Nationalist State Transformation and Conflict (NASTAC)

Funded by the European Research Council, ERC Advanced Grant 2017


Prof. Lars-Erik Cederman, Principal Investigator
Luc Girardin, IT expert
Carl Müller-Crepon, Postdoc
Yannick Pengl, Postdoc
Guy Schvitz, Postdoc
Dennis Atzenhofer, PhD student
Paola Galano Toro, PhD student
Roberto Valli, PhD student

Project summary

The NASTAC project analyzes how nationalism has transformed the state with respect to its outer shape, internal institutions and conflict behavior. The project has four main objectives, each one corresponding to a work package. While the first objective concerns state formation in Europe before the age of nationalism (Work Package 1), the second one addresses how nationalism reshaped the state both internally and externally, also in Europe (Work Package 2). The third objective broadens this analysis to the rest of the world after World War II, while keeping studying post-nationalist processes including power sharing (Work Package 3). During the reporting period, the project has focused especially on the fourth work package, which is related to the collection and processing of spatiotemporal data (Work Package 4).

Progress report (summer 2021)

So far, under the heading of the Work Package 4, the project team has collected new data and refined existing datasets on state and ethnic boundaries, conflict patterns and railroads, among other things. Considerable progress has been made along all these dimensions. The new datasets have enabled us to start addressing the analytical tasks. As regards Work Package 1, a new paper confirms Charles Tilly’s dictum that “war made the state, and the state made war” in early modern Europe. In connection with Work Package 2, two new papers study the size and shape respectively of states after the French Revolution. The papers offer evidence in line with the idea that nationalism has influenced the external dimensions of states. Further contributing to Work Package 2 but also to Work Package 3, our main research efforts concern the link between ethno-nationalist configurations and the outbreak of conflict. While the existing literature on nationalism has relatively little to say about the precise conditions under which nationalist politics trigger internal and interstate conflict, we have already been able to generate promising results showing that specific ethno-nationalist configurations, as well as adverse changes in the past can be linked to a higher risk of political violence. So far, we have found evidence pointing to interaction between internal and interstate conflicts. We have also been able to establish that those ethnic groups that were subjected to a loss of political power and/or unity are over-represented in our conflict statistics. Without questioning the fundamental modernity of contemporary nations, these findings rely on data that go far back in history, in fact as far back as 1100 AD. This analysis focuses primarily on Europe, but as suggested by the third objective, we are also considering the entire world based on more recent samples. We have also started studying the opposite direction of influence, that is how states are able to reshape ethnicity, not the least through violent repression and ethnic cleansing.

Scientific publications

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Seraina Rüegger, and Guy Schvitz. 2022. “Redemption through Rebellion: Border Change, Lost Unity, and Nationalist Conflict.” American Journal of Political Science 66(1): 24–42.
Schvitz, Guy, Seraina Rüegger, Luc Girardin, Lars-Erik Cederman, Nils Weidmann, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch. 2022. “Mapping The International System, 1886-2017: The CShapes 2.0 Dataset.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 66(1): 144–61.
Partly thanks to ERC-related funding, we have published the following datasets:

CShapes 2.0, see

EPR Dataset Family 2021, see

Working papers

Cederman, Lars-Erik, Luc Girardin, Paola Galano Toro, and Guy Schvitz. 2021. “War Did Make States: Revisiting the Bellicist Paradigm.” Working Paper.
Cederman, Lars-Erik, Luc Girardin, and Carl Müller-Crepon. 2021. “Nationalism and the Puzzle of Reversing State Size.” Working Paper.
Müller-Crepon, Carl, and Yannick Pengl. 2021. “Naming the Nation: State Building and National Identity Formation in 19th Century Germany.” Working Paper.
Müller-Crepon, Schvitz, Guy, Carl, and Lars-Erik Cederman. 2021. “Shaping States into Nations: The Effects of Ethnic Geography on State Borders.” Working Paper.

Dissertation projects

In his dissertation, Dennis Atzenhofer focuses on elements of nationalist ideology and how political elites use them to influence political behavior. The dissertation project can broadly be divided into two parts. In the first part, Atzenhofer uses quantitative text analysis methods to derive measurement of nationalist ideology from political texts. He leverages advances in natural language processing to make abstract notions of nationalist nostalgia, the “homeland” and in-/out-group narratives identifiable. He relies on existing text sources and makes hitherto unused political texts like the parliamentary debates in Weimar Germany available for quantitative analysis. The aim is to understand the potential persistence of key ideological elements from the interwar period to present-day nationalist thought. With these efforts, Atzenhofer intends to contribute to a predominantly qualitative literature on nationalism with quantitative means. In the second part, he aims to investigate the use of nationalist propaganda on political behavior. He collected the first fine-grained, geocoded dataset of political violence for the period of Weimar Germany. With that, he analyses the influence of extreme nationalist propaganda on violence and the ultimate demise of Germany’s first democracy.

Paola Galano Toro’s dissertation looks at how nationalism influenced state formation in Latin America. In particular, she examines how nationalist ideologies excluded given ethnic groups from the understanding of the nation, which were then subject to different state-building activities. Latin America is an interesting case to observe how inequalities in nationalist ideologies led to territorial inequalities in state-building. In contrast to some European countries, Latin American nation-building elites constructed the nation against an internal, instead of external, enemy. Despite recent ethnic movements denouncing historical mistreatment by the state, scholarship on Latin American state formation tends to ignore the importance of ethnicity and ideologies. Galano Toro aims to complement previous literature by measuring the content of nationalist ideologies using colonial status and political access variables. Matching these with ethnic group settlements provides a map of excluded and included administrative units, in which state activities like public services and schooling provision are measured. With these analyses, Galano Toro tries to contribute to a “color-blind” literature, so far buying into “racial harmony” state ideologies masking ethnic heterogeneities in Latin American societies.

Roberto Valli’s dissertation project studies the causes of nationalism in modern Europe. While a large literature provides hypotheses and explanations for the origins of nationalist politics, there is little comparative evidence of the historical origins of nationalism in Europe. Valli’s dissertation confronts this gap by proposing a new theory of nationalism that stresses the role of changing state legitimization in modern Europe. To test the theory, it collects new historically accurate quantitative data on nationalist book production and political claim-making (see Nationalist claims data), as well as a new dataset of ethnic names in Austria-Hungary. The dissertation relies on modern computational methods and advances in statistical techniques to evaluate established claims about the timing and causes of nationalism. Thereby, it contributes to understand one of the most consequential phenomena that continues to shape modern politics, and one which is linked to state authority and legitimacy, but also to ethnic discrimination, political violence and conflict.