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German nationalism rooted in the historiography of barbarian migration

Early modern historiography dealing with the migration of Germanic tribes can help provide a deeper understanding of the intellectual roots of German nationalism.
German nationalism rooted in the historiography of barbarian migration
The historiographical motif of the 'Völkerwanderung' (migration of people) claims that Germanic tribes such as the Goths, the Vandals and the Langobards roamed Europe in conquest and colonisation between the late 4th and mid-6th century AD, bringing an end to the Roman Empire. The assumptions that modern Germans shared the martial virtues of their barbarian ancestors shaped 19th- and 20th-century nationalism. Although refuted by recent scholarship, the Völkerwanderung narrative persists in popular historiography and continues to influence public opinion on late antiquity and the early middle ages.

An EU-funded project, MIGRATIO GENTIUM (The 'Germanic Völkerwanderung' in early modern thought. Origins and developments of a historiographical master narrative, 1500-1830), examined the emergence of the Völkerwanderung topos. The work involved examining the conceptual history of the Völkerwanderung as a historiographical motif that can be divided into three periods. These are the introduction of 'migratio gentium' into the scholarly discourse (ca. 1557-1610), a reversal to notions of static territoriality (17th century), and a stage of intensifying periodisation and problematisation (18th century).

Study results indicate there was a steady shift from a descriptive, event-centred narrative historiography to an increasingly theoretical, model-oriented understanding of barbarian migration between the 16th and the 18th centuries. With modern nationalism in the 19th century, a more straightforward and patriotic narrative of the Völkerwanderung took over that could be implemented in the creation and validation of German national identity.

Related information


German nationalism, migration, Germanic tribes, Völkerwanderung, MIGRATIO GENTIUM
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