The ASNC Roadshow
‘The Early Medieval World’, York, 20 March. A report by Fiona Edmonds
The surge of interest in the Staffordshire Hoard is a reminder that there is much demand among the general public for information about the early medieval world. Yet early medieval history is rarely covered in secondary schools and sixth-form colleges, and this poses a particular challenge: how can we tell a wider audience about developments in our field, as well as advertising the breadth that the ASNC degree covers? With this in mind, Andrew Bell (Admissions Officer at Caius) and I organised ASNC’s first-ever conference aimed at outreach and schools liaison.
If you would be interested in helping us with our outreach work in some way, whether it is with suggestions for schools we might use as a base for future road-shows, or resourcing the project, we’d love to hear from you.
In order to get across the message that a degree in ASNC shouldn’t be seen as an over-specialisation that means you’ll never get a proper job, we’re also looking at adding to the Life After ASNC profiles on our website: if you have a story to tell of what you did after ASNC, that you think would be an encouragement to those thinking about what degree to take, please do get in touch!
The conference took place at St Peter’s school, York; an ideal venue for us since the school claims Alcuin as its first headmaster. One hundred and twenty students and teachers attended, mainly from Yorkshire, Lancashire and the North Midlands, though we also attracted a school party from as far afield as Dover.
Andrew Bell opened proceedings with a lecture entitled ‘Thinking about early medieval Europe’, which encouraged students to escape from modern notions of politics and geography, to consider the nature of the source material surviving from early medieval Europe. My talk, ‘Cultural contact in early medieval Yorkshire’, introduced students to Yorkshire’s Brittonic heritage through place-names and the poetry of the Old North. A hearty lunch was followed, appropriately enough, by Debby Banham’s analysis of Anglo-Saxon diet. Richard Dance provided an introduction to Old English and Old Norse; his pronunciation exercises went very well until the audience encountered the word hwæthwugununges (an adverb meaning ‘a little, slightly’)! Dr Elizabeth Boyle rounded off the lectures with her talk ‘From Shakespeare to Tennyson: Celtic influences in English literature’, demonstrating that later writers reinterpreted medieval history and literature to suit the political and cultural concerns of their own times.
Feedback suggests that the event was a great success and inspired the participants to find out more about the early medieval world. Many who attended expressed an interest in applying to study ASNC. Two third-year students, Albert Fenton (Trinity, 2007) and Rebecca Wilkinson (Homerton, 2007) accompanied us to York to talk to prospective applicants. We’re hoping that the conference will become a biennial event, targeted at different regions each time, if funding permits.
Translating the text
As well as going out to schools to spread the good news of ASNC, we have begun to focus more on giving visitors a taste of what we do. This August, ASNC will host its first ever Sutton Trust Summer School. The Trust aims to promote social mobility through education, and their summer schools offer participants from state-funded schools and colleges the chance to experience life at university. ASNC’s Summer School, which will introduce participants to the varied joys of the Tripos, is happening largely thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth Boyle, who now has first-hand experience of how the texts we study in ASNC can prompt unexpected responses in those who meet them for the first time. This is how it all happened, in Lizzie’s own words (a full version can be found on the ASNC blog, for more on which, see later in this newsletter):
Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting pupils from the City of London Academy and the Central Foundation Boys’ School (both in Islington) who came to Corpus Christi to find out about applying to study at Cambridge. I was asked to offer a taster lecture, so that they could experience one of the more unusual subjects one can study at Cambridge, namely ASNC. We talked about how the act of translating a source can break down barriers, both linguistic and cultural, and shed new light on the past. But we also explored the way one chooses to translate a text, and how that can open it up to new audiences.
Pupils from the City of London Academy, Islington (with Elizabeth hiding in the 2nd row)
This talented bunch of pupils then worked together to create a modern-day reworking of the 11th-century fíanaigecht text, The Battle of Cath Cnucha. Developing the idea that the fían was the medieval Irish version of the modern-day gang, they re-wrote the story of Cath Cnucha in 21st-century slang. Here’s part of their sparkling and witty adaptation:
Murni was Tadhg’s hot daughter. Bare men wanted her. Cumall was the head of a gang’s son and tried to get it on with Murni, but he got rejected. So Cumall raped her. … After that, Murni went to Cond for back-up coz her Dad kicked her out, coz she was pregnant. Then her Dad told his boys to burn her. But he was too shook of Cond. Cond then sent Murni to a friend’s yard, just in case init. She jammed there until she had a baby boy, Finn. Finn grew up there, until he was old enough to run tings, against anyone who was waste. Finn went to Tadhg, his marge’s papz. And said come on let’s get it cracking, one on one, or a rumble. Or you give me some cake for my dead dad. They made a decision, and Tadhg said low it, u can have my ends. Finn made that his main crib. And Finn gave some gwap to his boy Goll cos he only one eye init. It was all bless, until beef started over some animal.