- In After Empire: Melancholia as Convivial Culture, Paul Gilroy asks whether Britain will ever come to terms with the lost glories of its past and move beyond its melancholic desire for that past and the racial anxiety of the present. (He was hopeful, but that was before Brexit.) He locates the invention of race and racial hierarchies in colonialism and empire, and sees a transgenerational trauma in the nation’s failure to truly acknowledge the violence and racism of the British Empire.
- I ask whether — or, more hopefully, when — those of us who study early medieval England will ever be able to move beyond the loss of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Studies and the deep-seated racial anxieties that have come to the surface with its loss.
- Gilroy’s and my questions are related because ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Studies developed in the context of and alongside the rise of the British Empire in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its methodologies, classifications, and way of thinking about the English, the English language, the island of Britain, and the pre-1066 past, developed side by side with the idea and image of the empire.
- In fact, as numerous scholars have shown, it was used to provide historic justifications for that empire and its racism. It provided the fiction of a ‘pure’ English past and its often equally fictitious institutions (trial by jury, the navy, a proto-parliamentary system of government) alongside the idea that the English were in some way a chosen people.
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