Welcome to the Historical Identity Research Blog!

Detail from the Utrecht Psalter, Canticum 15. Utrecht, Universiteitsbibliotheek, MS 32, fol. 90v.

Walter Pohl

June 1, 2018 | Walter Pohl | HI Research Blog |

Are you interested in medieval history, or in the way in which the study of the past helps to explain modern problems with identity and ethnicity? Then this blog offers you regular research reports and news on many aspects of medieval identities, on their construction and significance. ‘Identity’ is in many respects a problematic term. It is often used to affirm one ‘identity’ against another, and to exclude outsiders. Such identity politics that aim at mobilizing ‘us’ against ‘them’ have been increasingly successful in recent years. Understandably, many scholars now have reserves against research that addresses ‘identity’. Indeed, ‘identity’ is a powerful political tool for self-assertion and for the deprecation of others, for creating consensus and for engineering conflict. We still do not understand sufficiently how it works. This clearly demonstrates the need to address this ‘problematic’ topic. The study of the distant past can not only tell us about the origins and historical development of many identities or prejudices against others. It can also provide clues as to how the dynamic of identification and othering works. By studying medieval identities, we thus seek to contribute to understanding problems of identity today. The label ‘identity research’, as we use it, covers many related aspects: Community, diversity, solidarity, social cohesion, ethnicity, nation, religious affiliation, political integration, symbolic communication, discourse formation, cultural memory, uses of the past, conflict, boundaries, migration, cultural exchanges, language difference, translation, local vs. overarching identities, homeland, empires, legal pluralism, origin myths, historiography, and much else. Many of these aspects will be exemplified by new entries in our blog.

The blog is an activity of the Institute for Medieval Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. This is a large research institute run by the Austrian Academy, perhaps one of the largest medieval institutes in the world, currently employing and hosting about 80 researchers (on further information, see the website).

The Research Unit for Historical Identity Research is one of four divisions of the institute. It mainly deals with early medieval history, but also includes a research group working on late medieval vernaculars and translations. Among its large projects, there are the Austrian Spezialforschungsbereich ‘Visions of Community’ (VISCOM) and the HERA project After Empire’ (UNUP); it also hosted the two ERC grants ‘Social cohesion, Identity and Religion’ (SCIRE, 2011-16) and ‘Origins of the Vernacular Mode’ (OVERMODE, 2011-17), the HERA project ‘Cultural Memory and the Resources of the Past’ (CMRP, 2011-13) and the Wittgenstein Prize project Ethnic Identities in Early Medieval Europe’(2005-10).