Departmental History

Several of the subjects which now form part of the ASNC Tripos have been studied and taught in Cambridge for many years.

In 1638 Sir Henry Spelman (1562-1641), of Trinity College, established a position in Cambridge for a 'lecturer and reader of the Saxon language and the history of our ancient British churches', which was held first by Abraham Whelock (1593-1653) and then by William Somner (1598-1669).

The torch was seized thereafter by the University of Oxford, and many years passed before it was reclaimed.

In the early 1830s John Mitchell Kemble (1807-57), of Trinity College, produced the first English edition of Beowulf, and gave a course of lectures on the 'History of the English Language: First, or Anglo-Saxon Period', to an audience which dwindled rapidly; he was also a pioneer in the study of Anglo-Saxon history and archaeology.

In 1864 Joseph Bosworth, Rawlinson Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, set in motion the establishment of a trust fund for the promotion of Anglo-Saxon at Cambridge, which came into effect upon his death in 1876. Bosworth's name was coupled with that of his wife, Mrs Elrington, and W. W. Skeat became the first Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon in 1878.

The modern conception of the subject, embracing a multiplicity of disciplines and cultures, can be traced back to the vision of H. M. Chadwick (1870-1947), of Clare College, who was Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1912 to 1941.

Chadwick's contribution was complemented by that of his contemporary E. C. Quiggin (1875-1920), of Gonville and Caius College, renowned as the first teacher of Celtic in Cambridge.

It was some time, however, before the department coalesced in its modern form. The Anglo-Saxon & Kindred Studies Tripos was introduced as a single-Part (two-year) Tripos in 1957. Dorothy Whitelock (1901-82), of Newnham College, Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1957 to 1969, took us out of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology and into the Faculty of English. Her successor, Peter Clemoes (1920-96), of Emmanuel College, Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1969 to 1984, gave the Department the distinctively interdisciplinary and cross-cultural identity which it retains to the present day, symbolised by the introduction of the Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic Tripos in 1971.

Another important reform was achieved by Michael Lapidge, of Clare College, Professor of Anglo-Saxon from 1991 to 1999. The ASNC Tripos had from its inception been a single-Part (two-year) Tripos; but in 1992 it became a two-Part (three-year) Tripos, enabling our students to stay with us in their third and final year, and to develop their interests and abilities in more advanced study.

Although we say it ourselves, the Department is highly regarded internationally as a leading centre of scholarship in its field, and strives to continue the traditions represented by the work of Chadwick, Quiggin, and many others. We believe firmly that teaching and research nourish each other, and in combination enhance the learning experience of students. In the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) the Department was (in common with many other faculties and departments in Cambridge) awarded the maximum possible score (5*).

In the 2008 RAE, the Department was ranked first in the Celtic Studies field and was among the highest-ranked Departments and Faculties of the University. For further details, see Assessments.

 

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