The origins of the ambiguity

Nation and empire in Catalonia from the Middle Ages to the 1880s


  • Stephen Jacobson


Catalans have belonged to composite monarchies, imperial constellations and nation states, and, as a result, have possessed multiple identities and allegiances throughout history. Catalan nationhood first emerged in the Middle Ages. Upon the Union of the crowns of Aragon and Castile in the late fifteenth century, educated Catalans also came to feel 'Spanish', understood as an overarching imperial identity consisting of a community of pure-blooded Catholics on both sides of the Atlantic. Following the loss of most of the American colonies in the early nineteenth century, Spanishness became increasingly regarded as a form of national identification. Various patrias or nationalities of the Iberian Peninsula shared customs, increasingly spoke a similar language, and consisted of citizens and subjects of the constitutional monarchy. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Catalans possessed dual identities - as Catalans and Spaniards - which proved mutually reinforcing. At the same time, ongoing and age-old rivalries between Catalans and Castilians over the direction of the state harboured the seeds from which a regionalist and ultimately an ambiguous nationalist movement would spring.

Author Biography

Stephen Jacobson

Stephen Jacobson is an Associate Professor of History and member of the Institut Universitari d'Historia Jaume Vicens Vives at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona, Spain).



How to Cite

Jacobson, S. (2014). The origins of the ambiguity: Nation and empire in Catalonia from the Middle Ages to the 1880s. Studies on National Movements (SNM), 2. Retrieved from




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