Historiographies of Identity

So far, historiographical constructions of identity have often been debated in rather straightforward terms. Did historiography have any impact on ethnic, political or religious identities at all? And if so, which identity did a particular work construct? On the whole, recent historical, textual and literary critique has led to an increasing scepticism towards the value of historiographical sources, both for an adequate reflection of ‘real’ communities (because the texts were too biased) and for the impact they may have had in creating or promoting identities (because the audience and influence of the texts is only rarely attested). This project aims at developing a more complex approach. In fact, most works of historiography do not construct a single identity, but balance a whole range of possible identifications. Their narrative develops several options and explores their chances and limits. Each work also reacts to other possible identifications, in the context of a polyphonic discussion of which most voices are lost, but which can be reconstructed to a point through the reactions in our text.

The project pursued in the context of the SFB ‘Visions of Community’ (VISCOM) involved several collaborators of the Institute of Medieval research and numerous invited guests. The matter was discussed in a series of workshops held in Vienna, Princeton, and Prague from 2012 to 2015. On this basis, six collaborative volumes will be published at Brepols. They do not intend to provide a new history of historiography, but a series of studies to recover some of the considerable potential of identification that early (and also later) medieval historiography developed, which provided rich resources for further constructions of identity in medieval Europe.


Project leader:


selected Publications

  • Helmut Reimitz, History, Frankish Identity and the Framing of Western Ethnicity, 550-850 (Cambridge 2015)
  • Historiographies of Identity vol. 1: Historiographies as Reflection about Community: Ancient and Christian Models (ed. by Walter Pohl and Veronika Wieser, Turnhout, forthcoming)
  • Historiographies of Identity, vol. 2: Post-Roman Multiplicity and New Political Identities (ed. by Helmut Reimitz and Gerda Heydemann, forthcoming)
  • Historiographies of Identity, vol. 3: Carolingian Convergence and its Later Uses (ed. by Helmut Reimitz and Rutger Kramer, forthcoming)
  • Historiographies of Identity, vol. 4: Historiography and Identity towards the End of the First Millennium – A Comparative Perspective (ed. by Walter Pohl and Daniel Mahoney, forthcoming)
  • Historiographies of Identity, vol. 5: Historiography and Identity in the ‚New Europe‘, 11th-13th Centuries (ed. by Walter Pohl and Francesco Borri, forthcoming)