Monday 2 March 2015


Caitlin Ellis, a doctoral candidate in ASNC and president of the CCASNC committee, writes:

Our annual graduate-led conference, the Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (CCASNC), took place in the English Faculty on 7th February 2015.

This year was the largest, best-attended CCASNC—both conference and dinner—to date and our wonderful, engaged audience ensured that discussion never ebbed. Our popular bookstall with a range of publications from our Department, the University of Wales Press and the Viking Society for Northern Research provided another focal point. Selected proceedings of this conference itself will appear in a forthcoming edition of Quaestio Insularis.

CCASNC 2015 Committee: Ben Guy, David Callander, Nicholas Hoffman, Katherine Olley, Caitlin Ellis, Rebecca Shercliff

The theme of this year’s Colloquium was ‘Communication and Control’. We welcomed our keynote speaker Professor Stefan Brink and ten postgraduate speakers from several countries. Despite the breadth and variety of subject matter, common themes emerged from the papers: modes of contact between societies; the diffusion of cultural concepts; the intentions of authors, compilers and scribes.

The Departments own Julia Bolotina kicked off proceedings with the first session of the day. Bolotina examined the Lacnunga, a compendium of Anglo-Saxon medical remedies, arguing that it was a deliberate and highly valued production: a suggestion with important implications for the study of other manuscripts. This was complemented by Ryder Patzuk-Russell of Birmingham’s lucid exposition of the influence of Latin grammatica, exemplified by Bede and Alcuin, on the Old Norse theory of language, as seen in the vernacular Málskrúðsfræði and the First Grammatical Treatise. In exploring this area, Patzuk-Russell thereby underscored a common history of grammatical learning.

Having sated our appetites for beverages and biscuits, our second session focussed on sustenance of a more religious nature. Exequiel Monge-Allen of the National University of Ireland, Galway, considered the Céli Dé movement, especially the responsibilities and importance of the spiritual directors (the anmcharaid, more literally ‘soul-friends’) in penance and confession. Monge-Allen also drew interesting parallels with other Old Irish religious texts. We were then reminded of the great value of art history by Stephenie McGucken, Edinburgh, who discussed the imagery of the sumptuously illuminated manuscript the Benedictional of St Æthelwold in relation to the cult of St Æthelthryth, the seventh-century Northumbrian virgin queen turned saint. This highlighted concepts of femininity and royalty in Anglo-Saxon England.

Our keynote address was delivered by Stefan Brink, Chair in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen, who presented us with a masterful overview of medieval Scandinavian laws, particularly the regional differences in various Swedish law codes, and a reflection on historiographical trends. Brink employed a various forms of evidence, including runic inscriptions, such as that on the intriguing Forsa ring. This talk was connected to the exciting international project on Medieval Nordic Law funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Brink himself. For more information on the project, which will produce translations and commentaries of all the Nordic provincial laws from the period, see here.

After we adjourned for an excellent lunch, Samuel Ottewill-Soulsby, from the neighbouring Faculty of History here at Cambridge, brought a more international perspective to proceedings. Ottewill-Soulsby considered the context of the eleventh-century Andalusian geographer al-Bakrī’s account of the Bretons, touching on the channels of communication between the Christian and Muslim worlds and relations between the Franks and Bretons. William Norman, ASNC, also centred on the contact between cultures, looking at thought-provoking episodes in the Íslendingasögur of interaction between Icelanders and Celts, both in Iceland and the British Isles, and how this was influenced by knowledge of each other’s languages. Next, we received an insightful comparative study of the poetic form of the list in the Old English Fortunes of Men and the Old Norse Rígsþula, from Alexandra Reider of Yale, who revealed the multiple possible functions of the list, in these instances elucidating the course of a human life and the different rungs of society.

Following further refreshments, we returned to the colloquium’s final session, which emphasised language and power. Albert Fenton, ASNC, outlined the role of Anglo-Saxon writs as distinctive documents, stressing their linguistic and diplomatic characteristics, especially the rights of sacu and socn (‘sake and soke’) which were granted by the king. This provided a timely reconsideration of Florence Harmer’s work on writs. Once this Anglo-Saxon legal background had been established, Jacob Hobson of Berkeley gave us a closer reading of the charters of Æthelstan A, adeptly analysing their theological and exegetical aspects, in particular through the proem, dispositive clause and anathema clause. Last but not at all least, Alexander Wilson of Durham evaluated the construction of monstrosity in Sverris saga by drawing tantalising comparisons with more well-known outlaw narratives in the Íslendingasögur, looking at specific terminology for monstrous behaviour and applying theories of dehumanisation and super-humanisation.

CCASNC dinner, Gonville and Caius College

 At the close of the day, heartfelt thanks were offered to our speakers, organising committee, team of undergraduate helpers and the Department at large. We had gained an appreciation over the course of the Colloquium of how individuals and institutions communicate their control of a particular sphere––whether political or ideological, whether real or imagined––and control communication through administration, composition, selection and transmission. After drinks in a local pub, the merriment continued with a delicious conference dinner in the medieval surroundings of Gonville and Caius College.

Members of the department in conversation with keynote speaker, Stefan Brink

In short, many thanks to all of the wonderful people involved in CCASNC 2015 - your time and enthusiasm is much appreciated. We hope to see you again soon!

[All photos courtesy of Myriah Williams]. 

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