“This Most Historic of Locations”: Nationhood and Medieval Battle Sites in 21st-Century Switzerland and Britain

Berger, Matthias (2017). “This Most Historic of Locations”: Nationhood and Medieval Battle Sites in 21st-Century Switzerland and Britain (Unpublished). In: 32nd International Conference on Medievalism. Salzburg. 16-18 July, 2017.

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Taking precedence even over language, territory has been the most conspicuous fixture in definitions of the ‘nation’ since the eighteenth century and remains an important basis for describing national identity. However, it is often to more circumscribed places that nationhood is tied. Memory scholars like Aleida Assmann have highlighted the symbolic power of places to stabilise and authenticate cultural memory and embody national continuity. Both Britain and Switzerland have the Middle Ages ‘inscribed’ into the land – a period that in its post-medieval afterlife has been a prominent purveyor of national narratives to both countries, as to much of Europe. This kind of ‘inscription’ may take architectural form but just as commonly involves a particular place being coupled, in cultural memory, with a salient event from the medieval past. Such memory sites may vary widely in their ‘historicity’, ranging from the empirico-historical to the mythical. This paper will offer a comparative analysis of a subsection of these Swiss and British medieval focal points of national identity, and of the ways their significance is asserted, or contested, at a time of resurgent nationalisms. Specifically, I will explore the claims to authenticity in the twenty-first-century present raised on behalf of medieval battle sites, which – like all places of memory – are a “here without a now” (Assmann), and therefore only ever half authentic. The focus, then, is on people making medieval(ist) national places, whether by means of monuments, large-scale reenactments or (political) narratives and rituals. Examples include the sites of the (putatively) nationally formative battles of Hastings, Bannockburn, Morgarten and Marignano. Attempts viscerally to access the ‘national’ past at these sites consistently evince a strong tension between temporal distance and spatial proximity. The tourist and heritage industries interact with these national uses and have a significant bearing both on public access and awareness and on the setting of interpretive parameters. The resultant webs of meaning complicate the easy continuity of national master narratives and, ultimately, raise the question as to what extent the identities resting upon these sites can cope with explicitly ‘mythical’ modes of memory.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of English Languages and Literatures

UniBE Contributor:

Berger, Matthias


400 Language > 420 English & Old English languages
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 820 English & Old English literatures
900 History > 940 History of Europe




Matthias Berger

Date Deposited:

07 Dec 2017 15:43

Last Modified:

07 Dec 2017 15:43

Uncontrolled Keywords:

medievalism; cultural heritage; battle commemoration; national identity



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