The Myth of Nations The Medieval Origins of Europe eBook

10 thoughts on “The Myth of Nations The Medieval Origins of Europe

  1. says:

    The book describes the genesis of different people in Europe and the related mythology used for justification the national states building in Europe the 19th century and beyond It is surprising how such a slim volume can summarise so many details It slightly rushes through the genesis of Slavic tribes but for the rest it is impressive in its precision To demonstrate how the historiography affects and being affected by our convictions and beliefs he brings the example of Zulu tribe and its history written by a missionary in the 19th century He reveals how his sketch was affected by the Biblical story of Exodus rather than the actual facts Homogeneous ethnic group Nguni never existed l They rather like Germans had meaning as linguistic designation never as political cultural or social grouping There were no migration any than one accept the legends of gothic migration from Scandinavia or Frankish wandering from Danube to Rhine Rather groups that would in time become Zulu emerged from the indigenous population of the area Migration stories are means of projecting mythic founding charters onto 19th century politiesIt would reuire the second reading for me to write a proper review So for now I would just leave another uote Both large hegemonic states and in aspiring independence movements claims that ‘we have always been a people’ actually are appeals to become a people appeals not grounded in history but rather attempts to create history

  2. says:

    The Myth of Nations is the third book in my trilogy of Late Antiue histories the first two being Frontiers of the Roman Empire and Barbarian Tides Unlike these titles the current book is not an academic work Instead Geary's audience is the general reader with an interest in history p 185 Beyond that he wants to argue that modern national identities are the products of 18th and 19th century European state building In reality identity whether constitutional or organic is a concept always in flux and in Late Antiuity say AD 400 800 things were exceptionally fluidI don't have too much to say about the book Geary's main point Ethnogenesis is a process of the present and the future as much as it is of the past No efforts of romantics politicians or social scientists can preserve once and for all some essential soul of a people or a nation Nor can any effort ensure that nations ethnic groups and communities of today will not vanish utterly in the future The past may have set the parameters within which one can build the future but it cannot determine what that future must be Peoples of Europeare processes formed and reformed by history not the atomic structures of history itself p 174 is one I'm in agreement with by and largeI'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the period but who hasn't done much reading about Late Antiuity You can get an idea of one of the contentious issues in current academe and a guide to further reading Readers with a extensive background in the period will find a nice summation but nothing new

  3. says:

    Patrick Geary's The Myth of Nations has only become relevant in the fifteen or so years since its first publication In this short lucid but highly thought provoking book Geary explores how the period between the third and ninth centuries have been appropriated by nationalists and racists who claim to find in that period a definitive origin of contemporary European peoples Geary dismantles these myths and shows instead that the names of ethnicities are less descriptors of biological continuity than they are representative of shifting claims over time Rather than pinpointing the ethnogenesis of European peoples as a thing that happened at some fixed point in the early Middle Ages Geary argues that it is a process beginning in Late Antiuity and continuing through to the present day This should be accessible to the interested lay reader and also of use in the college classroom

  4. says:

    I should start by saying I don't think this is a bad book I just find Geary's argument flawed and as such disagree with his conclusionIn sum Geary argues that the medieval territories that now comprise contemporary European nations did not view themselves as bound to each other and conseuently it is erroneous to speak of the nation of England or France or Germany or Greece during ancient and medieval time periods With the 18th century the concept of a nation was developed and these formerly disconnected territories became fused together into unified entities tied together by common social political economic and cultural ties These new nations Geary argues invented myths about their national foundations extending back centuries false myths as Geary put it because the process of organizing themselves as nations only occurred much laterI believe Geary is correct to say that before the 18th Century territories in present day European countries were not bound to each other by any sort of national consciousness but were rather just disconnected principalities fifedoms and other similar small territories I believe Geary is correct to assert that the concept of nationalism and the nations that accompanied it were constructs of the 18th Century Where his argument breaks down however is his contention that after this point European nations all automatically saw themselves as unified and invented national myths accordingly Some European nations do not view themselves this way but instead see themselves as a set of smaller social and cultural units without strong ties to each other who just happen to be stuck together under one political stateGeary draws his examples of small territories that fused into one larger nation primarily from France and England And in the case of these two nations his argument holds up well Both were groups of smaller territories Both have unified through different historical events and processes into nations with unifying ties bonding their citizens into French and English nationalities But to cite a counterexample this process of unifying as a nation is much weaker in Germany than in France or England There are many territories that have been stuck together in the nation of Germany During the second half of the 19th Century the beginnings of a national consciousness flourished in the German state This national consciousness was however considerably dampened by the prolonged viscousness of World War I After this war when Germany was badly wounded but not broken nationalism became a strong force again as among other historical processes a reaction against the Great Depression and against the ineptitude of the Weimar government This redoubled strength of nationalism in Germany culminated in World War II which utterly devastated Germany and left the concept of nationalism cast out of the German consciousness Even today people who live in the different territories of Germany generally do not see strong ties unifying their territories to each other When the Berlin Wall was demolished and East and West Germany formally reunited many Germans on both sides of the Wall were apprehensive about what this reunification might mean Even today many do not view reunification as a positive development And even with the occasional flurry of nationalism such as occurred when Berlin hosted the World Cup in 2006 Germany is still one of the least nationalistic nations in the worldAnother counterexample is Greece The ancient territory of Macedonia covers the modern political state of Macedonia and extends into what is now northern Greece There is a phrase one hears regularly in Greece that Macedonia will always be Greek However the people who populate the modern political state of Macedonia are not ethnically Greek but rather are drawn from the Albanian ethnicityGeary argues that since the Greeks consider Macedonia to be Greek nationalistic Greeks clearly want to add the modern political state of Macedonia to Greek territory The Greeks in fact want to do no such thing they are not massing their army on Greece's northern border to invade and take control of Macedonia They do not consider the current inhabitants of Macedonia to be ethnically Greek What the Greeks object to is the use of the name Macedonia to identify the political state to their north Because the ancient territory of Macedonia extended into northern Greece and some ancient Greek heroes notably Alexander the Great came from Greek Macedonia the people of Greece regard the names Macedonia and Macedonian to be a part of their cultural heritage But they do not consider the Albanian descended inhabitants of the modern state of Macedonia to be tied to their heritage and as such do not want to add them to the modern nation of Greece Conseuently Geary's notion that nationalistic ideas rooted in ancient history are driving Greece to make the modern state of Macedonia part of Greece is inaccurateWhile Geary's argument hold up for some nations such as France and England counterexamples such as Germany and Greece cause me to reject his argument that nations all look to their ancient history to invent a story of nationality that binds their territories together Some nations do no such thing

  5. says:

    Patrick Geary’s Myth of Nations endeavors to prove that the national definitions of European nations are inaccurate due to the fluid nature of early European people groups Further he hopes to establish these definitions as political and racial in origin while shining a light on the role of historians in crafting this inaccurate narrative from the past This misinterpretation of the past Geary postulates has been co opted by nationalistic movements which have “summoned millions of people into the streets and sent millions to their graves” Geary 13 In light of this Geary intends to present an overview of a new understanding of European people while exposing the roots of modern ethnic nationalism To this end Geary spends the first chapter of the book exploring ethnic nationalism in modern day Europe He presents a Europe full of “imagined communities”; nations created by a psychological and mental phenomena rather than an actual ethnic tie to the past This first chapter sets the stage for chapters two through five Geary sets out to explore the origins of the categories Europeans have defined themselves with specifically by demonstrating the fluid people groups of Europe from the 5th century BCE up through Late Antiuity He then moves on to examine the development of nations through the Middle Ages Finally the sixth chapter plays clean up with a comparison of the development of the Zulu national history to the development of Europe’s Geary lays out his book in this manner to explain how political nationalism is a recent phenomena; an idea that would have rung hollow for communities in the past1 He pays special attention to the role of historians in the development of this Primarily Geary concerns himself with the work of contemporary historians or older ancient and medieval texts such as Herodotus Geary rarely cites the nineteenth century historians he is critiuing instead touching on them broadly This is fine since he is primarily concerned with the effects of these histories instead of their specific contents His most extensive exploration of a specific history is AT Bryant’s Olden Times in Zululand and Natal in the concluding chapter With the exception of the ancient Greco Roman texts Geary looks to European texts an implication of Geary’s interest in Eurocentrism in history Geary looks at Europeanist historians as the primary causers of the nationalistic school of history stating that they have validated the attempts of military commanders “by constructing a continuous linear story of the peoples of Europe” Geary 157 This touches on an important theme throughout Geary’s book; the duty of the historian Geary implies the work of a historian should not be to develop a master narrative but instead to understand the fluid nature of social units and the political nature of primary sources Geary handles sources well and his overall theme has interesting implications for historians Unfortunately Geary draws a lot of criticism from his obvious ideological bent His blatant approach could alienate some historians who would certainly feel implicated by Geary’s thesis However Geary doesn’t intend his history to be popular and is well resigned to it being a bitter pill “Historians have a duty to speak out even if they are certain to be ignored” Geary 14 Geary makes an excellent case for the fluidity of European people groups and provides a better approach to understanding primary sources Problems arise in the book mostly when the breadth of Geary’s brush becomes obvious As Geary admits this book is intended for general audiences and thus lacks a degree of scholastic rigor Hundreds of years fly by in the course of two sentences Further Geary’s targeting of historians as primary actors in ethnic nationalism is a little dubious This idea could easily be reversed showing historians as individuals influenced by the zeitgeist of ethnic nationalism permeating their time Still that doesn’t excuse the role of historians in nation myth building and Geary provides the tool set he believes will steer historians away from this in a comprehensive and coherent fashion There are certainly lessons students of history can take from Geary

  6. says:

    I definitely liked it and it pretty much shook my entire perception of peoplehood reading the brief section on the Bulgars and how they had split from the Avars is totally and utterly unlike anything I was taught in school in terms of the origins of the Bulgars Being Bulgarian this really caused me to reconsider everything I was taught about our historical continuity as a people a concept which really is uite ridiculous Geary does a great job in describing the fluidity of identity and how ethnicity or peoplehood is a construct that peoples are heterogenous units constantly evolving and amalgamating sometimes disappearing altogether in the course of history The writing was excellent and I felt the book was an appropriate length What I would have liked to hear is how exactly the notion of nationhood was formed in the 18th and 19th centuries and how historians manipulated and reinterpreted history for their political purposes But I guess he indirectly tells us that because the peoples of the Late Antiuity themselves invented genealogies and histories to consolidate and validate their political power In reality this has always happened and will continue to happen and it is important for us Europeans and all peoples really to realize the mechanics of ethnogenesis and not to be fooled by nationalist rhetoric Not that I necessarily have a uarrel with nationalism as such but I do object to the politicizing and manipulation of history as is so often observed within such political groups This book also reminded me why history and the study of history is important history means a lot in terms of our self identification and it's important to be informed when political leaders use and abuse history for their own aims It's important that historians speak out on issues such as these and break down illusions of the past that can be extremely harmful The reason I'm giving a three star rating and not a four star is that I found the middle section a bit dull to be honest The fusion of barbarians and Romans was described in too much detail for a layman like me and I had difficulty keeping up sometimes What that really tells me is that I should step up my game and learn some about my history something which this book has inspired me to do

  7. says:

    It's an obligatory classic for anyone taking a real interest in history I haven't read it in my undergrad years as the Polish historiography has its own excellent classic title covering the same subject area see Świt narodów europejskich Now it pleases me to see that the English speaking world has also produced an accessible study on this subject It shows to a lay reader that the so called nations as we understand them today are relatively recent phenomena and that the historical reality was far removed from what nationalistic myths try to sell us today It's such a pity that those who would benefit from this book the most will most probably never read it

  8. says:

    Wonderful incisive look at the changing ideas of nationhood which disputes any idea of fixed national identities stemming from some distant past “When contemporary nationalists appeal to history their notion of history is static they look to the moment of primary acuisition when ‘their people’ first arriving in the ruins of the Roman Empire established their sacred territory and their national identity This is the very antithesis of history The history of European peoples in Late Antiuity and the early Middle Ages is not the story of a primordial moment but of a continuous process It is the story of political appropriation and manipulation of inherited names andrepresentations of pasts to create a present and a future It is a history of constant change of radical discontinuities and of political and cultural zigzags masked by the repeated re appropriation of old words to define new realities” 156 7

  9. says:

    Very good book on the strange modern idea of nationalismWhat is a nation? It is an idea mostly a lie that philologists made up and then political states took to legitimize their power and justify reclaiming land that rightfully belongs to themThis is why I like Thucydides so much He is so honest You are weak I am strong Therefore I will kill you and take your land Goodbye

  10. says:

    An interesting take especially in light of books I've read since such as Leithart's Defending Constantine

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The Myth of Nations The Medieval Origins of Europe Modern day Europeans by the millions proudly trace back their national identities to the Celts Franks Gauls Goths Huns or Serbs or some combination of the various peoples who inhabited traversed or pillaged their continent than a thousand years ago According to Patrick Geary this is historical nonsense The idea that national character is fixed for all time in a simpler distant past is groundless he argues in this unflinching reconsideration of European nationhood Few of the peoples that many Europeans honor as sharing their sense of ''nation'' had comparably homogeneous identities; even the Huns he points out were firmly united only under Attila's ten year reignGeary dismantles the nationalist myths about how the nations of Europe were born Through rigorous analysis set in lucid prose he contrasts the myths with the actual history of Europe's transformation between the fourth and ninth centuries the period of grand migrations that nationalists hold dear The nationalist sentiments today increasingly taken for granted in Europe emerged he argues only in the nineteenth century Ironically this phenomenon was kept alive not just by responsive populations but by complicit scholarsUltimately Geary concludes the actual formation of European peoples must be seen as an extended process that began in antiuity and continues in the present The resulting image is a challenge to those who anchor contemporary antagonisms in ancient myths to those who claim that immigration and tolerance toward minorities despoil ''nationhood'' As Geary shows such ideologues whether Le Pens who champion ''the French people born with the baptism of Clovis in 496'' or Milosevics who cite early Serbian history to claim rebellious regions know their myths but not their history The Myth of Nations will be intensely debated by all who understood that a history that does not change that reduces the complexities of many centuries to a single eternal moment isn't history at all Publishers Weekly