Ethnicity and the Writing of Medieval Scottish History

Ethnicity and the Writing of Medieval Scottish History

By Matthew H. Hammond

The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 85:1 (2006)

Abstract: Historians have long tended to define medieval Scottish society in terms of interactions between ethnic groups. This approach was developed over the course of the long nineteenth century, a formative period for the study of medieval Scotland. At that time, many scholars based their analysis upon scientific principles, long since debunked, which held that medieval ‘peoples’ could only be understood in terms of ‘full ethnic packages’. This approach was combined with a positivist historical narrative that defined Germanic Anglo-Saxons and Normans as the harbingers of advances in Civilisation. While the prejudices of that era have largely faded away, the modern discipline still relies all too often on a dualistic ethnic framework. This is particularly evident in a structure of periodisation that draws a clear line between the ‘Celtic’ eleventh century and the ‘Norman’ twelfth. Furthermore, dualistic oppositions based on ethnicity continue, particularly in discussions of law, kingship, lordship and religion.


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