National identities are social phenomena with concrete—both political and social—effects in society, but a fundamental part of their constitution takes place through narratives about the collective. The existence of collective identities thus depends on drawing boundaries between the collective ‘we’ and the ‘others’, as well as on disseminating coherent ideas about the fundamental identity of the we-group. These narratives thus constitute a privileged object for investigating how collective identities are constructed and legitimised in a discourse that places the collective in time, that is, with a coherent and logical narrative about the past and a trustworthy projection into the future. This article defends, first, the concept of the ‘master narrative’ as a useful analytical category for investigating how national history is constructed, and, second, the concepts of ‘sites of memory’ and ‘Vergangenheitsbewältigung
’ as means of accessing this narrative. These concepts represent instances of creation and rewriting, respectively, of the narrative and are thus useful tools for analysing how a sense of connectedness with the community through time is created: that is, how a sense of continuity with certain distant epochs is conveyed, and how, on the other hand, a sense of discontinuity with other periods is favoured.
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