic or linguistic composition, but specifically spatial and territorial. Second, this paper lacks the scientific rigor to establish an empirical claim, as a treatise based on historical record and previously discovered trends cannot match the level of exogeneity expected of more robust models. Indeed, a discussion of such grand terms as the origin and justification of the modern homeland might easily descend into anecdotes and philosophical conjecture. What this paper does seek to do is utilize measurable and observable information to provide justification for a feasible answer to a finite question.

    One can hardly overstate the importance of this central question, which is precisely why a lack of an entirely concrete and exogenous answer ought not detract from the credibility of the answer, nonetheless. By responding to the central question with the conclusion that the modern homeland arises primarily from“top down” territorial constructs rather than from“bottom up” cultural amalgamations, this paper provides a measurably justifiable possibility as the answer to a central question in international relations. However, such an answer has its limitations, as it is based on measurable precedents and historical examples, and is not an argumentum ad ignorantiam. This paper does not seek to claim that because the genesis of the homeland comes from above, the ambitions of nation builders are somehow limited only by their willingness to throw a dart at the proverbial map and then secure said ambitions by limitless charisma or conflict. Indeed, the most ready retort against the conclusions of this paper is the argument that the limitations on the ability of a homeland to justify its existence in both the domestic and foreign theaters are much less malleable than this paper would suggest. Nevertheless, the map gives the homeland a tool for spatial justification which it never possessed in the western world prior to the widespread practice of cartography. Because the map is timeless and spatial, the homeland can now evolve over time in ways it could not previously when bound by title and ancestry. Thus the homeland would evolve not circumstantially, but deliberately, by modern tools which take full advantage of of the nature and power of cartography.

    In order to trace the links between the central question and this paper’s central answer, I will begin with a brief historical review of cartography and the factors which spurred its development. I will then proceed with evidence for cartography as an engine of vast social change, revolutionizing the nature of the homeland from titular and historical to spatial and timeless. I will then discuss maps and the deliberate creation of the homeland and its legitimacy, and use two examples, Argentina and France, to illustrate the process from the “top down.” Having established an evidentiary basis of argumentation, I will then address how territorial conflict can offer an optional frame of reference to the discussion, and finish with an abridged review of the material in preparation for the concluding remarks. What one can see then, is a clear progression from a central question with a wide spectrum of possible answers, to a selected possible answer based on measurable if not entirely exogenous argumentation.

    Maps and the State

    One could perhaps best describe the western world prior to the widespread use of cartography as a world of people and things rather than of lines and spaces as we tend to know it today. The nature of feudalism bound one hierarchical rung to the next by personal connection rather than spatial domain, and geographic boundary lines grew increasingly abstract the further one traveled from urban centers. Common custom defined polities by a complex mixture of individual title, ancestral claims, landmarks and territory. The few maps which did exist at the time often looked like glorifications of the proverbial treasure map, with lines tracing routes of travel and landmarks or locations as opposed to spaces and territorial demarcations. Even so, the maps of the time did reflect the social conceptions of territory during their time, just as modern maps do. With political and social order arranged around the feudal system, and administrative order kept via lists, locations and routes, the Medieval map emphasized written descriptions and imagery over measurement and scale.

    The Renaissance revolutionized not only western thought and culture, but also cartographic philosophy as well. Along with a renewed enthusiasm for the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome came a resurgence of Greek mapmaking techniques which focused on spatial scale of places and objects relative to celestial bodies. As wealth and technology expanded, the printing press made these new maps available by the millions at the dawn of the seventeenth century. For the first time, the average citizen of a European country had access to a scaled territorial view of his world. As the new maps grew in popularity, the monarchies of Europe began to take an interest in the practical implications of having access to detailed depictions of geographic space. As maps came to reflect what the viewer wished to see in the world, political and administrative use of maps contributed to or at least reflected the demise of feudalism and the rise of the territorial state. Political and social leaders came to respect the relative neutrality of scaled lines and spaces over storied traditions and pictography.

    As topographic and celestially based maps gained popularity among world leaders, a more familiar, modern picture emerged. Soldiers patrolled defensible borders. Tax and legal officials made the rounds across gridded sections of the national territory to collect fees and establish justice. A king could see not only what territory he controlled - but also the territory he did not. Territorial disputes, from invasion and defense to international arbitration and the restoration of peace, began to revolve around not only hereditary land rights and titles, but also on a truly nascent concept: territorial sovereignty.

    Like the “fencing in” of the American West, the standardization of cartography and maps in early modern Europe led to their widespread use as vehicles and representatives of territorial claims and national boundaries. The the technological and administrative improvements enabled by celestial and topographic maps also improved a ruler’s ability to exert control over large swathes of territory, even territory to which were not necessarily well-travelled, familiar, or even accessible. The ability to point to a universally recognized, scaled map of the world and refer to a given shape therein as “mine” not only gave revolutionary new power and potential to Europe’s ruling elites, but also began to lengthen the breadth of the European gaze across vast oceanic expanses to terra nova where only a map could take them.

    Maps and Social Change

    As the colonial powers of Europe carved up the New World, the power of cartography enabled the Metropole to administer lands which most Europeans could never hope to visit, much less govern in an immediate, proximal sense. Like a rapidly changing cartographic scale, Europe’s exploration of the Americas brought her face to face with civilizations vastly different from her own, forever altering her perspective on the world and her place in it. The advent of colonialism would engineer a massive transfer of wealth, resources and technology across the globe in a wave of historic change never before seen. Maps became an engine of change at all levels, from seamen navigating the world’s oceans to Spanish surveyors and conquistadores pushing back the thick jungles of Latin America to the aging monarch pensively examining his new conquests.

    The reliance on cartography in the European conquest and division of the New World also cemented the territorial state at the center of European politics and sociology. As political leaders engineered rival maps in place of clashing swords at far flung corners of the globe, the growing European presence around the world would lead to increasing points of very real conflict, such as the Seven Years’ War in the mid-eighteenth century. A new world order built on the territorial state meant demand for accurate and detailed maps of geography and topography were higher than ever, as only a spatial, scaled map could portray conceptual depictions of places not yet explored and conquered. Moreover, the very notion of terra incognita, of empty space, meant that European arrivals to the New World would come in many cases not to methodically capture and govern, as had been the traditional narrative of European conflicts, but to gobble up as much space as possible in order to “harvest” whatever - or whomever - was there.

    This “space race” of sorts demonstrated yet again precisely how integral the modern perceptions of cartography and sovereign territory had become in the western world, as well as how fundamental cartography and its social and political implications would become to the emerging colonial states. Political justifications of European hegemony abroad centered not merely on hereditary title or grants, but on claims of territorial rights on the basis of historical precedent and legally recognized sovereignty. As Europe began to construct the territorial fabric of its colonial domains, it also began to reimagine itself along the same cartographic lines as the hereditary class of birth and title began to give way to a nascent entity known as the “homeland.”

    Despite all the European innovations in cartography during the late Medieval and Renaissance eras, the grandest demonstration of the power of maps and spatial territory would come not from any European power, but from the colonial states. As maps made measurements from abstractions, the colonial states would become truly engineered nations of measurements. As Benedict Anderson noted in his famous work, Imagined Communities,

    “Out of the American welter came these imagined realities: nation-states, republican institutions, common citizenships, popular sovereignty, national flags and anthems, etc. … In effect, by the second decade of the nineteenth century, if not earlier, a “model” of “the” independent national state was available for pirating.”

    Rather than redefining former notions of nationhood or group identity, cartography in the colonial states had, in many cases, the opportunity to construct some of the first comprehensive visualizations of these respective states from the ground up, whether by European or colonial hands. The pivotal role cartography played in the formation of the colonial states, and later, the newly independent or former colonial states, would come to define in many ways their respective national characters and developments. For example, the first President of the United States, George Washington, would first begin his career as a cartographer and public surveyor. As colonies sought independence and an independent identity, cartography became a crucial and deliberate tool the new States used to literally create nations.

    This phenomenon constitutes perhaps the single most powerful response to the question of the origins of the modern homeland. With the exception of the English-American colonists who largely replaced the indigenous populations of North America, many other former colonial states, upon independence, emerged as the bastard children of an awkward coupling between European overlords and a less-than-willing indigenous underclass. Without exception, the former colonial satellites were forced by training and by necessity to do what they had always done: organize the disorganized, know the unknown, quantify the unquantified. Just as the process of colonization was based upon systematic measurement, so too would the birth of these new nations. Not only did cartography and the science of measurement dictate how these nations visualized and quantified themselves, it also became a tool with which they constructed their respective cultures and group identities. Using maps to show themselves to their constituents and to the world, and census mechanisms to quantify and identify their respective peoples, these former colonies, now state actors, would deliberately construct national identities ex nihilo with the help of manufactured cultural identities, shared histories and national institutions. Former colonists, many of whom were eager to embrace their newly minted homelands, would become ideal test subjects to demonstrate the power of cartography in the creation of the modern homeland from the “top down.”

    The demonstrated ability of these States in particular to continually mold popular perception of the homeland over time, and on notable occasion, to relative extremes, lends further credence to the notion of a primarily “top-down” homeland. As I will discuss in the next section, an Old World example demonstrates the potency of state actors in defining the homeland and bending the constituent population to the reality of the “new normal.” Even more robustly, a New World example will demonstrate the ability of state actors to construct the homeland from the top down, not as a reinterpretation of existing norms, but as a complete fabrication which birthed a nation. The more adventurous implications of such a notion might even suggest that the rational boundaries to the territorial ambitions of state actors lean toward ad hoc rather than ex ante justifications, but such conjecture may be more carefully discussed in the concluding remarks. For the purposes of providing a compelling answer to the central question, consider the cases of Argentina and France.

    Maps and the Creation of Identity

    The sort of teleological trajectory from Feudalism to the Revolution which seems to dominate the now traditional domestic narrative of French history may not be indicative of fact so much as it is of the profound ability of French state actors throughout history to deliberately and skillfully construct the modern, territorial nation of France. As the cartographic revolution began to take hold in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a unique combination of administrative rigor and cartographic techniques that would become the cutting edge of their era made France both an enlightened example and a formidable rival. By the sixteenth century, French royal engineers had enhanced their cartographic records of territorial France, thanks to new celestial mapping techniques and printing technology. Of particular note was the use of these new maps as a propaganda tool justifying the territorial sovereignty of “France” or “Gaul,” something potentially centuries ahead of its time. While these maps also maintained Medieval depictions of feudal land rights and exaggerated landmarks, their depiction as delineated pieces of territory nonetheless constituted a decidedly new and unique concept.

    Spatial or territorial maps also demonstrated to French kings the extent of their domains more effectively than any list, and the chronology of sixteenth century cartography in France is dominated by frontier fortification. After nearly a century of state-sponsored efforts, the dawn of the eighteenth century saw the completion of national territorial maps detailing internal spatial boundaries for taxation and administration. The completion of these detailed maps allowed political leaders and administrators to consolidate existing and newly conquered territory into the French nation.

    Up until the 1780s, French advances in cartography and territorial sovereignty and stability had made enormous strides in revealing the territorial nation of France and taking account of her hodgepodge of linguistic and political fiefdoms. The secular trends established by the Revolution, however, with its metric system of measurement and geometric départements, would catapult France from a European feudal giant to the Continent’s first territorial State. The Revolutionary commitment to égalité as a core national and political ideal would accelerate the standardization of maps and domestic administration with the power of ideological conviction. With this ideological conviction came perhaps the most revolutionary principle of all: the homeland. The sovereignty and inviolate integrity of French territory placed the capstone on the true ramifications of the Revolution and its implications for the future of Europe. For evidence of this key principle, look to the French Revolutionary Wars of the 1790s, a period dominated by a slew of uniquely modern phenomena, including national defense based on the preservation and expansion of national borders and mass conscription. The Napoleonic Era would see still more revolutions in cartography and the advance of the territorial State, from the administrative reforms of the Code Napoléon to the precision of the Emperor’s territorial land taxes.

    In review of the creation of the French territorial State, two salient factors emerge, both in support of this paper’s hypothesis in response to the central question. First, State-sponsored cartographic advancements, in conjunction with uniquely national policies of administration and internal integration, directly contributed to the creation of the modern French homeland. The latter owes its existence to the advent of modern cartography. Second, while successive advancements in the engineering of the French State built directly upon past and often Medieval traditions, the secular ideology of the Revolution demonstrated precisely how the truly modern departs from the past. With the creation of the first truly territorial state, France purged herself of nearly all Medieval administrative and political tradition and reorganized with mathematical precision. The nation of France was able to embody the modern nation-state with the types of mass mobilization and centralization typical of post-industrial states, an advancement which put her decades ahead of her neighbors and enabled the meteoric rise of the Napoleonic Empire. This, too, demonstrates the malleability of the consciousness and group identity of the homeland, reinforcing evidence in favor of the “top-down” narrative adopted by this paper.

    Yet, one could argue that the wholesale slaughter of the French Revolution was the true catalyst behind France’s ability to modernize so quickly, and thus does not make a compelling case in favor of top-down State engineering, as it is unlikely subsequent nascent states ought to employ the same violent model of “modernization,” regardless of the influence of cartography. Even so, some kind of Revolution must have taken place in order to rid France of the Old Order and make way for the New. While I argue that the French case is in fact compelling and supportive of this paper’s hypothesis, a more modern and less blood-soaked case study offers ample evidence as well.

    The nation of Argentina provides a unique insight into the effective use of cartography and cartographic imagery as nation-building tools, underscored by the role in international conflict in reinforcing entrenchment of the territorial homeland in the national consciousness. Among the historied nations of Latin America, Argentina stands out for its successful use of nationalism as a key goal of state policy. Typically traced to the fledgeling secular democracy established in 1855, the modern State of Argentina represents a continuing project in top-down State engineering. A key element of the Argentine case when juxtaposed with the French one is the appearance of the state-sponsored and scaled national map in the classroom. This potentially amplifies the power of cartographic imagery, as the latter is used not only in international politics and internal administration, but now across the country in the hands of every school-age child in the country. This unique aspect of education in the creation of the modern homeland is observable primarily in the post-industrial former colonial states, of which Argentina is a prime example. As a former colony, the Argentine homeland also has the added benefit to this discussion of being completely constructed as opposed to reconstructed like the majority of European examples.

    As an industrial society, the Argentine State took advantage of its capacity to build integrated national institutions of scale with which to construct the modern homeland, with the cartographic imagery of the territorial state as its foundation. The most salient national institutions, from the military to the political and educational institutions, all highly centralized, operate upon the same basic principle of territorial identity, with official national maps designed exclusively by the National Geographic Institute, an organization overseen by the Argentine Ministry of Defense. The stated basis for the territorial integrity of the Argentine state, a set of “natural frontiers” or las fronteras, may appear to be evidence of de facto or circumstantial and popular constructs within the fabric of the Argentine homeland. However, given the fact that these perceptions have changed quite remarkably over the course of Argentina’s brief and storied history, coupled with the fact that all maps used in significant public capacities are almost always first approved by the national government, popular perception of what the natural frontiers may or may not be is less a product of some long-standing communal tradition, and more so one of the national public education system.

    The relative historical strength of the Argentine public school system in comparison with that of other Latin American countries highlights the impact of cartographic imagery in the classroom. A fairly dense network of either public or subsidized private schools would bear witness to over a century of regime change and, at times, conflicting cultural interpretations of Argentine identity. Regardless of additional circumstances, the core principle of the sacredness of the space of the homeland itself remained largely unchanged beyond the occasional flair of political tone. The salience of this singular issue throughout Argentina’s turbulent history demonstrates just how ingrained the concept of territorial sovereignty and the homeland is within Argentine public and social institutions.

    The dynamic of territorial conflict in the Argentine case provides additional support and depth to this paper’s hypothesis in response to the central question. The State has deliberately used the narrative of ever-present threat to the territorial integrity of Argentina as a forge of national unity and support of State-sponsored endeavors. These threats to las fronteras arise primarily from the decades upon decades old feud with Chile over Patagonia, but more recently, from the high-profile conflict with Great Britain over control of the Falkland Islands, or las Malvinas. Once again, the battlefield and the national consciousness exist on a cartographic plane, complete with competing maps based upon centuries-old historical appropriations of territory. The narrative of “lost territory” not only highlights yet another context in which cartography and therefore territory play a deciding role, but also demonstrates the ever-evolving and malleable nature of las fronteras, which any “good” Argentine would be quick to defend, imbued with the vision of a homeland taught to him or her directly by the State.

    Both the French and Argentine cases support this paper’s hypothesis in response to the central question. Each rose to prominence by making widespread and deliberate use of cartographic techniques and the distribution of maps, both as a tool of improved internal administration, and as engines for the creation of a national territorial identity. State actors deliberately crafted these respective identities, and identity did not arise simply from communal precedents or traditions, but rather from the deliberate engineering of the modern homeland on the part of national authorities and like-minded intellectuals. While the French case does show clear evidence of a prior reliance on tradition and Medieval precedent like many other early modern European States, the Revolution cleared a path for secularization and modernization on a truly modern scale, all thanks to cartography and the careful efforts of national institutions. Argentina, as a former colony, paints an even starker picture of the role of cartography and national institutions in building the modern homeland from the ground up, establishing core territorial identities which withstand even the most varied swings in territorial expanse and the public perceptions thereof.

    Maps and International Conflict

    Given the breadth and depth of the above treatment on the origins and influence of cartography, one should not encounter difficulty in envisioning the possibility of territorial conflict. The literature on the subject is quite substantial. While the hypothesis of this paper does not necessarily depend upon yet another excursion into the theoretical and historical literature covering the territorial origins of the homeland, a brief review of a number of salient conclusions regarding the nature of territorial conflict with regards to the modern homeland is warranted in the current discussion.

    If the modern homeland is engineered from above as a sovereign space, then the most salient factor in territorial conflict as it relates to the homeland would not necessarily involve a war over material resources, but more generally, the aggression against and the defense of a sovereign space. The homeland, as an engineered space, must be at least hypothetically defensible and comprehensible, at least on paper, if this paper’s hypothesis is to withstand its broader implications. Those implications include, as stated, the malleability of the territorial ambitions of state actors as subject to international and domestic limitations. As we’ve seen, the legitimacy of the modern homeland is rooted in territory, and the justification for that legitimacy can evolve over time as international realities and the goals of state actors change.

    The margin at which the incidence of international conflict may confirm or deny the legitimacy of this paper’s hypothesis, then, is the one at which little to no tangible benefits are to be gained from the conflict, but conflict occurs nonetheless, and along a geographic range not distinguishable by standard natural frontiers. These include the case of the rival manufactured historical claims of Argentina and Chile to the territory of the other, or more current examples like the Line of Control in the Kashmir and the Siachen Conflict between India and Pakistan. In several of these cases, the absence of accurate maps has resulted in de facto borders which are then hotly contested by rival parties who have nothing to gain from victory beyond supposed prestige. While such cases certainly lend ammunition to a hypothesis like the one used in this paper, the lack of measurability here creates a largely anecdotal environment not beneficial for or against any claim in particular as it relates to the central question. Still, the possible implications the hypothesis may have in the realm of international conflict, even on a case by case basis, need not be entirely discounted, if only for the sake of contextualizing the current discussion.

    Concluding Remarks

    Where does the modern homeland come from? Is it an organic fruition of popular communal tradition, or an engineered design of State institutions? If the nature of the modern homeland varies along the relative conclusions of the historical and theoretical literature, this paper argues that the modern homeland arises by design. The homeland, then, is a deliberate, territorial creation. Popular justification of the territorial extent of the homeland may arise from observance of shared belief systems, common language, or natural frontiers, but these justifications arise from institutions of the territorial state, not the other way around. The primary threat to this hypothesis, then, is the issue of causality, which, depending on the direction, offers two very different answers to the central question. In addition, a major caveat to this theory is required in the form of strong arguments which criticize the sort of loosely bounded limits upon which a fairly striking hypothesis, such as the one in this paper, relies.

    In order to reduce the maximum instances of inconsistency between the theory heretofore presented and any subsequent realities, State institutions would have to have the capacity to manipulate domestic and international restrictions on the ambitions of their territorial claims, likely to a greater extent than is currently acceptable without additional and more thorough analysis. In any case, I argue that the present hypothesis of this paper is sound and highly feasible, and point to the theoretical and historical examples heretofore presented as evidence, in lieu of any pretense at more exhaustive, exogenous modeling. I argue that, for this reason, the presented hypothesis stands, for all intents and purposes, serving to generate as many avenues for further inquiry as it may for answers.


    1. BBC, “Siachen dispute: India and Pakistan’s glacial fight,” Andrew North, 04/12/2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-26967340
    2. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson, New York, London, 1991.
    3. Carla Lois,Mapas para la Nación. Episodios en la historia de la cartografía argentina. Biblios Ed., Buenos Aires. 2014
    4. Carlos Escude: Argentine Territorial Nationalism..
    5. “French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, http://www.britannica.com/event/French-revolutionary-wars
    6. H. E. Goemans, “Bounded Communities: Territoriality, Territorial Attachment and Conflict.” 09, September, 2015.
    7. Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, “Short history of Kashmir dispute,” Arjun Makhijani, September, 2002. http://ieer.org/resource/south-asia/short-history-of-kashmir-dispute/
    8. Jordan Branch, The Cartographic State: Maps, Territory, and the Origins of Sovereignty. 2013. Cambridge University Press.
    9. Jordan Branch, “Mapping the State: Cartography, Territory, and the Constitution of Sovereignty,” August, 2009. Working Paper
    10. Luis Alberto Romero, La Argentina en La Escuela: La idea de nación en los textos escolares. Siglo XXI Ed.. Buenos Aires. 2004
    11. The Library of Congress Online, Manuscript Division, George Washington Papers, https://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwhome.html
    12. “The Seven Years’ War,” Encyclopedia Britannica Online, http://www.britannica.com/event/Seven-Years-War

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. makanyane's Avatar
      makanyane -
      Thanks for this, it's fascinating to read about the influence cartography has, far beyond the obvious 'finding places' function!