While most of us think of ethnic groups as stable, anthropology professor Jeffrey Cole says ethnic identification is actually a very dynamic process. "Some groups certainly endure, but all undergo change through processes such as merging with neighborhood groups, internal division, migration, the introduction of new religions and languages and changing political constellations," he said.
Cole, an expert on migration, race and ethnicity in Europe, is the editor of a new encyclopedia, "Ethnic Groups of Europe." Part of ABC-CLIO's five-part series about ethnic groups around the world, Ethnic Groups of Europe details more than 100 European ethnic groups. Cole worked with more than 80 scholars from throughout the world to create this comprehensive volume, with each entry providing an overview of a particular ethnic group and the group's origins, early history, cultural life and recent developments.
"The goal of the volume is to provide a consistent and clear picture of current knowledge on a complex situation," Cole said. One of the most powerful forces shaping conditions for the existence of various ethnic groups is the state, or central government. For example, Cole said, "Anti-discrimination laws and norms protecting minority languages make today's political climate much more favorable to ethnic groups than, say, the period of 1850-1950, in which many national governments sought to suppress ethnic diversity in the name of nation building."
The encyclopedia, which is available in print and online, is intended to serve high school and college students as well as the general public. And despite the availability of information today, encyclopedias, Cole says, are as relevant as ever. "Online sources such as Wikipedia and Google Scholar are wonderful resources, but they don't eliminate the need for new encyclopedias, whether in print or electronic formats," he said. "The hard work of writing, editing and fact checking that goes into such a project ensures a high-level of factual accuracy and clarity of expression on a single subject."