Identity, Ethnicity and Nationhood before Modernity: Old Debates and New Perspectives

Call for Papers: Identity, Ethnicity and Nationhood before Modernity: Old Debates and New Perspectives

24–26 April 2015, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, Oxford, UK

In spite of the stream of publications over the last thirty years on ancient and medieval ethnicity and national identity, the dominant paradigm in ethnicity and nationalism studies remains modernist – the view that nationhood is an essentially modern phenomenon and was non-existent or peculiarly unimportant before the 18th century. We believe it is time to reopen this debate. Scholars working on pre-modern collective identities too often avoid the challenge of modernism, either by using allegedly unproblematic terminology of ethnicity or by employing the vocabulary of nationhood uncritically. This conference, therefore, aims at tackling these difficult theoretical issues head on. This can only truly be achieved by bringing together a range of researchers working on ancient, late antique, early medieval, high medieval, late medieval, and early modern ethnicity and nationhood. Thus we hope to reinvigorate discussion of pre-modern ethnicity and nationhood, as well as to go beyond the unhelpful chronological divisions which have emerged through surprisingly fragmented research on pre-modern collective identities. Overall, the goal of our conference is to encourage systemic conceptual thinking about pre-modern identity and nationhood, and to consider the similarities and differences between the construction and use of ethnic and national categories both within those periods, and in comparison with modernity.

The conference invites paper proposals from prospective speakers in all periods of ancient, medieval and early modern history; sociology and social anthropology; and literary studies. We also warmly invite papers from modernists that aim to compare pre-modern and modern ethnicity and nationhood. Priority will be given to papers that situate their particular studies within the broader conceptual debate on pre-modern and modern identity.

Keynote lectures will be given by Caspar Hirschi, Len Scales, Walter Pohl, Susan Reynolds and Tim Whitmarsh. To stimulate discussion, these keynote lectures will be responded to by some of the leading experts on modern national identity and nationalism – Monica Baár, Stefan Berger, John Breuilly and Oliver Zimmer – as well as by Azar Gat, the author of a recent book on the long history of political ethnicity and nationhood.

Prospective speakers are invited to submit abstracts of approximately 300 words. Submissions should include name, affiliation and contact details. The deadline for submissions is 1 November 2014. For more information about the conference, or to submit an abstract, please email the organizing committee at or

We intend to publish selected papers from the conference as a special journal edition.

The conference is supported by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the Faculty of History, University of Oxford.

Organizing Committee: Ilya Afanasyev, Seth Hindin and Nicholas Matheou.