Nation-building was part of the emancipation by large sections of the population from feudal dependence. In line with the ideals of the Enlightenment and French Revolution, the nation – understood as a community of free citizens – was to become the sovereign in place of feudal potentates.
The nation was seen as a community linked by ethnicity, culture and language. To strengthen this identification, a defining national history was also created. The original humanist ideal of the “national awakening of the people” was soon compromised, however, by chauvinism and hegemonic strivings. The new collective awareness resulted in the exclusion of “the others”, leading to an urge to create homogeneous nation states. The multi ethnic structure of the Habsburg Monarchy was seen in this regard as an obstacle to the free development of nations.