Michael Dietler

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2011/2012
discipline Anthropology
Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago

Research project

Celts – Ancient, Modern, Postmodern: Identity, Globalization, and the Consumption of the Past


During my sojourn at the Paris IAS, I have been writing a book entitled Celticism, Celtitude, and Celticity: Contemporary Identities and the Consumption of the Past, based upon research conducted over a number of years in Europe and America. The work examines the multiple ways in which often radically different forms of “Celtic” identity have been constructed in recent historical contexts, from the 18th century to the present, and the ways that the invocation of ancient peoples, objects, and archaeological sites of Iron Age Europe has been a recurrent feature of this process. The concept of “Celts” has been a versatile force in the politics of identity and collective memory in recent history. It has been invoked on a number of contrasting, and often contradictory, scales of “imagined community,” to use Benedict Anderson’s term. These include (1) the historical construction of nationalist mythologies of identity within several European states (e.g. France and Ireland), (2) regional resistance to nationalist or imperialist projects (e.g. Brittany against France; Scotland, Ireland, and Wales against England; and Galicia and Asturias against Spain), and (3) an attempt during the 1990s to create a sense of pan-European cultural identity in the context of the evolving European Union based on a purportedly shared Celtic past. I refer to these various overtly political and territorial identity projects as “Celticism.” But there are also several distinctive types of recent transnational, globalizing formations of Celtic identity that differ in significant ways from celticism. These include both Celtic spiritualism and diasporic ethno-nostalgia that I distinguish with the labels “Celticity” and “Celtitude,” respectively. These global “identityscapes” are linked in complex ways to new possibilities of mass-mediation and global flows of people and capital while, ironically, often being motivated by romantic reactions against globalization. 


The book begins with a discussion of the origin and meanings of the term “Celt” and of archaeological research on “ancient Celts” – the peoples of Iron Age Europe who form the symbolic source and touchstone of authenticity for more recent constructions of Celticism, Celtitude, and Celticity. It proceeds to an examination of various forms of Celticism that have emerged in competing nationalist, regionalist, and imperialist projects in Europe, and then turns to the spiritualist forms (e.g. neo-druid and Celtic reenactment groups) and diaspora types (e.g. heritage societies and roots tourism), exploring their political contexts and connections. It also examines the signs, practices, sites, and media through which Celtic identities are performed (festivals, theme parks, music, the web, etc.). These movements and their instantiating manifestations are especially characterized by a marked hybridity of practices and symbols and the use of cyberspace to structure and commoditize transnational mediascapes of identity. The book not only dissects various forms of Celtic identity and the interconnections and contrasts among them, but also explores the resulting contradictions, tensions, and dangers. It also examines the ways the past is consumed in these competing discursive fields, and the roles and responsibilities of archaeologists in this process. The book also attempts to explain why Celts, in particular, have attracted such widespread attention, how the attachment to Celts has varied historically in different contexts, and how the forces of globalization and neo-romanticism have shaped the current situation.



Michael Dietler is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, and associated faculty in the Classics Department. He holds a PhD from the University of California – Berkeley and taught at Yale University before moving to Chicago. He has also been a visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and the University of Paris I (Sorbonne-Panthéon), and he has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe.


He conducts archaeological, ethnographic and historical research, and his interests centre on ancient and modern colonialism, material culture theory, food and alcohol studies, and the use of the past in the construction of modern identities. His research has been conducted in both Europe (especially France) and Africa. 

Selected publications


Archaeologies of Colonialism: Consumption, Entanglement, and Violence in Ancient Mediterranean France, University of California Press, 2010; winner of the J.R. Wiseman Book Award, Archeological Institute of America.


Consumption and Colonial Encounters in the Rhône Basin of France: A Study of Early Iron Age Political Economy, CNRS Editions, 2005.


Colonial Encounters in Ancient Iberia: Phoenician, Greek, and Indigenous Relations, with C. López-Ruiz (eds), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2009.


Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, with B. Hayden (eds), Smithsonian Press, 2001.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Sociology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Political Science
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Music