Reflections on the medieval and early modern insular identities
The article reflects on the monograph by Sparky Booker Cultural exchange and identity in late medieval Ireland: The English and the Irish of the four obedient shires (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2018) which offers a revised perspective on the issue of assimilation and acculturation in late medieval Ireland on the basis of the material of the four obedient shires, Dublin, Meath, Louth, and Kildare. It illustrates the spheres of medieval everyday life where ethnicity really mattered. The scholar presents a complex and multi-faceted image of interethnic interplay in the region distinguishing between cultural and legal dimensions. She demonstrates that cultural practices were not the main resource of identity in the late medieval Ireland in which political allegiance and descent were prioritized. She highlights two aspects: the discursive level and the level of everyday interaction. On the discursive level, ethnicity played a significant role and was instrumental in maintaining distinctions which justified exclusive position of the English colonists. On this level, assimilation was unattainable. The everyday level was more dynamic, and there the boundaries were not so crucial.
Despite the obvious merits of the book, the material presented there requires more theoretical consideration of the issue of medieval identities. The authors of the article argue that the situation of interethnic interplay in the four obedient shires described by Booker could have been suitable for the emergence of consensual identity. The authors coin this term and define it as the type of identity which originates in the situation of interethnic interplay, entails intercultural switching, and is of supragentile character, i.e., not insisting on common descent. However, the discourse of consensual identity did not emerge in the four shires because of the absence of common subjecthood of English and Irish as well as prevalence of gentilism.