Summary: I find that when teaching nationalism, it is sometimes necessary to begin by making a case for why nationalism is an important phenomenon for sociologists to study. There is a tendency among my students to regard the nation and its nationalism as timeless and therefore unremarkable, but the power of nationalism is due in large measure to its ability to evade scrutiny. To make my case, I begin by showing a short clip from the 1989 movie "Glory," which stars Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington. The movie tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War, one of the first units to be made up entirely of African Americans. The clip I show is of the film's climactic scene, which depicts the 54th's perilous assault on Fort Wagner. An inspirational score plays in the background and is only broken by the percussion of cannon fire as the soldiers bravely march on the fort. The odds, however, were stacked against the 54th and we learn in the epilogue of the film that they never succeeded in taking the fort. Following the clip, I encourage students to contemplate their own nationalism and the fact that the filmmakers counted on it when depicting the assault on Fort Wagner as the emotional climax of the film. Using the clip, one can further draw students into a discussion about the way nationalism intersects with race, as when a nation is imagined along racial lines or even when soldiers set aside racial differences for the greater purpose of a nationalist struggle. While the sociological concepts in the clip may need to be spelled out for students by a well prepared instructor, the emotional tone of the clip is excellent for making otherwise disengaged students sit up and join the discussion.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist