One great achievement of the European romantic nationalist movements beginning in the late 18th century was their creation of an ideal of national character rooted not in the deeds of great kings or generals but in the distinctive language, arts, folklore, customs and ancestral homelands of the ordinary people or volk.

As industrialization upended community life and social relations, the romantics popularized the ideal that the true, authentic character of a people as a nation lay in the old, endangered ways of life in its regional communities.

Yet it fell to cosmopolitan scholars and antiquarians to do what inarticulate rustics could not do — curate and repackage their folk customs and lores, marketing them to readers eager to participate as consumers in this "authentic," nostalgic ideal of nationhood.