Heritage and Nationalism

Understanding populism through big data

Chiara Bonacchi


ISBN: 9781787358027

Publication: March 14, 2022

How was the Roman Empire invoked in Brexit Britain and in Donald Trump’s United States of America, and to what purpose? And why is it critical to answer these kinds of questions? Heritage and Nationalism explores how people’s perceptions and experiences of the ancient past shape political identities in the digital age. It particularly examines the multiple ways in which politicians, parties and private citizens mobilise aspects of the Iron Age, Roman and Medieval past of Britain and Europe to include or exclude ‘others’ based on culture, religion, class, race, ethnicity, etc.

Chiara Bonacchi draws on the results of an extensive programme of research involving both data-intensive and qualitative methods to investigate how pre-modern periods are leveraged to support or oppose populist nationalist arguments as part of social media discussions concerning Brexit, the Italian Election of 2018 and the US-Mexican border debate in the US. Analysing millions of tweets and Facebook posts, comments and replies, this book is the first to use big data to answer questions about public engagement with the past and identity politics. The findings and conclusions revise and reframe the meaning of populist nationalism today and help to build a shared basis for the democratic engagement of citizens in public life in the future. The book offers a fascinating and unmissable read for anyone interested in how the past and its contemporary legacy, or ‘heritage’, influence our ‘political’ thinking and feeling in a time of hyper-interconnectivity.

Chiara Bonacchi is Chancellor's Fellow in Heritage, Text and Data Mining and Senior Lecturer in Heritage at the University of Edinburgh (from March 2022).

List of figures
List of tables

1. Introduction
2. Using big data
3. Nationalism, populism and the past
4. Italian populism and the 2018 Election
5. The Brexit referendum
6. The ‘great wall’ of Trump
7. Experts, authority and social fabrics
8. Conclusion: a new perspective


‘This book represents an extraordinary contribution to the study of the complex interplays between heritage and nationalism. It proposes a novel approach based on the study of big data from social media, using a range of case studies that encompass from the Italian elections to Brexit Britain and Trump's border policies. A must-read for anyone interested in the uses of the past for present political discourses.’ – Manuel Fernández-Götz, University of Edinburgh  


‘Bonacchi’s ground-breaking study provides important new approaches to understanding the politics of the past in the present through an exploration of populist nationalism in social media. In doing so, it not only makes a sustained argument regarding the value of social media big data for heritage research, but also shows how social media is transforming heritage and its futures.’ – Rodney Harrison, UCL


Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

232 Pages

24 colour illustrations

Copyright: © 2022

ISBN: 9781787358027

Publication: March 14, 2022

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