The Imagined Communities Project

The social construction of national identity


Latin Americanist Benedict Anderson developed the theory of imagined communities. He asserts that an imagined community “is different from an actual community because it is not (and, for practical reasons, cannot be) based on everyday face-to-face interaction between its members. A nation,” he continues, “is a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group” (6-7; wikipedia). The emergence of nationalism, he states, occurs when access to a privileged language declines. While Anderson applies his theory to nations, scholars may adapted his theory and apply it to their examination of cities, such as Holland, Michigan.

Established in 1847, Holland’s residents developed a religious colony and strived to maintain its Dutch traditions and language. Over time the Dutch kolonie transformed into an American city. The city’s demographics shifted. English replaced Dutch as the dominant language. Dutch newspapers and monographs were replaced with English publications. Throughout this process, Holland residents became proud United States citizens with strong ties to the Netherlands. Students will assess Holland’s print culture as a means of evaluating the city’s imagined communities. Their textual analysis will be anchored in historical research. While students are encouraged to develop their own projects, potential projects and digital components are provided below.

Potential Inquires
Topic // Research Question // Research Problem

I am studying Benedict Anderson’s theory of Imagined Communities because I want to reconceptualize it for the purpose of evaluating the multitude of communities that presently and historically exist within Holland so that my readers may better understand the ethnically and culturally diverse city.

I am researching Holland’s print culture because I want to assess the prevalence of the Dutch language and evaluate shifts in residents’ access to materials printed in Dutch in order to help my audience better how residents transferred their allegiance from the Netherlands to the United States.

I am studying the social, political, and economic history of Holland from 1860 to 1870 because I want to identify and assess how the American Civil War and the charter of the City of Holland impacted the city’s residents in order to help my readers better understand the social construction of Holland’s imagined community.

Suggested Digital Components

Students may create a documentary through which they explore Arnold’s theory of imagined communities. Students will use the City of Holland as their case study. The film should be produced with a general audience in mind.

Book Database
When developing this turnkey project, I discovered that I had to pull information on publications printed in Holland from several different online library and archival databases. Students may design and develop an online database that contains information on the newspapers, periodicals, and monographs that were printed in Holland during a specific period of time. Students may also choose to develop analytical tools that will enhance the database’s usefulness to researchers.


Alex Galarza
Alex Galarza is an expert in Latin American History.

Dr. Jonathan Hagood
Dr. Hagood is an Associate Professor of History. He is a Latin Americanist and teaches Michigan History.

*Arnold’s theory is most frequently employed by Latin Americanists. The faculty and staff members of Hope College’s library and or archives may be appropriate mentors as well.



H08-1675.1. De Wachter (The Watcher). 1868-1941. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

H08-1683.3. Holland Sentinel. Newspaper, 1912-1947, 1950-1952. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

H13-1844.10. Van Schelven, Gerrit. Papers, 1917. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

H88-0234. Hope College Living Heritage Oral History Project. Records. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

H88-0336. Holland City News. Newspaper, 1872-1977. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

H88-0426. Anchor. 1887-[ongoing]. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

H97-1250.50. De Hope (The Hope). 1865-1933; bulk, 1888. Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, Holland, MI.

Rare Books
*Books published in Holland, MI can be found in the Hope College Rare Book Collection and within the collections of the Holland Museum.

Anderson, Benedict R. O. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. and Extended ed. London: Verso, 1991.

Castro-Klarén, Sara, and John Charles Chasteen, eds. Beyond Imagined Communities: Reading and Writing the Nation in Nineteenth-century Latin America. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2003.

Ester, Peter. Growing up Dutch-American: Cultural Identity and the Formative Years of Older Dutch-Americans. Holland (Mich.): Van Raalte Press, 2008.

Folmer, Jetske. Dutch Overseas: Studies in Maintenance and Loss of Dutch as an Immigrant Language. Tilburg: Tilburg University Press, 1997.

Kirk, gordon W. The Promise of American Life: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century Immigrant Community, Holland, Michigan, 1847-1894. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 1978.

Krabbendam, Hans. Freedom on the Horizon: Dutch Immigration to America, 1840-1940. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009.

Parr, Judy Tanis. The Rooster on the Steeple: The Story of Engbertus Vander Veen, an Early Dutch Immigrant to Holland, Michigan. Holland, MI: [s.n.], 2009.

Roberts, Deirdre. Schools as Imagined Communities the Creation of Identity, Meaning, and Conflict in U.S. History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Swierenga, Robert P. Holland Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City. Holland, Michigan: Van Raalte, 2014.

Methodology & Theory
  • Assimilation Theories
  • Feminist Theory
  • Historiography
  • Social Identity Theory
  • Theory of Imagined Communities