Department of History





Professor:         Dr. Florin Curta

Office:               202 Keene-Flint Hall

Office hours:     WF 2:00-4:00 or by appointment

Phone:               392-0271, ext. 240


Class will meet M 3:00-6:00 in CBD 212

   No other term in the whole field of social studies is more ambiguous, yet  more potent, than ethnicity. Today, we speak of ethnicity as a mode of action and of representation, for the politicization of ethnic identities continues to be a defining characteristic of the early twenty-first century. Was ethnicity in the medieval past as embedded in socio-political relations as it is now? This course will focus upon the history of medieval ethnicities and, more specifically, of ethnic formation (ethnogenesis). Many modern European nations trace their origins to the Middle Ages and the medieval history plays an important role in the construction of the national image. Through reading and discussion of ethnic identity, ethno-centrism, and ethnogenesis, we will come to some understanding of ethnicity in the past, as a form of social and political mobilization.
    The course has three objectives. The first is to introduce you to some of the major issues of medieval history: migration and ethnogenesis; medieval law; language and ethnic identity; kingdoms and communities; the archaeology of medieval communities. These issues should provide a broad understanding of important trends in medieval history which will enable you to formulate more specialized research projects during graduate work in European history. Such a broad understanding can also serve as the foundation for preparation in undergraduate teaching. The second objective is to present the continuing, often heated historiographic debates surrounding these issues. Students will read some "classic" texts, as well as more current literature, reflecting recent historical perspectives. The final objective will be to afford you an opportunity to develop and improve skills in bibliographic development and most important oral and written skills in the critical evaluation of historical texts.
There will be four review essays. Three of them will analyze the assigned readings for three of the seminar topics. You will have some choice in your selection. Each essay should be between two and four typed pages and each is worth 50 points for a total of 150. One review essay will deal with a larger body of literature and take the form of a more sustained historiographic essay analyzing at least four related texts (assigned texts may be included). This essay should be at least ten to twelve pages long, with appropriate bibliography and notes (using the Chicago Manual of Style). Within the first month of the course, you must consult with me on selection of topic and bibliography. This essay is worth 100 points. In addition, there will be two short essays focusing on the historical substance of two of the seminar's topics. You will have some choice of which two topics to select. The essay will answer a broad historical question, constructed similarly to questions found on M.A. or Ph.D. exams. Each essay is worth 25 points for a total of 50 points. You are expected to have read the assigned reading thoroughly and critically for each meeting. Before each meeting you should prepare several questions (at least three) pertaining to the text and the author. These should be submitted weekly before every meeting, via e-mail. A maximum of 50 points can be earned for this preparation and your presentation. Finally, your participation in class discussion is worth 50 points.
The total number of points to be earned is 400. Your grade will be the percentage of these points that you accumulated during this course. Percentage equivalents to letter grades are as following: A=100-90; B+=89-87%; B=86-80%; C+=79-77.


August 26:            Introduction. Ethnicity and ethnogenesis - concepts and approaches.

September 2:        Labor Day - no class

September 9:      Defining ethnicity.


  • Banks, Ethnicity
  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen, "The cultural contexts of ethnic differences" (on reserve)
  • Carter G. Bentley, "Ethnicity and practice" (on reserve)
  • Anthony D. Smith, "National identities: modern and medieval?" (on reserve)
  • Walter Pohl, "Conceptions of ethnicity in Early Medieval studies" (on reserve)
  • September 16:       Archaeology, migration and ethnogenesis


  • Curta, Making of the Slavs
  • Dick Harrison, "Dark Age migrations and subjective ethnicity: the example of the Lombards" (on reserve)
  • Gisella Ripoll Lopez, "The arrival of the Visigoths in Hispania: population problems and the process of acculturation," in Strategies of Distinction, pp. 153-188
  • Thomas Wallerström, "On ethnicity as a methodological problem in historical archaeology" (on reserve)
  • September 23:      Review of ethnicity as an anthropological and legal concept. FIRST REVIEW DUE

    September 30:      Law and ethnicity


  • Kim, Aliens in Medieval Law
  • Roger Collins, "Law and ethnic identity in the Western kingdoms in the fifth and sixth centuries," in Medieval Europeans, pp. 1-23
  • Wolfgang Liebeschuetz, "Citizen status and law in the Roman Empire and the Visigothic kingdom," in Strategies of Distinction, pp. 131-152
  • Patrick J. Geary, "Ethnic identity as a situational construct in the Early Middle Ages" (on reserve)
  • October 7:            What's in a name? Personal names, language, and ethnicity


  • Matthew Townend, "Viking-age England as a bilingual society" (on reserve
  • John Hines, "The becoming of the English: identity, material culture and language in early Anglo-Saxon England" (on reserve)
  • Florin Curta, "Slavs in Fredegar and Paul the Deacon: medieval gens or 'scourge of God'?" (on reserve)
  • Jorg Jarnut, "Nomen et gens: political and linguistic aspects of personal names between the third and the eighth century," in Strategies of Distinction, pp. 113-116.
  • Patrick Amory, "Names, ethnic identity, and community in fifth- and sixth-century Burgundy" (on reserve)
  • October 14:        Review of ethnicity as an attribute of the "imagined community."

                                   FIRST ESSAY QUESTION DUE

    October 21:           Kingdom, community and ethnicity


  • Dunbabin, France in the Making
  • Timothy Reuter, "The making of England and Germany, 850-1050: points of comparison and difference," in Medieval Europeans, pp. 53-70.
  • Patrick Wormald, "'Engla Lond': the making of an allegiance" (on reserve)
  • D. Zancani, "The notion of 'Lombard' and 'Lombardy" in the Middle Ages," in Medieval Europeans, pp. 217-232
  • Teresa Hankey, "Civic pride versus feelings for Italy in the age of Dante," in Medieval Europeans, pp. 196-216.
  •  October 28:           Imagined communities: ethnic identity and myths of ethnic descent


  • Geary, The Myth of the Nations
  • Anthony D. Smith, "National identity and myths of ethnic descent" (on reserve)
  • Herwig Wolfram, "Origo et religio. Ethnic traditions and literature in early medieval texts" (on reserve)
  • Elisabeth A. R. Brown, "The Trojan origins of the French: the commencement of a myth's demise," in Medieval Europeans, pp. 103-118
  • Simon Franklin, "The invention of Rus(sia)(s): some remarks on medieval and modern perceptions of continuity and discontinuity, in Medieval Europeans, pp. 180-195
  • Brian Webster, "John of Fordun and the independent identity of the Scots," in Medieval Europeans, pp. 85-102.
  •  November 4:        Religion and ethnicity


    November 11:       Review of ethnicity as an attribute of the "imagined community."

                                   SECOND REVIEW DUE

    November 18:       Conquest, frontiers, and ethnicity


    November 25:       Colonization, colonialism and ethnicity


    December 2:         Review of ethnicity as a result of conquest and frontier interaction.

                                   SECOND ESSAY QUESTION DUE/THIRD REVIEW DUE