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Going Beyond Nation and the øEast-WestÓ Divide

Palmira Brummett (History) &
Lydia Pulsipher (Geography),
U. of Tennessee


            In spring 2000 we devised a course called "Mapping Identity: The History and Geography of Nation," an interdisciplinary course in history and geography. Two of our objectives were to examine 1) the ways in which the nation state did and did not map identity, and 2) colonial and post-colonial constructions of identity and how those constructions did and did not rely on the nation as a primary frame. We are both engaged in the writing of college texts for world history and world geography and are thus interested in alternatives to the nation-state as a primary mode for dividing the globe.


            In this presentation, we propose to illustrate two alternatives to the nation-state as the primary unit of historical and geographic analysis: 1) the island as focus of the decolonization paradigm - comparing the Caribbean and parts of island Southeast Asia; 2) the city-state revisited, using Goa and Dubrovnik as two examples of the enduring city-state which resists integration into the nation. Both cases are comparative and violate assumptions about the "East-West" divide. Both illustrate the limitations in space and imagination of the nation-state. The island, by its very nature (size, boundedness, isolation) has an enduring geographical identity that can aid, resist, or confound the constraints of national identity. The city-state, approximates the condition of an island in its small size, boundedness, and separate identity.

            In the Eastern Caribbean, European incursions virtually eliminated native populations. "Indigenous peoples" are, instead, the descendants of imported slaves and indentured servants as well as remnants of European settlers.  Here, because of a wide array of European colonizing powers (Spain, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United States), national identity gets intertwined with the former (or continuing) metropolitan country and with emerging well-springs of identity, such as nascent regional economic unity, resistance to the remaining hegemonies of Europe and the U.S., and new opportunities to identify with other post-colonial societies across the globe. In Southeast Asia (specifically Indonesia), there is less sense of øwe are all in this predicament together.Ó European hegemony was countered by strong but varied indigenous traditions and by other øoutsideÓ influences, such as Chinese merchants, and several different cultural iterations of Islam. The modern result is both a heightened sense of localized identities and less sense than in the Caribbean of commonality with global post-colonial societies.

            Dubrovnik and Goa stand as enduring examples of the autonomous city-state with their own "glorious" histories of sub-regional rule and resistance to the attempts of colonial powers (modern and pre-modern) to subordinate them. These city-states were ultimately integrated into the nation-states of Croatia and India, but continue to insist on their historically defined identities as separate, independent, and "different." Attempts to colonize these identities are challenged by the city-states own telling of history which emphasizes spirit, toughness, and resistance to homogenization. Goans today refer to themselves as "Goans" and use the term "Indians" for outsiders, often in a hostile sense to refer to those who are "coming in and taking over."

            Our two sets of cases are linked in a variety of specific ways. One factor is the tenacious efforts of colonial powers (Portugal in Goa and East Timor, the Dutch in Indonesia after World War II, the French in present-day Martinique and Guadeloupe, and Britain in volcano-threatened Montserrat) to dominate colonies long after the imperial era has ended.1 Another is the geographic isolation of individual islands within the archipelagos of the Eastern Caribbean and Indonesia and of Goa and Dubrovnik, as islands attached to mainlands, which approximates them to other island examples. A third factor is the articulation of identities as defined by connections to the sea. A fourth factor is that tourism is already or soon will be a major source of income in these places, leaving them with the contradictory needs to appear safe destinations while trying to construct identities that counter histories of control from outside.


            In the classical Western curriculum, history and geography were not treated as separate and distinct fields in the ways they are today. We wanted to combine the approaches of these two disciplines, for ourselves and for our students; and we wanted to employ maps as a vehicle for understanding the intersections of history and geography and the nature of identity formation. Our first step, then, was to ask our students to each draw a map of a favorite childhood site and discuss its various intellectual and spatial dimensions. This exercise immediately raises the issues of spatial accuracy, memory, and selectivity. Then we brought in a series of maps to discuss the ways in which the various images and texts imagined space, peoples, relationships, and identities. We discussed the authority of maps and how that øauthorityÓ is taken for granted and rarely challenged.2 We also wanted our students to think about the ways in which maps change over time, the implications of those changes, and the ways in which maps represent culturally determined ways of seeing.

            After these preliminary discussions we read a series of texts that address conceptions of land, space, nationalism, and imperialism, including parts of Lewis and Wigen, The Myth of Continents, and Benedict Andersons Imagined Communities, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, particularly its section on maps, census, and museums.3  We discussed various definitions of nation and the ways in which nations come to be bounded, intellectually, militarily, economically, and politically. Our students were intrigued by depictions of space which placed south at the øtop,Ó and by conceptions of space that did not assume a natural division between øEast and WestÓ (with concomitant assumptions about ømodernÓ and øChristianÓ vs. øThird WorldÓ and ønon-Christian.Ó  In the course of these exercises the students began to see how limited and how ømodernÓ the notion of nation state is. We, on the other hand, learned how surprisingly persuaded our students are of their own freedom to øchooseÓ their identities. We then analyzed case studies focusing on the Balkans (particularly Kosovo), the Middle East (particularly Israel/Palestine), the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia, emphasizing the ways in which geography, colonial context, and ethnicity (defined in terms of language, culture, race, and history) condition identity formation.4


            Oceanic islands are a special category of place, forming as they do a compact ecological package surrounded by water. Although the actual edges of islands are less precise than immediately apparent, in that the surrounding ocean interacts ecologically with them and politically islands can claim wide circles of the ocean around them, still their physical isolation from other land places, usually leaves them with a discrete biological, cultural, and often political identity. Archipelagos are also a special category of place, because, being made up of a chain of islands, they are often perceived from a distance as a unit.  Yet upon closer inspection the island parts turn out to be very distinct places Ë physically and culturally — that dont necessarily fit together.5

The Archipelagos of the Eastern Caribbean and Indonesia:

            Our island examples are drawn from the Eastern Caribbean and Indonesia in Southeast Asia.  The Eastern Caribbean, an archipelago that stretches from Puerto Rico to Trinidad near the South American coast, was once a set of European colonies belonging to Britain, the Netherlands, and France (see Map 1). Today these islands are not united politically, but are working toward economic integration.  Future political union is a possibility not often discussed.6  Relationships between the islands are cordial and are beginning to bridge old cultural barriers imposed by the colonial powers. There is no obvious core to this region, no one city that is thought of as the heart. When people go shopping for big items, they go to Miami.  Some islands in the chain are functionally in a periphery imposed by their small size or extreme spatial isolation. Indonesia, also an archipelago stretching in a wide arch around the southern reaches of the South China Sea, was united (with the exception of East Timor) under a series of European colonial administrations  and then at mid-twentieth century became a strong political state, assertively united by an imposed national mythology.  The strong state has served the economic and political aims of the core in Java, which imposes a sort of internal neo-colonialism on the periphery, from which it extracts natural resources and agricultural products for export, and to which it sends surplus population. While the Eastern Caribbean, made up of many tiny nation states and dependent territories, appears to be finding many reasons for closer association, Indonesia, for now still a nation state, shows signs of fracturing along regional, economic, and ethnic/religious lines.7

How the Eastern Caribbean and Indonesia Are and Are Not Comparable:

            What they share: During the several centuries of European colonialism experienced by the two sets of islands, their physical environments were turned to providing surplus wealth for the benefit of distant mother countries. Their own economies and social institutions were suppressed and modified to serve the needs of the colonial enterprise, the cultural make-up of their populations was drastically modified.  Actual population numbers first slumped and then grew rapidly after mid-20th century. Meanwhile, although Europeans inadvertently encouraged the rise of cultural and national identity by modeling such behavior themselves, they squelched any such efforts in their colonies.  Until mid-twentieth century Europeans depicted the goals of political independence, national identity and economic viability as beyond the reach of these colonized island populations.

            How they are different: Changes in the Eastern Caribbean brought on by European colonialism were abrupt. Within 100 years of the first European contact (i.e., by 1600), Caribbean native people had died out, due to European instigated violence and introduced diseases.8    With them died indigenous ways of life, language, knowledge about the environment, and identity with place.  New people were imported from Europe, Africa, and Asia to serve the personnel needs of the plantation economies established by Europeans. These disparate Caribbean populations, much more numerous than native people had been, had to adjust to one another and construct new ways of life, and strategies for using an alien environment Ë all within the confines of a slave plantation society.9  As a result, Caribbean landscapes underwent drastic changes.10

            European colonization in the general vicinity of what is now Indonesia, began in 1511, with the conquest of Malacca by the Portuguese.  But, until the 19th century, European activities remained largely confined to the spice trade along coastal zones. Most people in the region continued to live according to their own customs and to be governed by their indigenous rulers. Compared to the Eastern Caribbean, the complex mosaic of native people and landscapes in Indonesia were more slowly marshaled to serve the needs of colonial masters; indigenous ways survived and landscape change proceeded more slowly. Trade, not territory, was the primary objective of the Dutch (the Dutch replaced the Portuguese as dominant colonizers by the 1640s). Plantations and other extractive economies were introduced later than in the Eastern Caribbean.11  .

            By the mid-nineteenth century in the Eastern Caribbean most people were impoverished ex-slaves with few rights to land and no unifying cultural networks. Depending on local circumstances, they were either left to their own devices on worn out plantation land, or forced to work in an obsolete plantation economy at exceedingly low wages.12  In Indonesia, on the other hand, the majority remained small farmers still occupying ancestral lands. Though they were now forced to produce tradable crops and sell them at fixed prices to the British (who took over temporarily from the Dutch in the early 19th century), they remained more autonomous and prosperous than Caribbean people.13  

            The contrasting role of religion: Religion played a supporting role in both island regions during the colonial era, but was more obviously instrumental in affecting colonial policy in Indonesia than in the Caribbean.  In Indonesia Islam was dominant and deeply entrenched at the time of the European incursion.  Efforts at Christianizing met with only modest success (in places like Malacca, East Timor and the Molucca Islands where there are many Roman Catholics) primarily because of the strength of Islam.14 Today Islam is dominant and becoming more so, though Indonesia is officially a secular state. Fundamentalist Muslims are a powerful political force and assertively seek to define national identity.

In the Caribbean, Roman Catholic, Anglican and several Protestant sects were early established among the elite; but there was little effort to Christianize slaves. Most people of African descent became Christian when various Protestant groups began to advocate the emancipation of the slaves in the early 19th century.  Christianity is now important in the daily lives of most Caribbean people and plays a role in social reform, education, and community service.  But, Christianity figures only vaguely in definitions of nationhood.  Freedom of religion is thought of as a basic freedom; and fundamentalist sects are not prominent politically.

            Modern economic comparisons:  In the present era both island regions are undergoing neo-liberal economic reforms but with somewhat different circumstances. Having never found a satisfactory substitute for the plantation economy, the Eastern Caribbean has cobbled together economies based on export agriculture, maquiladora-like manufacturing, information processing, migration-plus-remittances, and tourism.15 Most islands rank either in the high or high-medium categories on the United Nations Human Development Index (UNHDI).16  Regional economic cooperation is increasing and social connections between the islands are constant and at a high level of congeniality.17

            Indonesia, on the other hand, though long labeled an øAsian TigerÓ of development, with growing prosperity based mostly on manufacturing and resource extraction, hit hard times in the 1990s. Neo-liberal reforms aimed at reducing high levels of debt resulted in shrinking employment, disinvestment, widespread social unrest, and declining human well-being. Never as prosperous in recent times as the Eastern Caribbean, Indonesia now ranks in the low-medium category on the UNHDI and its standing has declined significantly since 1996.18 

20th Century Nation Building in the Two Archipelagos:

            Paradoxically, in the Caribbean, which is officially made up of many independent countries, pan-regional identity is growing; and economic unity is an increasing reality.  Meanwhile the nation state of Indonesia, apparently united economically and politically since the 1940s now shows signs of coming apart along ethnic, religious, and spatial/political lines.

            Map 1. The Eastern Caribbean

            In the Caribbean, WWII had an overall positive effect on local identity.  The war never physically touched the region, but it did provide important opportunities for change.  Young people, mostly males, joined the Allied armed forces, gaining travel experience, a new vision of change for their home islands, and cash income that was sent home to fuel the beginnings of modernization. After the war, many migrated to work abroad, but most kept ties with home, sending substantial remittances that funded important initial improvements in standards of living at the family level. Others came home to work for political and economic change.

            The 1950s saw the end of the plantation era, in part because labor organizers, many of them veterans, made it clear that cheap labor could no longer be part of the plantation equation. The opportunity to migrate was labors ace in the hole.   Then by the 1960s, the regions natural beauty and location close to the huge wealthy continent of North America was recognized by international tourism developers.  Tourism opened up another source of income (admittedly low-wage employment of primarily women) for Eastern Caribbean families. When, by 1962, the British West Indies Federation failed, one by one most of the islands were given individual independence, a process that was mostly complete by the 1980s. 19 France chose to make its former colonies into parts of France (thus squelching local identity with a seductive sort of neo-colonialism). The Netherlands, chose a middling approach, allowing independence but investing more in moral and economic support, and hence retaining good will, but also, more control, than did Britain. The education and social welfare infrastructure of the region improved, and democracy is now the norm, with peaceful transitions in government the rule.  Informal democratic institutions have proliferated in the form of civic and religious community improvement organizations.

            As European influence retreated, indigenous leadership took over.20 As a result, regional consciousness is expanding. Assertive nationalism is frowned upon. Island newspapers carry regional news and warm commentary about other places in the region. There is a constant exchange of personnel to fill bureaucratic positions, and official and casual contact between former British, Dutch, and French territories (and even with former Spanish territories) is increasing. While the rhetoric of stridency and militancy is occasionally heard, it is muted and focused mostly on political issues internal to specific islands, though pan-regional disagreements over economic integration can reach heated levels.  Legal systems are formalized and scrutinized by the public and, in the case of the few remaining colony-like territories, supervised, by Britain, France or the Netherlands. In fact European Union ideas on human rights are diffusing to the Eastern Caribbean through the tiny remaining colonies.21  Seemingly the only threat to civil society in the Eastern Caribbean at the moment is the drug trade, which, passing from South to North America, consistently tries to buy off island governments and to use island spaces for drug trans-shipment.

            In Indonesia, early nineteenth century revolts against the Dutch colonizers have been identified as the precursors of modern nationalist movements. More coherent efforts at building national identity derive from the early 20th century efforts at public education aimed at reviving knowledge of and pride in traditional culture. Although anti-Dutch sentiment was subtly fostered, the leaders of the education movement believed that Western ideas would aid national progress. Another movement that contributed to national identity was the Islam Association, which had as one part of its agenda, the protection of Indonesian merchants against Chinese merchants and of Islam against proselytizing Christian missionaries.22 The struggle by various Indonesian groups (with conflicting aims) against the Dutch colonizers continued until World War II when the Dutch were forced out by the invading Japanese. Upon arrival in 1942, the Japanese suppressed political movements for independence; but Japanese arrogance proved to exceed that of the Dutch and this fueled the rise of Sukarno, who after the end of the war achieved Indonesian independence from the Dutch.  He was ousted in a coup detat by Suharto in 1967.  Early in his career Sukarno presented five postulates aimed at uniting the disparate ethnic and religious groups of Indonesia. Eventually known as Pancasila, or Unity out of Diversity, these five ideas included a united Indonesia from Sumatra to Irian Jaya; internationalism that promoted unity out of diversity at the global scale; the idea of consent, that included within it representative democracy; the principle of social justice, meaning especially economic prosperity for all; and finally, belief in God, but a God of individual choice, hence secularism was the effect.  Idealistic in concept Pancasila in time was transformed into an overarching myth of multicultural union used to squelch local resistance to such things as unsustainable resource extraction by the state, forced re-settlement of surplus urban populations on seized indigenous lands on remote island groups, and the abridgement of human rights of those who protested any actions of the state.23

            Map 2: Political map of Indonesia:

            At present the multi-island nation of Indonesia is devolving into a sets of islands seeking to manage their own affairs and define themselves as quite separate from the present nation. The motives for seceding from Indonesia range from Islamic fundamentalism to the desire for local management of resources, to initiatives that revive older ideas of socialism. In Aceh in northern Sumatra, the language of secession refers to myths of greatness predating European incursions but not to the somewhat earlier introduction of Islam by Arab traders. Separatist movements exist in virtually all parts of the archipelago: Aceh, Sulawesi, Mulucca, Iran Jaya, Timor, Lombok, and Kalimantan; but there is also a critical discourse evolving that pursues the possibility of a new unity through diversity.24


            We are intrigued by the ways in which øtraditionalÓ modes of organization and identity  survive despite radical alterations in political and economic conditions.25 In the twentieth century the historical profession was forced to admit that its projections of the end of the nation-state and nationalism in the face of globalization were wrong. Nationalism, often aggressively projected, is alive and well. But the nation state, imposed so successfully (through force and education) on places like the Middle East and Africa in the colonial period, is only one in the series of layers through which peoples have organized and identified themselves. If we look for other layers, they are easy enough to find. In the breakup of the state of Yugoslavia, the world media has imposed upon the Balkans the incongruent identities of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, privileging religious over ethnic identity for the latter group. This division posits that if Islam is the religion, then ethnicity is secondary; if Christianity is the religion, ethnicity is primary. Religion is an important layer of identity by which rhetorics of difference are mobilized in the Balkans. So is a more global level of  humanitarianism. But if we examine closely the history and geography of the Balkan region, we can see another significant layer emerging, a layer of identity with a long history, that of the city-state. The city-state era of economic and political organization created a powerful set of identities, linked to geographic particularism, which have survived and flourished in the modern era. Dubrovnik (formerly Ragusa) and Goa are classic examples of the enduring city-state (Hong-Kong, Singapore and Jerusalem are others).26 Both are areas where religious synthesis and religious boundary-drawing have gone on side by side for many generations (Latin & Slavic Christianity and Islam in the case of Dubrovnik and Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam in Goa) within a framework of significant, inter-regional commercial activity. 


            The 1998 official guide to Dubrovnik highlights the citys natural beauty. But this guide also presents Dubrovnik as a timeless and enduring city-state, crafted by its location on the sea, its history of independence, and its religion.27  History and autonomy (the citys motto is ¥liberty before gold) take precedence over existence as one small city in a larger nation-state called Croatia. The guide calls Dubrovnik  øthe Croatian Athens,Ó thus admitting its attachment to a greater region and cultural identity while, at the same time, conjuring up the classical model par excellence of the city-state. Visiting Dubrovnik, one cannot help but feel that it is the city-state identity that takes precedence. Viewing Dubrovnik simply as part of a nation thus misses the point. Such a vision cannot convey the ways in which the city and its residents project identity and imagine themselves, their history, or their interactions with the broader region and the world.

            Dubrovnik began its existence as a Latin colony of survivors fleeing from the Avars to a small rocky island adjacent to the eastern coast of the Adriatic; these 7th century migrants were soon joined by Slavs. Thus, the city-state, then called Ragusa, established itself as a place of ethnic and religious dualism, its identity inextricably linked to the notion of migration and refuge. From the medieval era to the nineteenth century Ragusa was the object of various imperial ambitions. It was subordinated to Venice from 1205 to 1358 and became know as a mercantile power that offered asylum to all migrants. It was a vassal of Hungary from 1358-1526 (during which time it was the object of Serbian expansionist ambitions) and then of the Ottoman Turks, but retained its autonomy as an independent republic. Its trade and culture flourished in the sixteenth century but declined in the later 17th.  Seized by Napoleon in 1805, Ragusa finally lost its freedom and it was annexed to Austria in 1814. The modern mythology of Dubrovnik characterizes this as a dark era of subordination after centuries of fierce independence. In 1918 the city-state was incorporated into the newly formed state of Yugoslavia and its name was officially changed to the Slavic øDubrovnik.Ó It was seized by Italy in  1941, a period characterized in the citys  present-day mythology as one of øFascist oppressors and tyrants,Ó and incorporated into Croatia as part of the new Yugoslavia after WWII.28 After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia fractured and in 1991 and the citizens of Dubrovnik voted to become part of the new democratic Republic of Croatia.29 Bosnia and Herzegovina devolved  into war and Serbia targeted Dubrovnik which survived a terrible siege as the European Union and the United Nations, somewhat halfheartedly, rose to its defense. Now, this most recent defense of Dubrovnik looms large in the historical imagination of its people. The naval museums displays, which chronicle the long history of Dubrovnik and the sea, end with photographs of the citys two harbors in flames after the 1991 bombing. And the Franciscan cloister which along with the Dominican church forms the two organizing poles of the old city, has added a new exhibit to its small museum of medieval and Renaissance art work and relics: a very contemporary bomb-shell that pierced the roof in 1991. It is labeled simply øSerbian bomb.Ó These additions to the record of Dubrovniks history proclaim the continuity of the city-state identity, an identity marked by fierce defense of independence and territorial isolation. The enemy has a clear ethnic identity in these images and their accompanying narratives, but the identification of the defenders above all emphasizes their position as citizens of the city-state.


            Goa, considered as a city-state rather than as a small port embedded in the large nation state of India, reveals a series of unique attributes and connections. The very particular history of Goa —- as a city-state, and (from 1948-1961) as a small European colony surviving in a state (India) that had thrown off colonial rule, then (from 1961-present) as a fiercely independent territory in a broader ethno-linguistic region —- makes it a wonderful case for analyzing the borders of race, religion, language, and caste.30 Goan identity formation, history writing, and institutions are a function of the perceptions of those borders. Thus, for example, Goan historiography has struggled over whether to condone or condemn Portuguese influences. Goan cultural institutions (like the Jesuit Xavier Center and the, Instituto Menezes Braganza) reflect the claims of Portugal, the Catholic Church, and Hindu consciousness on the citys history and identity, producing works on topics such as the Hindu past, the seafaring history of Goa, anti-Portuguese resistance, and the cross-fertilization of Goan and Portuguese cultures. A new generation of Goan students is learning Portuguese in order to study the citys archival records while the relative position of the Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese, Hindi, and English languages is an issue contested in Goan intellectual and quotidian life. The new journal Govapuri (the ancient Hindu name for Goa) reveals the intertwined and competing strands of identity within Goan culture today; it includes poems, stories, accounts of the insult of Western tourism, memoirs, and articles on Goan folklore, history, and ønationalistÓ movements; it is written in English.31 Further, Goa has intriguing historical connections, through voluntary and forced migration, to such places as Mozambique, Timor and Japan.

            In 1510 the Portuguese conquered Goa which then constituted their major base on the west coast of South Asia. It had been under the control of the Muslim sultan of Bijapur, and the Portuguese furiously persecuted the Muslim elements of the population and excluded them from government employment.32 Goa, a major port for pilgrims traveling to Mecca and for the import of Arabian horses into India, would remain in Portuguese hands until 1961. Under the Portuguese, Goa became the capital of the whole Empire of the East and an administrative province. It was also the center of an ecclesiastical province which by 1606 included Macao, Japan, Peking, and Mozambique. (Such wide ranging ecclesiastical divisions provide an interesting alternative to imperial or national divisions of territorial space.)  The Jesuits became very active there and St. Francis Xavier is interred in the old city, his øincorruptibleÓ remains on display in a glass coffin. Under Portuguese rule Goa was a base for controlling the spice and textile trades; in modern times it possesses a not particularly lucrative export trade in rice, coconuts, fruit, spices, manganese and iron ores, fish, and salt. The core (or Velhas Conquistas) provinces were primarily Portuguese-speaking Christian and the surrounding districts (Conquistas Novas) primarily Konkani-speaking Hindu.  Migration was (and is) a problem due to economic insufficiency.33

            Like the French in Syria, the Portuguese were obdurate in clinging to Goa despite India gaining independence from Britain in 1947. They claimed Goa, Diu and Daman were øintegralÓ parts of the Portuguese nation, a claim which reveals the malleability of the notion of nation in the later 20th century.34  A Goan Liberation Committee was established in Bombay in 1954, there were campaigns of active and passive resistance and finally, in December 1961, Nehru marched Indian troops in and seized Goa.35 Since Nehrus liberation of the city-state and its surroundings, Goa has become an administrative province of India under a chief-minister. But its Portuguese legacy in the form of myth, history, institutions, atmosphere, and tourist attractions retain the stamp of the long Portuguese colonial era. Many of its residents are of mixed Portuguese and Indian blood and bear Portuguese names, including its chief-minister. In Goa, Nehrus policies of antiracism and anti-colonialism had different implications than those in territories that had been under British or princely-state rule. Goa was a Portuguese island in a British sea; it is still markedly distinct from the surrounding territories. The map of India shows Goa as a tiny province caught between the large states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Indeed, maps of modern day city-states provide an intriguing vehicle for examining the construction of identity and interactions.36


Enduring Imperial/Colonial Control:

            Dubrovnik and Goa remain focal points in enduring yet much evolved colonial struggles. Dubrovnik has become a symbol of the ability of the nation of Croatia to maintain its hold on a vulnerable spit of land in the face of Serbian (Yugoslav) imperial ambitions. That is an old story. Goa, on the other hand, while no longer the subject of Portuguese imperial ambitions, has been so indelibly marked by its existence as a Portuguese colony that its administration and institutional structures reflect an ethno-religious cultural divide that is, in itself, an inherent element of the city-states identity. Further, the nation state of India has, in some ways, replaced the empire and nation of Portugal in the Goan imagination as an imperial hegemon, attempting to impose its will on a city and region that prefers its own languages, culture, economic organization, history, and style. Regionalism, often defined by language, plays, of course, a very prominent role in the construction of Indian national identity. It is embodied in countrys foundational laws and is the subject of much popular political rhetoric and scholarly analysis. Focusing on Goa as a city-state, however, provides a new and more localized dimension to the analysis of the internal dynamics of India; it shows how critical a unique historical past is to the forms taken by the contest between nation and part.

            Dubrovnik, like Goa, makes a point of insisting on its separate identity despite and because of its colonial past.37 Prominently displayed in the tourist shops and bookstores of Dubrovnik in the summer of 1999 was the fourth edition of a  photographic work by Matica Hrvatska Dubrovnik, entitled Dubrovnik in War, detailing in text and images the ødefense of DubrovnikÓ against the Serbian onslaught in 1991.38  It is a book that suggests both devastation, isolation, and triumph. The visitor can walk the old citys streets and find the sites where bombs fell and buildings burned. This strange sort of øtourist guideÓ illustrates a new episode in Dubrovniks story of autonomy, ferocious independence, and resistance against acquisitive enemies. Similarly, the survival of Dubrovnik has become a marker of pride for the whole Croatian nation in its struggle against the ambitions for a Greater Serbia. Hence, the øLittle DavidÓ city-state is both separate and part of the ønewÓ nation that emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of Yugoslavia.

            The Eastern Caribbean and Indonesia appear to be using their long experiences with colonialism in opposite ways.  The Caribbean islands construct colonialism as something in the past and increasingly see the economic advantages of close cooperation.  Indonesias parts are all at the stage of identifying the core (Jakarta, and by extension Java) as embodiment of old colonial hegemonies.  They are in a state of resistance against this core that for many seems to mean eventual secession.

Geographic Isolation:

            Dubrovnik and Goa are both islands attached to mainlands and that øislandÓ structure has, historically, crafted their identities.39 Modern Goa is much more accessible than modern Dubrovnik which possesses no rail links to the surrounding region (both have airports). The mountainous hinterland and rocky and hazardous Adriatic shore have always isolated Dubrovnik which (historically) functioned commercially as a coastal entrepot along overland and sea-based trade routes. The sea was often the citys source of relief from land-based invaders. Indeed, the film celebrating the reconstruction of Dubrovniks Inter-University Centre proudly notes that the citys brave young divers swam out daily to circumvent the besieging Serbian army, retrieve newspapers, and communicate with their Croatian compatriots. Thus part of the mythologizing of Dubrovniks modern history involves the image of the resourceful and  hardy citizen who has learned to make an advantage out of his/her isolation. Goa, on the other hand, in the modern era relies more on cultural, linguistic economic, and historical divides to mark its isolation from the rest of the subcontinent.

            Unlike Goa and Dubrovnik, our other island cases are more decisively defined by their isolation from the rest of the world. There is not the same øflowÓ of interaction and communication; staying or leaving is always a major decision. Further, the ønationÓ cannot be imposed and retained on an island (or islands, Indonesia for example) in the same way that is can be imposed on contiguous territory. Island peoples do, like city-state people, glorify the idea of being removed, of occupying a different space.

            Perceptions of the two archipelagos discussed here as isolated or not, vary.  Not too long ago the Eastern Caribbean lay at the heart of the global plantation economy, as did Indonesia.  Given ocean technology of the time both were rather intimately integrated with the outside world.  Today, that seems less the case, especially for the Caribbean, whose role as a tourist destination is paramount in island economics, and this role is to some extent linked to a notion of desirable isolation from the cares of urban life. 

            Indonesias continued role as a source of raw materials and of manufactured goods, places it still at the center of world commerce.  Indonesian products are in every American home.  But another factor must be remembered.  The Internet and mobile communication devices have brought both archipelagos into immediate contact with the outside world, and that fact is changing the economies of both places and is blurring the meaning of spatial isolation.

Identities Defined by the Sea:

            Goa and Dubrovnik have historically been linked to the sea by their dependence on sea-based commerce and fishing and by their vulnerability to attack from the sea. What distinguishes the two city-states in this regard is Dubrovniks longer and fuller history of involvement in sea-based combat and Goas much greater integration into an agriculturally based economy. In both cases, however, the construction of the modern city-state identity is very much based on histories of seaborne interactions: the people, goods, and traditions that came and went by sea. Migration is also linked to the sea, even if the initial route is overland. Goa, in particular, like Ireland, narrates its history in terms of migration across the sea forced by the political and economic brutality of a colonial master. While Dubrovnik and Goa both have histories of land- based migration to Zagreb and Bombay respectively, Goan identity in particular has significant links to political and labor migration to sites such as Mozambique and Timor, other Portuguese colonial territories.40 The sea is also critical to the construction of both Goa and Dubrovnik as tourist magnets, particularly Goa, which gained fame as a tourist attraction because of its great expanses of the øunspoiledÓ beaches so important to European tourists.41

            The people of the Eastern Caribbean and Indonesia appear to view the surrounding sea from different perspectives.  In the Caribbean, the sea is primarily a beautiful backdrop for island life and a physical situation that must be coped with.  Ocean based travel and economic activity are not highly developed, perhaps because when the indigenous people of the Caribbean were eliminated, they were replaced with a variety of people who came primarily from inland locations with no traditions of using sea resources.   Water transport between islands that existed of necessity during the colonial era has given way almost entirely to air transport.  Only a few islanders fish.  Caribbean people do remember fondly, however, that for a brief period after World War II, until air travel took over, there was a special unity among all Eastern Caribbean islands of all colonial heritages that was based on the sea.  This unity was born of the fact that for little money one could travel the entire island chain on small commercial boats.42  

            Indonesia, on the other hand, retains many indigenous groups that have an ancient heritage of fishing, sea travel and commerce.   The sea remains an important source of food and a means of transport, and in fact, ports in the region are now essential parts of global commerce, and those with seafaring skills play an important role in the global merchant marine.


            One of the elements that makes a city-state endure as such within the framework of the modern nation state is its self-conscious construction as a tourist attraction. The city emphasizes its history and geography as separate and attractive. Its uses its tourist potential to provide it with leverage in terms of maintaining its autonomy. In turn, the nation state in which the city-state is embedded benefits from the preservation of that sense of difference and uniqueness. The two political and cultural entities exist in a state of tension based on both shared interest and conflict over control of tourism. Goa and Dubrovnik have both depended extensively upon the revenues of tourism in recent years and have capitalized upon their unique city-state identities and historical treasures to develop that tourism. The ways in which their tourist industries have evolved, however, are very different. Where Goa is experiencing an expansion and gentrification of its tourist industry and attracting an increasing volume of Indian tourists in recent years (accompanied by more entrepreneurial activity on one hand and more rabid anti-tourist sentiment on the other), Dubrovnik has seen its tourist trade and revenues fall dramatically as a result of a full decade of armed conflict.43 While the city itself is no longer the object of military struggle, its proximity to Kosovo and the world perception of regional instability mean that its tourist industry continues to suffer dramatically. Several major hotels remain bombed-out ruins, including the desolate øLiberty,Ó whose huge sign, rather ironically, dominates a hillside over the Adriatic while its rooms sprout grasses and remain roofless and open to the night air.

            The Liberty points up the ephemeral nature of tourism in places like Dubrovnik, Indonesia and parts of the Caribbean. The threat of war or internal violence means that the populace can never count on the continuity of tourist revenues.  Thus, while employment in the tourist industry is an important option, the fact that those jobs are not dependable makes migration an important option as well. Tourism runs the economies of the Caribbean and the economies of Dubrovnik and Goa. Tourism also provokes the fear (or provides the reality) of cities, beaches, ecosystems, economies, and cultural systems being swamped by strangers thus, in turn, providing a focus for debates over housing, traffic, education, and identity.44

            In our archipelagos, tourism is tied to public perceptions of tranquility and danger.  At the moment the Caribbean plays up its role as a destination of safe relaxing escape, a place characterized by a level of racial harmony and interaction that is difficult to find in North America from where most tourists come.  Any evidence of discord or danger is eschewed in tourism literature.

            Indonesia, in large part because of recent political unrest centered on issues of national identity, has become a destination primarily for adventure tourism (Bali is a  an exception).  The tourist literature focuses on travelers who wear back-packs and are aware of and interested in the social issues in the various parts of the archipelago.  Arguments are even made that these adventure tourists are better for the economy because they tend to spend much more within local communities and less with outside travel agencies or cruise lines that export incomes to First World capitals.45


            The scope of this paper does not allow us to present in-depth analysis of our model. Nonetheless, we hope this brief proposal has suggested the ways islands and city-states may be used, for scholarship and pedagogy, to reconfigure our notions of area and nation and the ways in which they interact. Diverting our gaze from the nation state in this fashion allows us to develop comparisons that are not otherwise obvious.46 The island and city-state models allow us to explore smaller-scale and cross-national forms of identity that have different temporal limits than nation state identities. They highlight sea-based interactions, and different patterns of migration, economic organization, tourism, and institutional identity. They allow us to develop alternative themes of analysis. The city-state examples of Goa and Dubrovnik, for example, highlight the ways in which analysis of ethno-religious divides based on the nation states of India and Croatia (or, formerly, Yugoslavia) are not representative of smaller-scale identity formation in segments of the nation-state. National tourism and migration statistics do not reflect the realities of the situation in cultural and historical centers within the nation. Yet, cross-national comparison of city-states and islands can lead to revealing similarities in identity formation, population movement, institutional development, and resistance to national øcolonialism.Ó 


1 Lydia M. Pulsipher, øCan Volcano-based Eco-Tourism Save Montserrat? A Post-Colonial Development Proposal.Ó Paper presented at the Association of American Geographers Meetings, Pittsburgh, P.A.  April 5, 2000, pp. 1, 2.

2 One student, a truck driver, noted that his work-generated maps chronically understated distances which resulted in the drivers being underpaid for distance driven.

3  Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); and Benedict Anderson,  Imagined Communities, Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Press, 1991).

4 We drew our case studies from these regions and asked the students to read basic geographical analyses of each one. We then divided the regions based on our own expertise. If the historian initially presented the issues of identity, imperialism, and nationalism for a specific region, then the geographer would add commentary (and sometimes critique), and vice versa. Temporally, we focused on the period from the mid-nineteenth to the twentieth centuries.  Race and gender were important topics in our discussions about identity formation (ethnic cleansing through rape in Bosnia, gendered access to power in post-colonial states, Portuguese colonialism in Goa, and revolutionary proponents in the Caribbean), but they were not our primary focus.

5 In the cases of both archipelagos discussed here the chains of islands lie along the leading edge of tectonic plates and are for the most part volcanic in origin, the result of subduction. Lydia M. Pulsipher, World Regional Geography, (New York: W.H. Freeman, 1999), pp. 108, 473).

6 Bonham C.  Richardson,  The Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492-1992: A Regional Geography, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

7Jonathan Rigg, Southeast Asia: The Human Landscape of Modernization and Development, (London and New York: Routledge Press, 1997).

8 David Watts, The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change since 1492 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

9 Lydia M. Pulsipher and Conrad M. Goodwin, ø¥Here where the old time people be, in  Jay B. Haviser, African Sites Archaeology in the Caribbean, Princeton and Kingston: Markus Wiener Publications and Ian Randle Publications, 1999.

10  Within 100 years of European contact, most island lowlands and uplands were cleared of their forests and thousands of monocrop plantations were installed, colonial towns were built and a wide range of alien animals and plants were introduced. See Franklin W. Knight, The Caribbean: The Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism, 2nd. ed. (Oxford &New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); and Lydia M. Pulsipher, øGalways Plantation,Ó in Herman Viola and Carolyn Margolis, ed. Seeds of Change (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1990).

11 D.R. SarDesai, Southeast Asia, Past and Present, 4th ed., (Boulder, Westview Press, 1997), pp. 63-99.

12 Knight, op.cit., pp. 159-193.

13 SarDesai, op. cit. p. 90. Contrary to the Caribbean, British colonial policy in Indonesia included building an entrepreneurial rural majority freed to some degree from the tight control of their native leaders and sufficiently well off to be able to buy British manufactured goods.

14 Ibid. p. 66.

15 Grants in aid come in from the European Union and Canada, and even occasionally from Asia and the United States. But, now some of these support systems are shrinking.  For example, bananas can no longer be sold to Britain at higher than world market prices under EU regulations; and lower labor costs in Asia are making Eastern Caribbean light manufacturing uncompetitive.  Nonetheless, tourism and remittances are taking up some of the slack and as a result the human well-being of the region is secure.

16 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2000 (New York: Development Programme, 2000), Human Development Index, Table 1. In 1998, Barbados out-ranked its former colonial power (Britain) on empowerment of women. U. N. Development Programme, Human Development Report 1998, (New York: Development Programme, 1998), Gender Empowerment Index, Table 3.

17 Gary S. Elbow,  "Scale and Regional Identity in the Caribbean," in G. H. Herb and D. H. Kaplan, Nested Identities: Nationalism, Territory, and Scale, Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 75-99.

18 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Reports 1996 and 2000,  (New York: Development Programme, 1996 and 2000), Human Development Index, Table 1 for both years.

19 The European states were hampered by their øcolonizers model of the world,Ó their inability to imagine that the Caribbean peoples could manage their own affairs. This phrase was coined by geographer James Blaut, The Colonizer's Model of the World : Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History,  (New York : Guilford Press, 1993).

20 Examples of Caribbean leaders who have reached international renown are the Nobel Prize winners,  Sir  Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott.

21 Recently Britain unilaterally abolished laws in Montserrat and the Cayman Islands that discriminated against homosexuals.  While this angered the islands affected, the action opened a region-wide debate that may result in voluntary abolition on other islands.

22 SarDesai, op.cit., pp 167 ff. The Islamic movement also included those with socialist and communist philosophies, whose efforts at constructing identity out of anti-Dutch sentiment and social reform within Indonesia were supported by some Dutch communist thinkers.

23 Ibid, p 173, 275-278.

24 George J. Aditjondro, øLiberating our Colonial Mindset,Ó lecture presented at Monash Asia Institute, Melbourne Australia, August 16, 1995. May be read at :

25 I use øtraditionalÓ here to mean modes of organization and identification that have been embedded over time, ones that have become part of the historical memory, of the culture. I use culture here in the sense of Donald Edward Brown, Human Universals (Temple U. Press), as cited in Joseph Trimble, øConsidering the Cultures Within,Ó Radcliffe Quarterly (Fall 2000), pp.12-13. øCulture consists of the conventional patterns of thought, activity, and artifact that are passed on from generation to generation in a manner that is generally assumed to involve learning rather than specific genetic programming. Besides being transmitted ¥vertically from generation to generation, culture may also be transmitted ¥horizontally between individuals and collectives.Ó

26 Jerusalem does not have the attachment to the sea  that our other examples have. Yet, methodologically it can be treated as an øislandÓ and as a city-state. Despite its long early-modern history as a backwater and minor trading town in Palestine, Jerusalem is distinguished by it sacred status and by its modern colonial history. That separateness is pointed up by the proposals for the partition of Palestine after WWI (which tended to treat the city as a separate,  international entity within the region) and by the struggles of the last generation over the status of Jerusalem as capital of a real state of Israel and a so far only imagined state of Palestine. Like our other examples here, Jerusalem can be analyzed as a city-state in terms of migration, ethno-religious divides and syntheses, function as a tourist city, and historical construction as a separate identity within a set of greater regions. Jerusalem and Dubrovnik, as walled cities, may be compared for their celebration of those walls.

27 Anuðka Novaković, Dubrovnik and Its Surroundings (Zagreb: Turism and Heritage, 1998). The pages in this guide are unnumbered.

28 Dubrovnik, no page number. The official tourist guides tend to present a very fuzzy picture of the period of fascist rule in Croatia; it does not jibe well with the city-state self identity which emphasizes freedom.

29 Dubrovnik in the modern era exports, among other things: liqueurs, cheeses, some agricultural products and slate. It was famous before  the mid-nineteenth century vine disease, for its malmsey wine.

30 These themes of race, caste, colonialism (and parallels with Philippine colonial policy) are pointed out by Teotonio de Souzas øIntroductionÓ to, Joaquim Heliodorã da Cunha Rivara, Goa and the Revolt of 1787 (New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 1996), pp. 9-16.

31 Govapuri (or Gova) is the name of the ancient Hindu city of Goa, mentioned in the Puranas and other ancient Hindu texts.

32 Alfonso dAlbuquerque wrote his king that Goa could be used to øwrest the wealth of India and business from the hands of the Moors.Ó Stanley Wolpert, A New History of India, 6th edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 137.

33 In 1960, as India pressed its claims for the territory, approximately 1000 Goans were leaving annually, most to places like Bombay, Mozambique, and Natal.

34 Wolpert, p. 363. Daman and Diu are Gujarati ports.

35 Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, History of India (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 322-323. African nationalists had criticized Nehru at the 1960 Belgrade conference of non-aligned nations for failing to take the lead in breaking the last vestiges of Portuguese world colonial power.

36 The tourist map of the Republic of Croatia distributed in 1999 is full of images presenting the nation as a tranquil, seaside country steeped in history and dotted with antique monuments. A political map, on one side, shows Dubrovnik in terms of access; it is marked by icons for: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fortresses, castles, churches, museums, camp sites, and marinas. City inset maps on the page are located to block out most of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and the Serb Republic. A more impressionistic tourist map on the other side shows Croatia as detached from its neighboring countries (existing in a sort of spatial and historical vacuum with only the sea to its west indicating its surroundings). Dubrovnik is marked by its fortress walls, a sailing ship, and a flag labeled øLibertas.Ó Tourist Map/Road Map: Croatia, prepared by Zoran Klarić, (Zagreb: Turistička Zajednica, 1998). In contrast, a National Geographic map, øThe Balkans,Ó printed in 1999, shows the area as one of conflict and ethnic divisions. Dubrovnik, like many other cities in the region, is marked by a red explosion icon indicating øair-ground conflict 1991-1999.Ó Insets for each country provide a brief historical synopsis and indicate ethnic-group percentages of population. The caption under the maps title reads, øInvading hordes, ambitious empires, and the cultural divide between East and West have left the Balkan Peninsula with a legacy of continual conflict.Ó That of course is a gross historical reduction, but it reflects the concern and emphasis of the American media and public directed to the region in 1999.  The reverse-side of this map is a world map that shows øThe Plight of Refugees.Ó India, East Timor, and Yugoslavia and Bosnia (among other sites) are all indelibly connected on this map as places from which people are fleeing. Croatia is listed as the recipient of 8% of the refugees who fled Bosnia in 1998. National Geographic Society, øThe BalkansÓ (Washington D.C., National Geographic, 1999). For Croatia, øpopulation 4,677,000,Ó the percentages are: Croat 78%, Serb 12%, Other 8%, Muslim 0.9%, Hungarian 0.5%, Slovene 0.5%.

37 Attached to the giant stones of the fortress of Dubrovnik, just outside the main gate, is a large plaque, placed so as to attract the attention of every visitor and citizen entering the old city. It depicts the hits inflicted and endured during the 1991 Serbian bombing of the city. The message of this plaque can be juxtaposed to a series of images throughout the city showing the spectacular success of preservation and reconstructive efforts since 1991. Insult, survival, and reconstruction are thus inherent parts of the story by which Dubrovnik markets itself to tourists and to its own citizens.

38 Matica Hrvatska Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik in War, 4th edition (Dubrovnik: by the author, 1998).  A similar story is told in a film celebrating the citys Inter-University Centre. The film, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Centre was in production when the Centre was bombed and burned. Rather than scrap the film, the filmmakers added a coda showing the building in flames and asserting that it would rise again, as it did, from the ashes.

39 Both Goa and Dubrovnik count their populations on a city-state model, the city and surrounding settlements (including, in the case of Dubrovnik, coastal islands). The website lists (1/14/2001) the population of Goa (and surrounding region) as 1,169,793. The official Dubrovnik City Guide of July/August 1999, issued by the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, lists this population (of ø31 settlementsÓ) as 47,004. [The Dubrovnik tourist board on on 1/14/2001 listed the population as 55,638.] The guide is written in Serbo-Croatian and in English.

40 Mozambique provides another interesting comparison as an island port-city connected to a much larger hinterland. The Portuguese settled there in 1508 and it was the capital of Portuguese East Africa until 1897. Like Dubrovnik, Goa, and other port-cities, it has a long history of seafaring, cosmopolitan, ethnically-mixed culture. See Manfred Prinz, øIntercultural Links Between Goa and Mozambique in their Colonial and Contemporary History: Literary Mozambiquean Traces,Ó in Charles Borges, ed. Goa and Portugal and Their Cultural Links (New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 1997), pp. 11-127, and 93-110 for other articles. In the later 19th C. Portugal deported Maratha rebels who had taken refuge from the British in Goa to Timor after they refused to be transported to East Africa. See Goa and the Revolt of 1787, p. 10. On migration up to 1961, see Stella Mascarenhas-Keyes, øInternational Migration: Its Development, Reproduction and Economic Impact on Goa up to 1961,Ó in Teotonio de Souza, Goa Through the Ages, An Economic History, vol. II, 2nd edition (New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 1999), pp. 242-262.

41 Goa of course became famous for an entire øget-awayÓ lifestyle which included beaches, youth-culture, drugs, dancing, øbohemianismÓ and øcheapÓ food and lodging.

42 Inter-island boat traffic is now irregular because most imported goods arrive not from the region but from distant global locations via container ship. In 1962 two ships, the Federal Maple and the Federal Palm, were given to the West Indies Federation by Canada, with the idea that they would ply the island chain continually from north to south and south to north, affording constant ocean transport for the newly united archipelago.  They ran for more than ten years, but were not economical and service was halted in the mid 1970s.

43 I have seen estimates that the numbers of tourists who visit Goa annually range from 1 million to 1,200,000.

44 The following statement appears on the back of the new journal Govapuri: Bulletin of the Institute Menezes Braganza (April-June 1999): øOne of the most difficult battles a serious student of Goan society has to fight is with the myth-makers who sit in the tourism promotion offices. For the tourism promoters and the rest of those involved in the hospitality industry the engagement with Goa is only as deep as the depth of the wad of money they get out of it. What happens to the society of Goa is not their concern.  The result is that the tourists never come to know of real Goa. What [sic.] to speak of the tourists, the mythologizing by the tourism promoters even keeps the younger generations of Goa from knowing anything about the history, culture, and arts of their native land.Ó

46 The areas focused on here are seldom considered (and often not even mentioned) in world history texts.



Copyright Statement

Copyright: © 2001 by the American Historical Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle. Format by Chris Hale.

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