Cunliffe, Barry. The Celts: A Very Short Introduction.

NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.

I’ve read several of Cunliffe’s books on cultures of the European Bronze and Iron Ages and have enjoyed both what he has to say and the engaging style with which he says it, but this 150-page volume is somewhat confusing.

He seems to start off with the declaration that there’s really no such thing as “the Celts,” that they were an 18th- and 19th-century invention. Mostly a product of the Romantic era, and any modern scholar who says otherwise is wrong. Then he spends one-third of the book tracing the development of this false history. Then he jumps to historical surveys of those people generally classified as Celts: the Britons, Bretons, Welsh, Scots, Cornishmen, and Irish — while still maintaining that they weren’t any such thing. Only the original inhabitants of central and western Gaul, he says, are entitled to be called that — and then only because they were “Celtic-speakers.” (Which apparently doesn’t qualify them to be “Celts,” though.) Finally, he inveighs at length against the use of the “Celtic” label as a political tool in the devolutionary efforts of modern-day nationalists. Cunliffe is entitled to his position but that’s not what this series of concise surveys was meant to be. I think he was simply the wrong choice as author.

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Published in: on 30 March 2015 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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