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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

British Identities Before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World 1600-1800
Colin Kidd

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
302pp. Index. Hb: ISBN 0-5216-2403-7

"British Identities Before Nationalism" provides a very exciting and detailed journey to the early modern British world. Colin Kidd discusses, by using many fascinating examples, the presence and the status of ethnicity in the British world between 1600-1790. The most important thing before reading any further from this review or Kidd's book, is that ethnicity is not understood in the same way as it is in a contemporary situation. "The value of ethnicity was not ethnological in the modern sense, but it laid within the theology of evidences, where it functioned as a vital weapon in the defence of Christian orthodoxy and the authenticity of the Scripture from heterodox assaults" (p. 10). The book contains three main parts. The first part introduces the theological context: in early modern Britain the Bible and the Noachic heritage were the main definers of "ethnic" origin. The second part examines the ethnic composition and relations of the three kingdoms of the British Isles: England, Scotland and Ireland. The main focus of that time was moving a bit further from religion. The new effort was to find a historically legitimate form of constitution, which would define ethnic identities. The emergence of Anglo-Saxon political culture is also discussed along with Gaelic dilemma in Scottish political culture and the question of Irish identities. The last part of the book focuses on points of contact, where the uniting imaginary of the British nation is discussed in terms of Gothicism and creation of "otherness". The ethnic identity in early modern Britain played a secondary role in political argumentation. Moreover, ethnicity was defined by the respect of the authority of the Bible, one's confession and the established institutions such as church and state. Kidd also concludes that there can not be found straightforward correspondence between ethnicity and nationhood. This was illustrated for example in the case of the Irish Protestant nation. In general, the early modern British did not think in terms of ethnic difference, rather their understanding of nations was based on the process of differentiation from a common ethnic background. Kidd's book provides an in-depth analysis of the early modern communities in the British Isles. It gives not only an historical view but it offers background knowledge to understand many of the current ethnic discourses in Britain. Occasionally, the detailed text makes it difficult to follow the overall scarlet thread. However, everyone who aims to understand the contemporary political and ethnic situation in the British Isles, should read this historically oriented piece of work.

Anna-Kaisa Kuusisto, University of Joensuu, Finland

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