Ethnonyms by Comparison

An interdisciplinary Survey in medieval Western Europe and in Southwest Arabia


This DOC team project offers a discussion on the subject of "ethnonyms" ("ethnic" group names).

The focus of this project was the analysis of ethnonyms interpreted as literary, rhetorical, but also symbolic and political elements of a conceptual map of the ethnic world. By revising and continuous reworking of ethnic terminology, medieval writers, both in Western Europe and in South-Western Arabia, attempted to reinterpret and arrange different ethnographical traditions, as well as supported specific political agendas based on an ethnic concept of identity.

We investigated in particular the interactions between ethnonyms and factors of collective identity constructions, religious ideas and socio-political strategies. The historical, anthropological and philological approaches of the individual dissertations have been compared in the course of the teamwork.

Methodologically, we relied on jointly defined analytical schemes, whereby ethnonyms were analyzed, for example, with regard to their etymology, their position in wider taxonomies, their stereotypical attributions as well as their “situational nature”. Ethnonyms appear as strong yet flexible tools, which serve to interpret diversity as well as support concept of the self. Since the subjects of the individual researches were chronological and geographical distant, the project aimed to lead a broader macro-cultural comparison of strategies of distinction and identification especially in times of social upheaval.