Cornell University Press

A Nation’s Homeland

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Why are some territorial partitions accepted as the appropriate borders of a nation’s homeland, whereas in other places conflict continues despite or even because of the division of territory? In Homelands, Nadav G. Shelef develops a theory of what homelands are that acknowledges both their importance in domestic and international politics and their change over time. Here’s our Q&A with the author and further insight into his research on the homeland status of lost territory.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

My favorite anecdote concerns the vision of Willy Brandt who, unlike everybody who saw the rapprochement with the Soviet Union as reflecting the acceptance of the partition of Germany (which was almost everyone), clearly saw it at the time as a step to overcoming it. As told by the historian Arthur Ash, “Brandt’s handwritten notes for his talks with Brezhnev in Moscow on the occasion of signing the [Moscow] treaty start with the question `Who gets what?’ The German side of his list begins `-Bln [Berlin], – DDR [East Germany]’.” (Ash, In Europe’s Name, 75)

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I wish I appreciated how difficult it was to gather systematic cross-national data on homeland claims. 

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Political Science? 

One the main goals of Homelands is to show that it is possible to bridge the divide between scholars who focus on ideas and meaning and those engage in positivist quantitative analysis of conflict. As the former correctly note, many of the phenomena that we conventionally treat as static (such as homelands, ethnicity, and identity), in fact, change over time. This does not mean, however, that these phenomena cannot be subjected to systematic hypothesis testing and to the drawing of generalizable conclusions. Homelands shows that we can do both, but that a lot more remains to be done to bridge the gap between different scholarly silos and between our theories and the data we use to evaluate them.

*Featured photo by Radek Homola.


Nadav G. Shelef is the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Israel Studies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Evolving Nationalism.


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