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Deconstructing Anglo-Saxon archaeology: a critical enquiry into the study of ethnicity in lowland Britain in Late Antiquity (c. 350–600)

Harland, Daniel James Michael (2017) Deconstructing Anglo-Saxon archaeology: a critical enquiry into the study of ethnicity in lowland Britain in Late Antiquity (c. 350–600). PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis is the first major study of modern archaeological attempts to infer ethnic identity from the material record, in research on the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain after the end of Roman rule. It places these studies in their intellectual context, critically assesses their explicit methodologies and unstated analytical assumptions, and compares them with recent work in ethnic sociology. It asserts that Anglo-Saxon archaeology would benefit from drawing upon the most recent insights of this particular field, because, the thesis demonstrates, current scholarship relies upon epistemologically questionable categories, such as coherent 'Germanic' groups. The thesis uses post-structuralist philosophy to show that this reification results from belief that empirical methods can answer questions about ethnic identity unanswerable through purely archaeological means. In particular, it uses the philosophy of Jacques Derrida to show that even the subtler of such attempts rely on material interpretations based not on empirical observation, but pre-rational acts of interpretative choice originating from culture historical intellectual contexts. The thesis then proposes possible alternatives, in conversation with recent historiography that treats the 'end' of the Roman world as a transformation of civic and military hierarchies of power in the wake of Roman state collapse. This produced complex renegotiations of gender identity and methods for the expression of status. The thesis uses the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to reinterpret two important early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries as well as the most important literary sources for Britain in the fifth century. This reinterpretation reveals that prioritising questions of ethnicity has precluded appreciation of the participation of the inhabitants of lowland Britain in such processes of renegotiation. The alternative interpretation offered instead does not deny the occurrence of migration to Britain in the fifth century, but posits that abandoning questions about the presence or absence of non-demonstrable ethnic identities can give those who experienced and witnessed such migration their part in the story of the transformation of the Roman world.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Related URLs:
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Depositing User: Mr Daniel James Michael Harland
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2018 11:54
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2018 11:54
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/20505

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