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Celts: Ancient, Modern, Post-Modern  

(Anthropology 21265)


Celts and things Celtic have occupied a prominent and protean place in the popular imagination since the Romantic movement of the 18th century, and Celticness (the property of being Celtic) has been an amazingly versatile concept in the politics of identity and collective memory in recent history. In fact, Celtic identities have been constructed on several contrasting, and often contradictory, scales and planes of "imagined community," all of which invoke connections to a distant past in European prehistory. This course is an anthropological exploration of this phenomenon that examines: (1) the use of the ancient past in the construction of modern nationalist state mythologies of Celtic identity (for example, in France and Ireland) and regional nationalist movements resisting broader nationalist and colonialist projects (for example, in Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Gallicia, Asturias); (2) the construction of transnational ethno-nostalgic forms of Celtic identity in modern diasporic communities (Irish, Scottish, etc.); and (3) various recent spiritualist visions of Celticity (for example, in the New Age and Neo-Pagan movements) that decouple the concept from ethnic understandings.  All of these are treated in the context of a discussion of what is known archaeologically about the ancient peoples of Europe who serve as a symbolic reservoir for modern Celtic identities and of the role and responsibilities of archaeologists in this process. The course explores these competing Celtic imaginaries in the spaces and media where they are constructed and performed, ranging from museums and monuments, to neo-druid organizations, Celtic cyberspace, Celtic festivals, Celtic theme parks, Celtic music, Celtic commodity production and consumption, Celtic sports teams, etc.


The class is designed not only to inform students about the history and sociology of Celts and Celticness, but also to show how one targets and analytically deals with diverse forms of empirical evidence, and how pursuing the subject of Celticness illuminates several important theoretical issues in Anthropology, such as the concepts of identity, authenticity, practice, performance, social memory, globalization, etc.


The course is divided between lecture and discussion: most classes will begin with an illustrated introductory lecture and/or demonstration followed by a discussion based on the readings assigned for the day.  Informed participation in these discussions is expected of all students. Other criteria for grading will include a midterm exam and a final research paper. The research paper is designed to engage students in the practice of anthropological analysis so that you gain a deeper working understanding of what the discipline is all about.

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