English 105

Upper Division Coursework: Anglo-Saxon England

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2008 O�Brien O�Keeffe, Katherine
MW 10:30-12 300 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People; Campbell, J., ed., The Anglo-Saxons; Crossley-Holland, K., ed., The Anglo-Saxon World; Liuzza, Roy, ed. and trans., Beowulf; Keynes, S. and Lapidge, M., eds., Alfred the Great; Webb, J. F. and Farmer, D. H., eds., The Age of Bede; Additional readings on electronic reserve


"Who were the Angelcynn? What were the English like before they were �English�?

The name �Anglo-Saxon England� is a relatively modern term to designate peoples and kingdoms that, across several centuries before the Norman Conquest, knew themselves by various other names. The names �England,� �English,� and �Anglo-Saxon� are thus terms that mark a history of contest over lands and identities and a narrative about modern England.

In this course we will read a wide range of texts from Anglo-Saxon England in order to explore both the writings and the intellectual world of the Angelcynn (a.k.a. Angli) and the ways in which they came to know themselves as �English� (Englisc). Our texts will include chronicle and history, epic and elegy, saints� lives and riddles, and samplings of the curious (recipes, charms, prognostications). We will consider the role of writing itself as a new technology in England , and discuss how that new technology changed both history and culture. Course materials will include visual images, both of manuscript pages and of artifacts � ornaments, weapons, grave goods. We will ask ourselves what such object s reveal about the culture that created them and think through the relationship between visual images and written text . Certain historical events will be very important to us. The invasion of England by Viking marauders and the Viking colonization of the land had profound effects on English culture. So did the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons, an ongoing process throughout the period. Co-existing uneasily with Christianity was the heroic culture of the Anglo-Saxons, the world of warriors and battle, weapons and armor. We will explore what it meant to be a hero in the Anglo-Saxon world, and ask ourselves if being a hero and being a Christian at the same time was possible. Women in Anglo-Saxon England weren�t just �cup-bearers� and �peace-weavers,� though it might seem that way in heroic narratives. The lives of female saints were often constructed using a heroic model, and women played other important roles in English culture as well.

If you are interested in Old English poetry, we will be spending a large part of the semester reading Beowulf and other Old English poems. We will compare translations, examine the original, and experiment with the Old English alliterative mode. You will hear Old English read aloud, and have the chance to read it aloud yourself.

As part of our explorations, we will investigate the ways writing as a technology impacted their culture and will use various artifacts (for example, images of manuscript pages and their illustrations, ornaments, weapons, grave goods) to help visualize their world. We will interrogate claims about Christianity and paganism and the ways in which these ideas were deployed in constructing identity and in defending against colonization by Viking marauders. We will explore notions of gender, and the ways in which constructions of the heroic found its ways into lives of saints, both male and female And we will have the opportunity to experiment with Old English poetry as it looked and as it sounded.

No prior knowledge of Old English or of Anglo-Saxon history is required; all texts will be in translation.


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