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Medieval and Modern Concepts of Race and Ethnicity

Medieval and Modern Concepts of Race and Ethnicity Page 39 Robert Bartlett University of St. Andrews St. Andrews, Scotland Historians working in the present day, just like their medieval and early modern predecessors, are confronted with difficult choices when they write of human population groups.1 When, if at all, is it reasonable to employ the word race, the word nation, the word tribe ? What collective term best describes, say, the Goths, the English, the Jews? What meaning does the concept “ethnic identity” have? It is hard to do without some collective terms, but neither the medieval nor the modern terminology of race and ethnicity is simple or uncomplicated. Even the distinction between those two central terms, race and ethnicity, is drawn in different ways by different people. In the United States both popular and official usage tends to associate race with the troubled history of white and black, while the term ethnicity summons up Italians, Irish, or Greeks, for example. Hence the former term suggests a distinction based on an inherited biological feature, skin color, while the latter points to cultural differences between groups. Recent large-scale immigration into the United States from Asia and Latin America has complicated the issue by posing the question of http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies Duke University Press

Medieval and Modern Concepts of Race and Ethnicity

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2001 by Duke University Press
ISSN
1082-9636
eISSN
1527-8263
DOI
10.1215/10829636-31-1-39
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Page 39 Robert Bartlett University of St. Andrews St. Andrews, Scotland Historians working in the present day, just like their medieval and early modern predecessors, are confronted with difficult choices when they write of human population groups.1 When, if at all, is it reasonable to employ the word race, the word nation, the word tribe ? What collective term best describes, say, the Goths, the English, the Jews? What meaning does the concept “ethnic identity” have? It is hard to do without some collective terms, but neither the medieval nor the modern terminology of race and ethnicity is simple or uncomplicated. Even the distinction between those two central terms, race and ethnicity, is drawn in different ways by different people. In the United States both popular and official usage tends to associate race with the troubled history of white and black, while the term ethnicity summons up Italians, Irish, or Greeks, for example. Hence the former term suggests a distinction based on an inherited biological feature, skin color, while the latter points to cultural differences between groups. Recent large-scale immigration into the United States from Asia and Latin America has complicated the issue by posing the question of

Journal

Journal of Medieval and Early Modern StudiesDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2001

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