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United under the Banner of Medievalism? Medievalism and Negotiations of Swiss and British National Identities

Author Matthias BERGER
Director of thesis Prof. Dr Annette Kern-Stähler (University of Bern)
Co-director of thesis Prof. Dr Stephanie Trigg (University of Melbourne)
Summary of thesis

My thesis investigates how and why medievalism is deployed in contemporary discourses of national identities in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and critically assesses its underlying ideologies. To that end, I propose we consider medievalism a utilitarian product of cultural memory. Rather than representing any ‘real’ Middle Ages, medievalism tailors available knowledge of the medieval past to the social needs and ideologies of the present. National identities being – like all identities – fictions of continuity, they are consolidated or contested through narratives (in this case of the Middle Ages). I suggest medievalism is situated at the nexus of memory, narrative and identity. A comparison of recent Swiss and British medievalisms reveals parallels for instance with respect to invocations of one’s own exceptionalism in a European context and of opposition to perceived political heteronomy. Yet within the two ‘nations’, the extent to which the plurality of constituent cultures (English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish in the case of Britain and German, French, Italian and Romansh in the case of Switzerland) or people of different ethnicities or genders share in the identities carved out by medievalism varies greatly. While it is clear that in the post-Shoah West medievalist narratives no longer reign supreme, even today they preoccupy the imagination – and cultural memory – of both ‘nations’ considered. By virtue of the comparative setup of my project I moreover hope to contribute towards a more general understanding of recent medievalism and the negotiation of national identities.

Administrative delay for the defence