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Do things made in fifth-century Britain have ethnicity?

Professor Robin Fleming of Boston College is interviewed by KAS President Kerry Brown about her views on the application of ethnic identities to objects in the period after the Romans left Britain.


Recorded Tue, 14 Sep 2021


Historians and archaeologists habitually apply the ethnic label “Anglo Saxon” to fifth-century ceramics and metalwork. These objects, in turn, are employed to distinguish early medieval burials and settlements from Roman-period ones and to identify communities of Anglo-Saxon immigrants and their descendants. Robin will be arguing that a long, hard think about fifth-century pottery highlights the difficulties (tautological and otherwise) that arise when we ascribe ethnic identities to things in the first century after Rome’s withdrawal from Britain and then turn around and use those things to determine the ethnicities of their makers and users.



Robin Fleming, a professor of history at Boston College, has written on the political history of viking, Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Norman England; English law before the Common Law; Domesday Book; and late-Roman and early medieval material culture.

Professor Fleming, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, has received grants and/or fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Harvard Society of Fellows; the Bunting Institute; the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies at Harvard University; and the Guggenheim Foundation. She is a fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Royal Historical Society, and the London Society of Antiquaries.

Robin has recently published a book on the late-Roman material culture regime and its end in Britain, The Material Fall of Roman Britain 300–525 (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2021). She is now writing six lectures on dogs in Roman Britain that she will present in Oxford in the winter of 2022 for the annual James Ford Lectures in British History.

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