Ilya Afanasyev

Ilya Afanasyev

Department of History
BRIHC Research Fellow

Contact details


After graduating from the Faculty of History, Moscow State University, I came to Oxford to write my doctoral thesis on the construction of national categories in twelfth-century England. From July 2014 until September 2016, I was working as a postdoctoral research associate on the ERC project ‘The Jagiellonians: Dynasty, Memory and Identity in Central Europe’ (University of Oxford). In October 2016, I joined the University of Birmingham as BRIHC Research Fellow.

In 2015, I set up ‘The Long History of Identity, Ethnicity and Nationhood’ research network, which now unites BRIHC, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, and The Institute for Medieval Research in Vienna, as well as individual scholars from various institutions in Asia, Europe and North America. I am convening this network with Nicholas Matheou; to follow our events, podcasts and publications see:


My main research interest is the long history and theory of ethnicity, nationhood and nationalism. At BRIHC, I will pursue two individual research projects. The first one is focused on the interplay between urban and ethnic identities across Western, Central and Eastern Europe in the central middle ages. Its key goals are a) to question the conceptual divide between ‘the ethnic’ and ‘the civic’; b) to use the complexity and contradictions in medieval categories to criticise the conceptual apparatus and theories we are using today to understand collective identities in the past and in the present; and c) to examine the construction and reproduction of medieval identities in the material reality of urban politics and social organisation.

While this research project is thematically connected to my thesis, my second research project originates in my work on the Jagiellonians project at Oxford. It will be focused on ‘dynasty’ as a concept. Historians take ‘dynasty’ for granted and treat it as an unproblematic term that adequately describes a really existing and allegedly very significant institution of medieval politics. In this project, I intend to overturn this assumption and demonstrate that ‘dynasty’ as a term and as concept is actually a modern invention. ‘Dynasty’ may not tell us much about familial and political aspects of medieval power structures, but it was central to re-thinking political and historical vocabulary and ideology in the early modern and, especially, in the modern periods. At BRIHC, I will start writing a book provisionally titled ‘The Modern Invention of Dynasty’, which will trace the history of ‘dynasty’ as a political and historical concept from the late sixteenth to the twenty first centuries.

In addition to these individual projects, I am working on two collective enterprises: first, a project on the long-term reproduction of ethnicity and nationhood, bringing together scholars of pre-modern and modern collective identities; second, a working group on historical political economy and historical materialism.


  • An Unrealized Cult? Hagiography and Norman Ducal Genealogy in Twelfth-Century England, Historical Research, 88 (2015), 193–212
  • Biblical Vocabulary and National Discourse in Twelfth-Century England, Anglo-Norman Studies, 36 (2014), 23–38
  • In gente Britanniarum, sicut quaedam nostratum testatur historia…’: National Identity and Perceptions of the Past in John of Salisbury’s Policraticus, Journal of Medieval History, 38 (2012), 278–94