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Title: Nationcraft in twelfth-century England
Author: Afanasyev, Ilya
ISNI:       0000 0004 8508 3764
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis explores how national categories – both generic concepts such as gens and natio, and particular ethnicising terms – were perceived, constructed and used in the long twelfth century. Its main goal is twofold. On the empirical level, it aims to deepen our understanding of national identifications in twelfth-century England by focusing on exceptions, contradictions and previously side-lined material and themes. On the theoretical level, the thesis is an intervention in a broader discussion of the conceptual nature and chronology of ‘nationhood’. Its key purpose is to move beyond the unresolved tension in the literature between constructivist rhetoric and a tendency to reify ‘nations’ and ‘peoples’ as bounded entities or groups existing out-there-in-the-world. In order to do so, the thesis introduces the concept of ‘nationcraft’ that redefines ‘nations’ as ideology. This heuristic suggests that ‘nations’, ‘ethnic groups’, (ethnicised) ‘peoples’ and medieval ‘gentes’ are not only ‘constructed’ in the sense of not being ‘natural’ (‘biological’) unchangeable units – they always are and remain ‘fictions’, ‘imagined things’, with no substance and independent existence of their own. The empirical part of this thesis begins from an examination of twelfth-century reinterpretations of the meaning of Britishness and explores exceptional and overlooked uses of the words Britones and Britanni and other ethnic terms derived from the concept of Britain. The next three chapters address the interplay between ‘nationhood’ and religious ideas and institutions. They focus on the notion of divine election, the applications of national categories to the cults of saints in twelfth-century England, as well as the motif of the saintly lineage of Norman dukes and its role in reimagining national boundaries at the time. The final chapter explores the political pertinence of national identifications – both as applied to and by individuals (with a special focus on those records documenting explicit changes in national identification at the time) and at the level of political-economic organization. The conclusion discusses the conceptual gaps between modern and medieval thinking about nationhood and postulates two general arguments about national categories in the twelfth century. First, it claims that these categories were not neutral, either in the sense of being taken-for-granted and un-reflected, or politically irrelevant. They were consciously thought about, reinterpreted and instrumentalized by twelfth-century actors. This leads to the second key argument: medieval notions of ‘nationhood’ cannot be reduced to essentialism, rather, they reflected the central paradox of ‘nationcraft’ as ideology: simultaneously, its tendency to naturalise ‘peoples’ and ‘countries’ as objectively existing and singular entities and the self-awareness of its own performativity and artificiality.
Supervisor: Thompson, Benjamin Sponsor: Hill Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available