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Guy Halsall

Guy Halsall is a product of York's history and archaeology departments. After graduating in Archaeology and History, he carried out doctoral research on the archaeology and history of the region of Metz (north-eastern France and southern Germany) between c.350 and c.750. This was published as Settlement and Social Organization: The Merovingian region of Metz (Cambridge, 1995). With an established reputation as one of the most innovative students of the history of western Europe between c.375 and c.700, Guy Halsall has published extensively, on subjects including gender and age, death and burial, ethnicity, warfare and violence, the political uses of humour and the writings of Gregory of Tours. His major monograph Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 was published to critical acclaim in 2007. Halsall's current research focuses on western Europe in the important period of change around AD 600 and on the application of continental philosophy (especially the work of Jacques Derrida) to history.


1) The fall of the Roman Empire and Barbarian Migration: historical-archaeological research and political discourse

The issue of the end of the Western Roman Empire and its relationship to the phenomenon of the Barbarian Migrations has been a major focus of scholarly research since the Renaissance, and the connection between those events and political discourse goes back to the very period of the Migrations themselves. The relationship between interpretations of the Barbarians and their role in the collapse of the West is complex and all-too-often reduced to a single and simplistic trajectory. This lecture will describe some of this complexity and make some points to bear in mind when reading accounts of this historiography, before talking about the contemporary (mis-)uses of the Barbarian Migrations and the ‘Fall of Rome'. What issues do modern historians and archaeologists need to take into account or to stress, in order to prevent the political appropriation of this part of the European Past?

2) Identity and ethnicity

This lecture follows on from the first by focusing on two related areas of research: identity and ethnicity. The word ‘identity' is ubiquitous in modern historical research and in political discourse (the whole issue of ‘identity politics' is the most obvious example). But what do we mean by identity, now or in the past? What do we understand by ‘ethnicity'? In this lecture I will, after setting out some of the historiography, attempt to draw up some theoretical approaches to these topics which will at once shed a different light on the late antique or early medieval past and how we understand it, and on that basis provide a starting point for rethinking the use and abuse of notions of national or other identity in the present.


Immigration and Frontiers

In the first of my two lectures I will have drawn attention to the notion of the Roman Empire and the world of the Barbarians as two opposed worlds, and how we need to think of them as interrelated elements of a single ‘world system'. This means that we must rethink the issues of how the Roman and non-Roman worlds related to each other, in particular in respect to how ‘barbarians' moved into the Empire. Obviously, this has tremendous modern resonance. In Britain and elsewhere the image of barbarians flooding the civilised Roman Empire has been much employed in anti-immigration rhetoric. It played a small but interesting part in the political arguments that preceded the 2016 British referendum vote to leave the European Union, for example. One of the most important focuses for discussion of this issue is the Roman frontier itself. In the 1950s an important article by Alföldy described it as a ‘moral frontier'; more recent work has come around almost to seeing the frontier as invisible. Neither extreme view is correct. What I would like to discuss is, firstly, the nature of the ‘barbarian threat': both in terms of an actual balance of power and as a Roman political construct. Secondly, I want to discuss the nature of the frontier as a mechanism for immigration rather than simply a barrier against it, a dam straining to hold back the floods of threatening incomers. How did migrations work? How were they managed? What were the constraints upon it? In both of these areas of discussion we should be able to see a recursive relationship between modern comparative study of phenomenon of migration and of ideas about threatening immigrant ‘others' and the study of late antiquity, and how these studies permit a political, ethical engagement in the present.


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