Material Ethnogenesis? A Crystal Conch of the “Goths”

  • Genevra Kornbluth
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Historians do least violence to our sources when we draw boundaries in the same places as the people we study. Ethnogenesis theory appears to offer art historians just that possibility. Certain early medieval groups, for example the Goths and Franks, are thought to have gradually developed a sense of “ethnic” identity1 manifested in characteristic art forms. One can therefore speak of Gothic amulets or Frankish fibulae, label those objects medieval (rather than ancient), and map their formal changes over time, bringing order to a large body of chaos. But the theory is not without its own problems. We cannot be sure whether or in what ways textual terminology related to actual groups. How can we discuss Gothic development when we do not know whether people called Goths by outsiders thought of themselves that way, whether unrelated groups were given the same name, or whether the name is properly used for more than one generation? Archaeology is sometimes brought in to refine our definitions, but that, too, is fraught with peril. Surviving bjects can fail to conform to the expected orderly progression.


Ethnic Identity British Museum Historical Archaeology Scallop Shell Rock Crystal 
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Copyright information

© Celia Chazelle and Felice Lifshitz 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Genevra Kornbluth

There are no affiliations available

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