“Everyone calls barbarism what does not agree with their own custom.” Europeans and Some of Their Barbarian Others

Research Seminar with Nicolás Kwiatkowski

“Everyone calls barbarism what does not agree with their own custom.” Europeans and Some of Their Barbarian Others.

The ideas regarding “barbarians” and “barbarity”, produced since Classical Antiquity and until Early Modern times, have been studied in several and many times contrasting ways. The general consensus tends to stress the fact that the construction of an other simultaneously implies the conformation of the identity of the individual and the collective creating those distinctions. Reflections regarding “asymmetrical counter-concepts” (R. Koselleck) or the “rhetoric of otherness” and “mirrored identities” (F. Hartog) attempt to explain those relationships between self and others, frequently conflictive, that can be synthesized in a name and its opposites. Several visual and textual representations support these analyses. At the same time, it is possible to follow the trace of the transformation of notions like “barbarity” and “barbarians”, which allowed for the terms to adapt to different circumstances. Several uses of those terms, anomalous no doubt, show that barbarity and barbarians could be attractive, inspire fear and interest (A. Momigliano studied, for instance, the admiration for barbarian wisdom), and even become the definition of past identity. The focus of this talk will be on the analysis of visual and textual representations of barbarity in Early Modern Europe, in an attempt to trace the ways in which identity was constructed as a part of a conflictive relationship with others from the Old and New Worlds. My presentation will start with a brief description of some ideas regarding barbarians in classical antiquity and the middle ages. The cases in which encounters with others triggered reflections by Europeans about their own existence in present and past times will be carefully considered. I will attempt to highlight the ambivalence of the uses of the terms: in the most frequent cases, emphasis was made on difference, even to the point of dehumanization and elimination (for example, during the conflict between the Irish and the English in the seventeenth century); in other instances, from Las Casas to Raynal, a strange consciousness of the complexity of difference prompted empathy and even calls to resist the “barbarity of the civilized”.

Veranstaltungsort /Address/Indirizzo

Villino Stroganoff
Via Gregoriana 22
00187 Rom

Anna Paulinyi
+39 0669 993-227


Dienstag, 24. April 2018
11.00 Uhr

Nicolás Kwiatkowski

... teaches Cultural History at the University of San Martín (UNSAM) and works as Associate Researcher at the National Council for Scientific Research (CONICET), Argentina. He studied History at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, and earned his PhD at the same institution with a dissertation on the idea of history in Early Modern England. His first book is in fact titled: Historia, progreso y ciencia. Textos e imágenes en Inglaterra, 1580-1640 (Buenos Aires, 2009). Professor Kwiatkowski has enjoyed research scholarships in Italy (Università degli Studi di Cagliari, 2004; where he also was visiting professor in 2015), the United States (Fulbright Commission and Harvard University, 2009) and Germany (Freie Universität, Berlin, 2012; DAAD, 2015). His last book is Tomiris. Reina de los masagetas (Buenos Aires, 2016)