History at Leicester

The Roots of the British

The Impact of Diasporas programme has grown out the Roots of the British project. This project started as a small collaborative group interested in exploring how people from different disciplines could work together to create a more informed picture of the history of Britain.

Original project description

Histories, Genetics and the Peopling of Britain

The fundamental population history of Britain and the roots of the identities of the historical nations of the island (the Welsh, Scots and English) is a contentious subject, especially regarding the legacies of the 'ancient peoples' (known canonically as the Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons and Vikings) who are said to have migrated into it, peacefully or as invaders, by the end of the first millennium AD.

The longest-established scholarly traditions — history and philology (the history of language) — have traditionally emphasized mass migration as the fundamental mechanism for major cultural phenomena such as the origins of Celtic languages or of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain, and to a large extent continue to do so. Modern popular accounts often unquestioningly accept such explanations of the past as established fact.

However, many archaeologists reject mass migration as the default explanation for such processes. Genetics potentially offers an entirely independent source of evidence and methodology for addressing these issues, and some present it as a ‘magic bullet’.

Our multidisciplinary project draws on the world-class expertise of academics based in the University of Leicester in the Department of Genetics, the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, the School of Historical Studies and the School of English. We aim to reappraise key questions and evidence concerning the Roots of the British, focusing especially on the methodological interfaces between academic disciplines.

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