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Becoming a Viking:Processes of Identification with the Remote Past

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Tea and coffee are served before this seminar for attendees from 12.30pm onwards in the Nick Macintosh Seminar Room on the 2nd floor.

Becoming a Viking: Processes of Identification with the Remote Past Marc Scully, Loughborough University In her recent address to the Conservative Party conference, the Home Secretary Teresa May poured scorn on the description of Britain as “by definition, a country of immigrants”, claiming that, in comparison to ‘New World’ and other European nations, Britain has, “until recently, always been a country of remarkable population stability”.

This paper will explore some of the discourses and assumptions alluded to by May, by interrogating how individuals position themselves in relation to narratives of historical migration. Condor’s (2006, 2011) analysis of English and British identity has suggested that when invoking historical context to contemporary diversity, two potential discourses are available: the first emphasises continuity of diversity, and constructs Britain as a nation of migrants; the second represents recent migration as a qualitatively new phenomenon and constructs Britain as historically relatively homogenous. Older historical groups such as Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans are thus positioned as ‘migrants’ within the first discourse, but are indigenised within the second as ethnically similar peoples who can be categorised as English/British.

Of concern to social psychology is how this immigration/indigenism dialetic occurs at the individual level, and how individuals construct ‘usable pasts’ to inform present-day identities. Within the increasing public interest in ‘applied genetic history’(Sommer, 2012), information about their own genetic background has become more accessible to members of the public. This information can then be incorporated by individuals within their own family narratives of migration, indigenism and ethnicity, which can in turn be situated within broader narratives of local, regional and national history and identity.

As a means of exploring these dynamics, this paper draws on data from the Impact of Diasporas on the Making of Britain, an interdisciplinary research programme funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which examines the legacies of migration to and from Britain in the First Millennium AD. In collaboration with colleagues examining the genetic legacy of the Vikings in Northern England, I interviewed Yorkshire-based participants in this study. This paper presents the results of a discursive analysis of these interviews focussing on how participants constructed immigration, indigenism and ethnicity in the context of ‘applied genetic history’. It demonstrates that discourses of historical immigration and indigenism are used interchangeably, with participants situating their own family pasts as being both migratory and deeply rooted within specific localities.

This talk is part of the Social Psychology Seminar Series (SPSS) series.

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