The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic is a leading centre for research into the history, literature and languages of the peoples of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and the associated insular world (including Brittany) of the Middle Ages. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF), the Department, assessed jointly with the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics (MML), was rated in the highest terms. Within the Modern Languages and Linguistics Unit of Assessment, ASNC and MML were ranked top among Departments teaching both languages and literatures nationally. Further information about research in Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics is available here.

The Department of ASNC is currently directly associated with a number of major research projects:

Details of the following completed projects can be found at the bottom of the page.

Mapping the Medieval Irish Mind

Mapping the Medieval Irish Mind – Ireland’s Literary Landscapes in a Global Space is a five-year research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust (2020-2025). Project leader, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, and researchers, David McCay and Marie-Luise Theuerkauf, will examine an extensive body of medieval literature in which the history of Ireland is construed as an overarching narrative of place. Electronic editions will be prepared of much of the corpus – known as Dindshenchas Érenn (‘Knowledge of Ireland’s Notable Places’) – and the texts will be situated in their broader context, reflecting the engagement of their authors with wider learned trends. In this way, a genre rooted in the Irish landscape will find a place within the pan-European contemporary culture of which it formed an integral part.

Foundations of Gold and Silver

Beginning in October 2020, Rory Naismith will undertake a Leadership Fellowship funded by the AHRC to pursue research into the transformation of the monetary economy in Western Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries. This period saw the quantity of coin in circulation decline considerably. (Offa coin) But in relatively few areas did it vanish entirely, and later in these centuries the making and use of coin expanded significantly. His project examines why coined currency persisted as it did, and how the contraction and expansion of the monetary economy affected early medieval societies.

This research will result in a monograph and an edited volume based on a final conference. There will also be a workshop on coin-finds in the Fitzwilliam Museum and a series of associated exhibits and activities that present the research for a wider audience.

The Íslendingasögur as Prosimetrum

The Íslendingasögur as Prosimetrum is a collaborative project led by Judy Quinn and Prof. Stefanie Gropper (University of Tübingen), funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (2020-2023). Through a thorough quantitative and qualitative analysis of the corpus we will explore the literary mode of the sagas and the generic qualities of saga prosimetrum as well as the compositional habits of the (anonymous) authors of individual sagas. Among the aspects we will focus on are the number and distribution of the stanzas quoted in each saga; the social position of speakers of verses; the addressees (present and absent) of the stanzas; the metre and style of the quoted stanzas and their relation to the surrounding prose; and patterns across the corpus within the content of stanzas. Dr Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir is the Project's Research Associate in the Department. The project’s website can be accessed here.

Spreading the Word(s)

Spreading the Word(s) is a year-long project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2020-2021) as a follow-on project to Text and Meaning: Contributions to a Revised Dictionary of Medieval Irish. It is led by Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, with Dr Sharon Arbuthnot as Principal Researcher and Professor Greg Toner of Queen’s University Belfast as Co-Investigator. The aim of the project is to deepen public awareness of the importance of words and their meaning for an understanding of cultural heritage, with reference to the history of early Ireland and Scotland in particular. We work with school teachers in developing educational resources related to curricula in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and with libraries, museums and other cultural bodies. You can see some of our activities on YouTube and follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Latin Arthurian Literature and the Rise of Fiction

The project – funded by the Leverhulme Trust – aims to overturn previous assumptions about the role played by Latin texts in the 12th-century rise of fiction as a literary genre by studying a group of Arthurian texts all too often overlooked because they have not hitherto been particularly accessible.

The first text to tell the story of King Arthur extensively was a Latin text, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae (ca. 1138). Stories of Arthur and his circle were, however, recorded in other Latin texts. Among these, we picked out five texts that so far have not received the attention they deserve: Geoffrey's own poem, the Vita Merlini, as well as the romances De ortu Waluuanii and Historia Meriadoci, the Narratio de Arthuro rege Britanniae et rege Gorlagon lycanthropo, and an episode in Stephen of Rouen’s epic poem Normannicus Draco.

The project’s starting premise is that these texts collectively represent an ideal case-study for testing an entirely new hypothesis, namely that Latin, as a lingua franca, was crucial in making the Arthurian legend accessible via the traditional medium of historical narrative (i.e. Geoffrey’s Historia), yet when authors tried to go further and take the bold step of developing fiction in Latin as an independent genre, the attempt failed. If that is the case, then our texts emerge as relics of an attempt to take medieval Latin literature to its extreme, in terms of literary genre, at a time when there was experimentation both in Latin and the vernaculars. This project envisages opening up a new avenue of research, evaluating these texts as experiments in fiction.

We will prepare new editions and translations of these texts and we will consider them within the bigger picture of 12th-century Latin and vernacular ‘experimental’ fiction with the goal of firmly setting aside once and for all the idea – as conventional as it is inconsistent – of an exclusively conservative Latin literature opposed to the more original vernacular literatures. The project team consists of the PI Professor Rosalind Love, the Co-I Professor Paul Russell and the Research Associate Dr Francesco Marzella.

The Writings of Gerald of Wales

The Writings of Gerald of Wales is a five-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust based at the University of Oxford (2020-2025) with Paul Russell as Co-Investigator. It aims to publish authoritative editions of most of the works of the twelfth-century Cambro-Norman cleric, Gerald of Wales. Originally due to be led by Prof. Richard Sharpe, Prof. Thomas Charles-Edwards assumed the role of Principal Investigator after Richard Sharpe’s untimely death in March 2020. The project’s website can be accessed here.

A Digital Framework for the Medieval Gaelic World

This one-year project (2020-2021) is examining the impact of digitisation on research into medieval Ireland and Scotland. How have digital projects changed the nature of scholarship undertaken and how can various digital resources be linked? Funded jointly by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Irish Research Council, Máire Ní Mhaonaigh is Co-Investigator on the network which is led by Prof. Gregory Toner, Queen’s University Belfast, and Prof. David Stifter, Maynooth University. The project’s website can be viewed here.

COMPLETED PROJECTS

The Gersum Project: the Scandinavian Influence on English Vocabulary

The Gersum Project was a collaborative research venture in English lexicography, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2016-20. It is named after the Middle English word gersum, borrowed from Old Norse gørsemi ‘treasure’, and it is the fullest survey ever undertaken of the rich and varied body of English words derived from Old Norse. Its research has resulted in a fully searchable online catalogue (https://www.gersum.org) of the more than 900 different words for which an origin in Norse has been suggested in a corpus of major Middle English poems from the North of England — a catalogue which includes the medieval ancestors of everyday words like sky, egg, law, leg, take, window, knife, die, skin and they, as well as others as diverse and intriguing as hernez ‘brains’, muged ‘drizzled’, stange ‘pole’ and wothe ‘danger’. The project also incorporated a number of events, including an inter-disciplinary conference in Cambridge in 2018 and a series of talks open to the general public. The main phase of Gersum ran from 2016–19, with a ‘Follow-on Funding’ extension in 2019–20 which focused on public engagement work with schools and project partners including the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. A new website will go live later in 2021, featuring educational resources and activities for primary and secondary school teachers and pupils to use to explore the cultural contexts of Anglo-Scandinavian England and its linguistic after-life. The project team were Professor Richard Dance (PI, ASNC), Dr Sara Pons-Sanz (Co-PI, Cardiff University), and Dr Brittany Schorn (Research Associate, ASNC).

Text and Meaning: Contributions to a Revised Dictionary of Medieval Irish

Text and Meaning was a 5-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council which ran from 2014-2019 with a follow-on-project, ‘Spreading the Words’ currently underway (2020-2021). It was led by Professor Greg Toner of Queen’s University Belfast and Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh. The aim of the main project was to revise and augment the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language which is the standard historical dictionary of Irish and Scottish Gaelic and covers the period from the seventh century to the seventeenth. This resulted in a new version of the electronic Dictionary, eDIL 2019 (www.dil.ie). A Companion outlining the additions and corrections undertaken as part of this project can be downloaded here.

Vitae Sanctorum Cambriae (VSC) : The Latin Lives of the Welsh Saints

An AHRC-funded collaborative project between the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in the University of Cambridge and the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS), VSC is producing a new online edition of the medieval Latin lives of Welsh saints. The works appear to represent an extraordinary burst of creativity in and on the borders of Wales during the century or so after the Norman Conquest: a striking assertion of local traditions in a church undergoing absorption into a larger trans-national organisation. The interest and importance of these compositions has long been recognised, and they have been mined over the years by students of early Welsh history, literature, culture and Christianity. Yet only a handful has been edited to exacting modern standards. Where up-to date work has been done, it has tended to show that significant progress can be made on questions of date, authorship, provenance and textual relationship. These advances in part reflect the development of British medieval Latin as a serious subject for academic study during the later twentieth century. Many of the texts have now been edited and are awaiting final proofing before being uploaded to the website; although this work has been slowed by the pandemic, the first fruits of the project are now available online.

Our edition brings the entire corpus into line with the best modern work. We have been editing the surviving corpus of medieval Latin lives of Welsh saints, comprising some thirty-five texts. The main goals of the research are: (1) to understand these texts and their contexts better; (2) to make available for wider comparative study a corpus of material that has been very unevenly treated; (3) to develop our appreciation of the nature and significance of native saints’ cults in medieval Wales; (4) to trace the transmission of these texts into wider hagiographical collections and into the post Reformation period. A group of wider research questions emerges from points (1) and (3). When, by whom and for whom were these texts composed? How do they relate to Welsh-language sources, to each other, and to Latin hagiography elsewhere?

Brittany and the Atlantic Archipelago: Contact, Myth and History

This project was funded by Leverhulme Trust, and ran for four years from September 2015. The Principal Investigator was Professor Paul Russell, the Co-Investigator was Dr Fiona Edmonds (who was PI until she moved to Lancaster University in September 2016) and the Research Associate was Dr Caroline Brett. The participants aimed to investigate the links between Brittany and the Insular World (Britain and Ireland in general, but especially Cornwall and South Wales) during the earlier Middle Ages. There is scope for debate about the longevity and intensity of these maritime contacts. Was there one large migration from Britain to Brittany in the fifth century, during the so-called 'Age of Migrations'? Or were the Atlantic connections more multi-faceted and enduring than traditional accounts suggest? The participants addressed these matters by producing a study of Brittany and its maritime links, starting c. 450. Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae provides a convenient end-point since it was accepted as the definitive account of the Breton migration for the rest of the Middle Ages. The research involved an assessment of the textual evidence for Breton-Insular contacts, discussion of place- and personal names, and analysis of the ramifications of the linguistic evidence for the broader historical picture. A project conference was held in December 2017, and encompassed a broad range of disciplines, including archaeology. The core of the project's work was published as a three-author monograph, alongside a volume of conference proceedings.

Interpreting Eddic Poetry

Funded by the St John’s College Research Centre at Oxford University, Interpreting Eddic Poetry was an international research project led by Dr Judy Quinn and Dr Carolyne Larrington (Oxford), with Dr Brittany Schorn as Research Associate. The project aimed to reassess the nature and extent of the eddic corpus (traditional anonymous poetry recorded in medieval Iceland), taking into account both thirteenth-century anthology manuscripts and verse preserved as quotations in sagas and treatises; it also assessed the significance of recent work on oral traditions as well as research on the eddic mode in Christian devotional poetry. The first in a series of workshops, dedicated to interdisciplinary perspectives on eddic poetry, was held in July 2013 and brought together scholars from the fields of literary studies, textual criticism, onomastics, comparative religion, philology, mythology and folklore; a second workshop, focussing on mythology, was held in July 2014. The project included the development of a database of resources for the study of eddic poetry, as well as a co-edited Handbook to Eddic Poetry and a number of other publications by the lead investigators.

Peter's Pence and Beyond: Monetary Links between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome

Dr Rory Naismith, together with Dr Francesca Tinti (University of the Basque Country and Honorary Research Associate in ASNC) were awarded a research grant by the British Academy to research the topic of monetary links between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome, beginning in 2012 and continuing until 2014.

This project considered written and material evidence for payments from England to Rome: letters, law-codes and other documentary sources are studied alongside surviving coins, in order to reach a full understanding of this important aspect of Anglo-papal relations. Almost from the time of their conversion at the end of the sixth century the English were frequent visitors to Rome, and devout pilgrims brought with them cash for sustenance on the journey and for donation on arrival in the Holy City. The richest evidence for their generosity comes from the period between the late eighth and eleventh centuries. Anglo-Saxon money was plentiful in Rome – possibly one of the largest elements of the currency circulating in Rome, and well known across Italy. Payments took the form of individual donations large and small, as well as a more institutionalised annual tribute which emerged in the tenth century, known as Peter’s Pence, theoretically consisting of a penny from every household in England.

Dr Naismith and Dr Tinti undertook research trips to Rome, and are prepared several publications. They were invited by the Museo Nazionale Romano to prepare a catalogue of the largest and most important find of Anglo-Saxon coins from Rome: a hoard of about 840 coins, almost all of them English, found in excavations of the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum in 1883. They also considered the question of what became of English silver once it reached Rome by analysing the contents of papal coins now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, to determine if they are made from Anglo-Saxon pennies. Publications ensuing from this project include a catalogue of the 1883 Forum hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins, a study of that hoard as a representative of early medieval gift-giving practices and a survey of the development of Peter’s Pence.

Cultural Engagement Projects

Two projects, run by Dr Deborah Potts and funded by the AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund, were based in the Department in 2013. Modern Poets on Viking Poetry is a cultural translation project which involved commissioning compositions by British poets responding to the aesthetic of Old Norse poetry. The project cultivated dialogue between academics who had recently edited skaldic poems and contemporary poets. Readings of new works were held in Cambridge and London and a web anthology has been produced.  The second project, Kennings in the Community has resulted in a valuable resource for teachers, poets and any interested members of the public who want to learn about the scope for the use of the kenning (a feature of Old Norse poetry) as a stimulus for poetic creativity.

eSenchas: An Electronic Resource for the Study of Medieval Irish Texts

eSenchas website

The Hyperborean Muse

The Hyperborean Muse was a collaborative research project funded in 2011 by the Co-operInt Programme at the University of Verona between Dr Judy Quinn and Maria Adele Cipolla (Lingue e letterature straniere, Università degli studi di Verona). Involving scholars from the UK, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Germany and Australia, the project investigated the transmission and reception of Old Norse literature from the earliest period to the twenty-first century, in media as diverse as opera, drama, lyric, crime-novels and cartoons. The outcome of the project was a volume of essays entitled The Hyperborean Muse: Studies in the Transmission and Reception of Old Norse Literature.

Converting the Isles

'Converting the Isles' is a Leverhulme International Research Network for investigating Conversion to Christianity comparatively in Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland in the early and central middle ages. This interdisciplinary network brings together historians, archaeologists and literary scholars committed to researching social, economic, and cultural aspects of conversion. The core of the network's activities consists of a series of colloquia held at different universities in Britain and Ireland. Our website contains extensive materials relating to the topic and serves as a platform for disseminating the network's research. You can visit it here.

Mapping Conversion

'Mapping Conversion', a Pilot Database of Conversion Episodes in Medieval Insular Hagiography, produced with the assistance of the University of Cambridge's Isaac Newton Trust, is now live. To access it, please click here.

Jocelin of Furness

Fiona Edmonds was involved in a two-year, AHRC-funded project, which ran from July 2010 until July 2012. She worked with a team at the University of Liverpool comprising Drs Clare Downham and Ingrid Sperber. Hagiography at the Frontiers: Jocelin of Furness and Insular Politics, focused on one of the most significant medieval writers to emerge from England’s north-west. Jocelin (fl. 1175 to 1214) spent most of his life at Furness Abbey (in pre-1974 Lancashire, now Cumbria), and wrote four great works including a Life of St Patrick, which has never been published. Dr Sperber and Dr Downham have been working on an edition, translation and notes of the Life, founded on the work of the great Patrician scholar Ludwig Bieler. Fiona explored the environment in which Jocelin worked, aiming to contextualise his interest in Celtic saints’ Lives. Furness was culturally and linguistically diverse: the peninsula protrudes into the Irish Sea and had strong trading and cultural links with Ireland and the Isle of Man. For a time Furness was under Scottish rule, but the area had become part of the Anglo-Norman realm by the mid-twelfth century. The abbey was initially part of the congregation of Savigny (located on the Breton/Norman border), but it founded daughter houses in Ireland and on Man. Fiona’s contributions to the project include an article in a volume arising from the project conference, Medieval Furness: Texts and Contexts, and a journal article.

The Early Irish Glossaries Project

A three year project to edit the early Irish glossaries funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) was hosted in Cambridge between 2006 and 2009 under the direction of Professor Paul Russell assisted by Dr Sharon Arbuthnot and Dr Padraic Moran. An important but under-used resource for our understanding of the literary and cultural environment of medieval Ireland, the series of three inter-related Irish glossaries, conventionlly known as Sanas Cormaic ‘Cormac’s Glossary’, O’Mulconry’s Glossary and Dúil Dromma Cetta ‘the Collection of Druim Cett’ consist of alphabetically listed (first letter only) headwords followed by an entry which can range from a single word explanation, often an explanation of the headword, to a whole narrative running to several pages.

The Early Irish Glossaries Database (EIGD) was a pre-existing database which was enhanced to include the text of the entries behind the headword; to see the text of an entry in most versions, it is necessary simply to click on the headword.

The Revised Sawyer (catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters)

Peter Sawyer's catalogue of Anglo-Saxon charters was published in 1968, and remains a standard work of reference for the surviving corpus of Anglo-Saxon charters. The work of systematically revising and updating 'Sawyer' began in the 1990s, but was taken further in 2003-7 as part of a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Council, based in the Department of ASNC, with technical expertise provided by the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at KCL (as above). This led to the the appearance of the 'Electronic Sawyer', which is now accessible online, and also to the associated 'Kemble' website, which is based in the Department and which serves as the website of the British Academy-Royal Historical Society Joint Committee on Anglo-Saxon Charters. Further details will be found on these websites. The 'Electronic Sawyer', and the 'Kemble' website, remain in a continual process of development.

Boethius in Early Medieval Europe: Commentary on the Consolation of Philosophy from the 9th to the 11th centuries

Prof Rosalind Love worked on this five-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and headed by Professor Malcolm Godden (University of Oxford). The project aimed to transcribe and edit all the full corpus of glosses found in manuscripts of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy from before 1100 (of which there are around 80 surviving). These glosses, running to many thousands, ranging from a single word to extensive commentary on the text, were produced across a considerable span of time and at many different centres, and present a fascinating insight into the way medieval readers responded to the Consolation. Given the array of events, stories, objects and texts from the Classical period to which Boethius referred, the glosses also provide evidence for the transmission of knowledge about the ancient world to and throughout the early Middle Ages. Scholars have known about and discussed this material for a long time but a complete edition of the full corpus has until now been an unattainable aspiration. The main outcome of the project was a printed edition of the full corpus of glosses from all manuscripts (running to about 2000 pages), which will eventually, it is hoped, also be available in searchable electronic form. A further publication will print the glosses found in English MSS of the tenth and eleventh centuries, along with a translation and commentary, as a way to offer in accessible form a representative picture of the glosses circulating on the Continent as well as in England.

Early Medieval Corpus of Coin Finds (EMC)

The Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds (EMC) was created by Dr Mark Blackburn (former Reader in the Department) in 1997 based on a three-year major research grant from the Leverhulme Trust, with subsequent funding from the British Academy. Its aim is to provide a searchable online corpus of coins minted in the period 410–1066 found in Britain and Ireland. Hundreds of coins are added each year, most of them discovered with the aid of metal-detectors, and all reported to EMC voluntarily. The database now contains records of some 10,000 coins found and reported in this way. Many carry notes and comments added by Dr Blackburn, Dr Rory Naismith and other specialists, who regularly refer new finds to the database.

In 2000, Dr Blackburn expanded the scope of the EMC database to include the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles (SCBI), a British Academy project aimed at publishing major museum and private collections of British coinage; as a result, some 50,000 additional coins from major collections have been made available on the database.

The EMC corpus is widely recognised as a major scholarly resource, central to study of early medieval numismatics as well as economic and monetary history, and is frequently consulted by metal-detector users and collectors and dealers of coins.

The project remains in continual developement by the staff of the Fitzwilliam Museum. For further information, please refer to the database’s website: https://emc.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/

PASE: Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England

The 'Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England', known as PASE (2000-10), created a comprehensive, systematic, analytical and searchable register of all persons recorded in Anglo-Saxon England, in contemporary and later (mainly twelfth-century) sources, including Domesday Book. It now takes the form of an online database, linked to several other e-projects. The work was carried out in association with the Department of History, King's College London, and the Centre of Computing in the Humanities, KCL, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board/Council (AHRB/AHRC). Full details of the project, and of the several research officers who worked on the project in London and in Cambridge, are available on the PASE website (About PASE/Team). It is hoped that we will have an opportunity to develop the electronic resource further.