Wednesday 14 December 2011

ASNC-related news stories

The BBC news website today has a story about the Silverdale Viking Hoard. You can find a link to the story here. In the Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole continues his 'History of Ireland in 100 objects' with a discussion of the eleventh-century Clonmacnoise Crozier.

Tuesday 6 December 2011


At the 2011 E. C. Quiggin Memorial Lecture on Thursday 1st December, we were delighted to launch our latest Quiggin Pamphlet, based on last year's lecture. Professor Liam Breatnach, of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, is the author of the most recent of our famous green pamphlets, entitled: The Early Irish Law Text Senchas Már and the Question of its Date, E.C. Quiggin Memorial Lectures 13 (Cambridge, 2011). The pamphlet is available to buy from the Department for the sum of £5, including postage. And while we're advertising our publications, might we remind you that our Chadwick Lectures and Hughes Lectures are also available for purchase.

Dr Elizabeth Boyle has been awarded a two-year Marie Curie Fellowship for 'Experienced Researchers in the Historical Humanities', in the Gerda Henkel Stiftung/M4HUMAN programme. Beginning in October 2012, Dr Boyle will spend time in the Department of Early and Medieval Irish at University College Cork, working on a book which is provisionally titled 'The End of the World? Apocalyptic Expectation in Eleventh-Century Ireland'.

And finally, we'd like to draw your attention to some interesting archaeological finds in Scotland, made by the Rhynie Environs Archaeological Project, which will undoubtedly have an enormous impact on our understanding of early medieval Pictish society.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Public lecture in ASNC

The 2011 E.C. Quiggin Memorial Lecture will take place on Thursday 1st December, at 5pm, in room GR.06/07 of the English Faculty Building, 9 West Road, Cambridge.

Prof. Odd Einar Haugen, of the University of Bergen, will speak on:

'So that the writing may be less and quicker, and the parchment last longer':
The Orthographic Reform of the Old Icelandic First Grammatical Treatise

An abstract is available here.

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception in the social space of the English Faculty Building.
All welcome.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Insular Economics - Workshop Report

Dr Denis Casey writes:

The interdisciplinary Insular Economics workshop, run jointly by Andy Woods and Russell Ó Ríagáin (McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research) and Denis Casey (Department of ASNC) was held in the McDonald Institute on Saturday 10th of September.

The workshop was opened by Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (Reader in Celtic at ASNC, and Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge) and there followed a series of papers that offered major challenges to current scholarly assumptions about economic activity in medieval Ireland and how it is studied.  For example, volumes of coin use in medieval Dublin were shown to be considerably higher than one might have imagined, methods of defining economic hinterlands were challenged and texts such as Lebor na Cert (‘The Book of Rights’) were the subject of fresh scrutiny.

The workshop finished with an open discussion led by Dr James Barrett (Deputy Director of the McDonald Institute) in which a number of the points raised were further examined and the thorny question of synthesis in archaeological, historical and textual studies explored to limited agreement!  Nonetheless, it is hoped that many of the contributors will go on to publish their findings and contribute substantially to the study of the economy/economies and economics of medieval Ireland.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Festival of Ideas

On Saturday 29th October, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic will be holding a series of short public lectures on the theme of 'War and Peace in the Early Middle Ages' as part of Cambridge University's Festival of Ideas. Speakers will include Prof. Simon Keynes, on recent archaeological evidence for violence towards Vikings in Anglo-Saxon England, and Dr Judy Quinn on the valkyrie in Old Norse literature. This event is free, and open to all (suitable for ages 14+), but pre-booking is required. For details, see the Festival of Ideas website.

Viking-Age execution site in Dorset, picture from BBC News website

Friday 21 October 2011

More ASNC-related news stories

The BBC reported yesterday that funding has been secured to conserve the Nigg cross-slab.

Also, to celebrate the discovery of the Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial, ASNC's Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe was on BBC Radio 4's 'World at One' news programme, reading some suitable Skaldic verse in Old Norse and in English translation (skip forward to 0:28:50. N.B.: the BBC iplayer facility is not available in all countries, and programmes can only be heard for 7 days after broadcast).

Wednesday 19 October 2011

ASNC-related news stories

Many of you will have seen the news about the Ardnamurchan Viking boat burial. On a somewhat related note, Fintan O'Toole continues his 'history of Ireland in 100 objects' in The Irish Times and enters the Viking Age. Previous articles by O'Toole in this series have covered the medieval Irish high crosses and an eighth-century crucifixion plaque. Rather belatedly, we also draw your attention to the news about the Oxford Viking massacre site, which was reported in the BBC a few months ago.

Friday 7 October 2011

Converting the Isles

Dr Roy Flechner writes:

On Friday and Saturday 23 - 24 September 2011, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (University of Cambridge) hosted a two-day interdisciplinary conference on conversion to Christianity in North West Europe. It featured papers by an international group of historians, archaeologists and philologists, who were given a unique forum in which to explore conversion comparatively by focusing on different parts of Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland in the early and central middle ages. The combination of places chosen for the discussion reflects our wish to establish a wide comparative framework, covering areas that are of significance to the study of conversion in both the pre-Viking and the Viking era. The talks were recorded and audio podcasts will be posted online soon.

high cross, Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo
(photo by Dr Elizabeth Boyle)

The format of the conference was unique in that speakers were asked to deliver talks in sessions with prescribed titles, for instance 'Perceptions of Pagan and Christian', 'Conversion Processes', or 'Ritual'. Each session comprised two speakers, who represented either distinct disciplines, or who work on different parts of the Insular world. The idea behind this format was to encourage dialogue across geographical and disciplinary boundaries, and by so doing to expand the academic discourse on conversion to Christianity and make it more inclusive. The success of the conference has made us confident that an even wider inclusive framework -- encompassing Western Europe as a whole -- is something to strive for. Sixty-three delegates registered for the conference, comprising an even mix of established academics and students. Attendence was not confined to Britain: delegates also arrived from Ireland, Germany and the United States. Since the conference's central objective was to foster a genuine constructive dialogue between academics who study conversion, much time was devoted to discussion after the talks, and the conference concluded with a very energetic round table discussion attended by approximately thirty people. Participants at the discussion were given a chance to develop topics that were raised by the speakers, and explore them in depth, but also informally. In addition, ideas for future collaboration between scholars were aired, and are now being pursued.

We are grateful to the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Conference Series Fund, the Newton Trust, and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, for their generous financial support that enabled this conference to proceed.

The Festschrift for Thomas Charles-Edwards was also launched as part of this event.

Monday 3 October 2011

Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards

Dr Fiona Edmonds writes:

On the evening of Friday 24th September, a reception was held on the ASNC terrace in conjunction with the highly successful Pagan and Christian conference. The reception provided an excellent opportunity to launch a new book: TOME: Studies in Medieval Celtic History and Law in Honour of Thomas Charles-Edwards. A number of the contributors to the volume were present. Thomas Charles-Edwards, who had been speaking at the Pagan and Christian conference, was present at the reception. He had not been aware of the book launch, and it proved to be a pleasant surprise for him (we hope!).

 A toast to Professor Thomas Charles-Edwards

The book was edited by two of Thomas’s former students, Paul Russell and Fiona Edmonds, both of the department of ASNC. Fiona and Paul gave speeches praising Thomas’s contribution as a teacher of undergraduate students, a supervisor of graduate students, and a leading member of the scholarly community. We also praised Thomas’s highly significant contribution to scholarship, which is demonstrated by the bibliography included in TOME. Paul took the opportunity to explain the book’s title, which has provoked considerable interest. The title has a double inspiration: not only is the latest of Thomas's big books always known in his family as 'the tome', but the so-called 'Pillar of Thomas' (Lower Court Farm, Margam, now in the Margam Stones Museum), which features on the book's cover (the image expertly drawn by Ben Russell) shows a carved cross with the word TO || ME with two letters either side of the shaft of the cross. TOME (a spelling for the Latin genitive singular Tomae) means 'of Thomas' and could scarcely be more appropriate as a title for this volume. But, of course, TOME could also be a dative singular, 'for Thomas', and that is indeed what this volume is with gratitude and affection.

The editors with Prof. Thomas Charles-Edwards

The volume features essays that range across the medieval Celtic world, including medieval Wales, Ireland and Scotland. In the first part of the volume, they cover historical aspects (and, as is fitting, often reflect the honorand's interest in archaeology and epigraphy); in the second, they focus on medieval Irish and Welsh legal institutions and texts, which are used by some to inform new readings of literary texts. For more information, see the website of the publisher, Boydell and Brewer.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Obituaries for Mark Blackburn

An obituary for Dr Mark Blackburn (1953-2011), prepared for the British Numismatic Journal, has been made available electronically in advance of its publication. It can be found here.

[Edit: 30/09/11] Another obituary for Mark appeared in the Guardian on 29th September (online edition; it appeared in the paper edition on Friday 30th September) and can be found here.

[Further edit: 30/09/11] Mark is also the lead obituary in today's Times (p. 64 of the paper edition; accessing the online edition of The Times requires a subscription).

[Further edit: 26/10/11] Mark's obituary appeared today in the Telegraph.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Memories of Old Awake

As part of the 'Cambridge Ideas' series, learn more about Dr Emily Lethbridge's exploration of the landscapes of the Icelandic sagas ...

Tuesday 20 September 2011

New book!

Elizabeth Boyle and Paul Russell, both of the Department of ASNC, have recently published a volume of essays on the life and scholarship of the Celtic scholar and colonial jurist, Whitley Stokes (1830-1909). The volume arises from the conference which took place in September 2009 to commemorate the centenary of Stokes' death.

The wide-ranging volume includes essays on Stokes' pivotal contribution to the popularisation of Edward FitzGerald's translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám; Stokes' friendships with the Pre-Raphaelites; an account of his legal career in India; and an assessment, by Ananya Jahanara Kabir, of Stokes' place within the phenomenon she calls 'imperial medievalism', namely the conjunction between scholarly interest in the European Middle Ages and Britain's imperial presence in India.

Of particular interest to Celtic scholars is Pól Ó Dochartaigh's chapter on Stokes' relationship with Rudolf Thomas Siegfried; Paul Russell's chapter on Stokes' collaborations with Henry Bradshaw; Pádraic Moran's chapter on Stokes and the native Irish linguistic tradition; Thomas Charles-Edwards on Stokes and medieval Irish law; and Aderik Blom on Stokes' scholarship on Continental Celtic.

The volume is published by the leading Irish academic publisher, Four Courts Press.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Dr Mark Blackburn

It is with deep sadness that we report the death of Dr Mark Blackburn LittD., Keeper of Coins and Medals at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Reader in Numismatics and Monetary History in the Department; he died at home on 1 September 2011.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Insular Economics: programme and abstracts

McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 
10th September 2011

The programme and abstracts for the workshop Insular Economics: Ireland in the Eleventh and Twelfth Century (10th September, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge) are now available on the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic website:  This interdisciplinary workshop will feature new lines of enquiry into the economies and economics of eleventh- and twelfth-century Ireland, being pursued by early-career researchers (PhD and Post-doctoral), from Cambridge, Belfast, Dublin, Manchester and Liverpool.  Attendance is free and limited number of places are still available.  Anyone interested in attending should contact the convenors, via the above link, before Friday 2nd September.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Call for Papers: Power and the Sacred in the Medieval World

Call for Papers: Power and the Sacred in the Medieval World
(5th - 15th centuries), 26th November 2011, University of Leicester

This conference will explore the origins and development of the relationship between ‘power’ and ‘sacred’ in the Medieval World (5th to 15th centuries) addressing the possible transformations and transitions of these terms within a broad time frame, and how they were realized in people, places and objects, and in different faiths, for example Christianity, Judaism and Islam. ‘Outsider’ perceptions of the ways in which power and the sacred were constructed or reconstructed according to context are also significant: how and what were the interactions between sacred objects/people/places by peoples of different faiths? how would these have been perceived? how did movements such as the Crusades affect notions of sacred and power? how did gender affect interactions between sacred objects/people/power? 
We would like to invite postgraduate students to contribute to this discussion at an interdisciplinary conference being held at the University of Leicester on 26 November, 2011. We are particularly keen to encourage debate between disciplines, and invite students of History, English, Archaeology, Theology and Art History, or any other aspect of medieval studies broadly construed, to attend and present a paper.
Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):
·        The roles of religious institutions in channelling power, both sacred and political: Did these roles change depending on place and alliances with political figures? Where did monasteries ‘fit’ as a religious institution and how did they channel power?
·        Literary constructions of power and/or sacrality: How were these dynamisms recorded by whom, and why?
·        Conflicts between different types of sacralities and/or power: Who were the main agents for these conflicts? How did particular agents affect the construction of sanctity and power?
·        The role of saints in the Medieval World: how far did ‘national power’ align with ‘national’ saints or sacred objects? Are there noticeable transformations over time? How did these compare between regions (i.e. Britain and Francia/ Western Christendom and Islamic Near and Middle East), or in relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims?
·        The perceptions of ‘peripheral’ people on power and/or sacred: how did the poor, the ‘lower classes’ and foreigners perceive interactions between ‘State and Church’?
The principal aim of this conference is to create a forum for debate by exposing researchers to developments in and around their fields, and by creating a space for new ideas between disciplines to emerge.
Please send 300-word abstracts for papers (20 minutes long) to Shazia Jagot at by the 26 August 2011. Proposals for Posters are also welcome.

Monday 25 July 2011

Insular Economics: Ireland in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

Event Type: Early Career Workshop
Date: Saturday 10th September
Venue: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Address: Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3ER

This one-day workshop—hosted by the Department of ASNC and McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research—will be dedicated to exploring the economies and economics of Early Medieval Ireland and their wider Insular contexts.  Papers by early career researchers from Britain and Ireland will explore topics such as numismatics, exchange networks, administrative documentary traditions, settlements, environmental impact and the application of theoretical economic models.

Attendance is free and places are limited.  Please contact one of the coordinators (Denis Casey; Russell Ó Ríagáin or Andy Woods for more information.

Sunday 17 July 2011

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

Dr Rory Naismith writes:

Despite being separated by a thousand miles of sea, land and mountain, Anglo-Saxon England enjoyed a close connection with Rome: seat of the papacy and a leading beacon of spiritual and cultural authority in early medieval Europe. This special relationship went back to the first mission of St Augustine to the English in 597, sent at the behest of Pope Gregory I (590–604), but persisted in the centuries that followed as English kings, clergy, pilgrims and traders made frequent trips to the eternal city. Many kinds of evidence survive to show how large Rome loomed in the minds of early medieval Englishmen and women. One particularly vivid source for both their piety and their economic interests comes in the form of money brought from England to Rome in the Anglo-Saxon period. Written records show that such gifts were taking place as early as the eighth century, though by the tenth century they had assumed the more or less regular form of Peter’s Pence: a penny donated by every Anglo-Saxon household to St Peter at Rome.

House of the Vestal Virgins in the Forum Romanum, where a hoard of over 800 English coins dating to the tenth century was found in 1883. []

Dr Rory Naismith, a Junior Research Fellow at Clare College, and Dr Francesca Tinti, Ikerbasque Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country and an honorary research associate of ASNaC, have recently been awarded a research grant by the British Academy to look afresh at the movement of money between England and Rome at this time. In the course of 2012, they will go on research visits to Rome to re-examine material in museums and archives. Finds of English coins have been numerous in Rome, among them such famous pieces as a unique gold coin in the name of Offa, king of the Mercians (757–96), made in imitation of an Islamic gold dinar (now in the British Museum). Also, there has been a glut of major hoards from the tenth century comprising about a thousand coins in total. Indeed, English coins constitute the bulk of all those found within Rome dating to between the late eighth and late tenth centuries. These have much to tell about England’s coinage at that time, and also about the nature of links between England and Rome: they say as much about economic activity as devotion, and should be seen as the residue of trade and exchange as well as pious donations. Dr Naismith and Dr Tinti’s research will shed new light on the significance of this material for bonds – cultural, religious and monetary – tying England to Rome at a formative stage.

Coins of Pope Hadrian I (772–95) and Wulfred, archbishop of Canterbury (805–32), the latter drawing inspiration from Hadrian’s earlier coinage. Both coins illustrated courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

A parallel strand of research will involve analysing the metallic content of a selection of silver coins from the Fitzwilliam Museum minted under the authority of the popes from the 770s to the 970s. These fall during the heyday of movement of English coins to Rome, and have never before been examined in this way. Determining the purity of these coins’ silver, and the quantity of other trace elements within them, might pave the way towards some understanding of where the popes looked for models and bullion in minting their coinage. This might in turn shed some light on the fate of English silver on arrival in Rome: was it melted down to provide local currency, or were other sources of silver drawn on? What was the final chapter of movements of English coin to Rome? 

Tuesday 12 July 2011

More congratulations!

The awards and prizes are flooding in this month! Here are some more:

Dr Nick Zair, Research Fellow in Peterhouse and Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of Classics in Cambridge has been awarded the Johann-Kaspar Zeuss Prize for the best PhD in Celtic Studies of 2011. The title of his dissertation, which was completed in Oxford, is: ‘The reflexes of the proto-Indo-European laryngeals in Celtic’. The prize is awarded by the Societas Celtologica Europaea.

Congratulations to Dr Eleanor Barraclough (ASNC) who has been awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Oxford.  Dr Barraclough will hold her fellowship in the Faculty of English, with an affiliation to The Queen’s College, and will be working on a research project mapping the literary landscape and conceptual geography of the medieval Norse world, with close readings of the sagas at the heart of the investigation. This literary analysis will be supported by an interdisciplinary methodology that explores the links between the sagas’ literary designs and the geographical conditions, historical reality, socio-political conditions and cultural memories underpinning Norse society.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Widening participation

As part of the University of Cambridge's ongoing commitment to widening participation in higher education, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic runs a summer school in association with the Sutton Trust. In these 60-second videos, some of last year's participants talk about their experiences studying ASNC.

Monday 4 July 2011


Congratulations to a number of ASNCs who have receieved various awards and prizes in recent weeks:

At the end of May, Dr Rory Naismith became the youngest recipient (at the age of 27) of the Blunt Prize, awarded by the British Numismatic Society, for his exceptional scholarship on Anglo-Saxon coinage.

The Scandinvian Studies Fund awarded the 2011 Wallenberg Prize to two students: Moa Höijer (ASNC & Hughes Hall) for her essay on 'Perceptions of an outcast: Loki's motivation in Lokasenna', and to George Walkden (Dept of Linguistics & Clare College) for his essay 'The correspondence problem in syntactic reconstructon'. The Wallenberg Prize is awarded for an essay on some subject connected with the language, history or civilization of one or more of the Scandinavian peoples

And last but not least, Dr Denis Casey has been awarded a Fellowship by the Society for Renaissance Studies, to work on Christopher Nugent's primer of the Irish language, created for Elizabeth I, within the contexts of second language teaching during the Renaissance and the Gaelic grammatical tradition. Dr Casey wrote about this primer for the Irish Examiner recently.

Friday 1 July 2011

—•—• ••— •— —•—• •••• ("cuach")

Dr Denis Casey writes:

In Acallam na Senórach, the dialogue between St Patrick and Caílte (an aged survivor of Finn Mac Cumail’s war band) on the places and lore of Ireland, Finn enquired of his companions what music was best.  Their answers conjured up a cacophony of the landscape: baying hounds, bellying stags, swords striking, ladies laughing, cuckoos calling.
Like Caílte’s reminisces, Pat Collins’s film Tim Robinson: Connemara, based on the work of the current Parnell Fellow in Irish Studies, was dominated by sound and music, as much by the physical landscapes and seascapes that have been the subject of Robinson’s work.  The landscape filled the ears, while the camera panned slowly in soft focus over Robinson’s extraordinarily detailed maps of Connemara.  Funneled wind howling through the bearnaí and mámanna faded into a soft breeze over bogs where the naosc binn ’s an crotach glórach could be heard, before morphing into the cry of a gull by the shoreline’s contours, only to be drowned in rhythms drummed against wave-lashed cliffs.  Similarly, Susan Stenger’s soundtrack, inspired by Marconi’s wireless experiments in Connemara, strikingly encapsulated the natural themes, as the Irish word cuach (‘cuckoo’) was played in Morse Code while Robinson searched amid the denuded foliage of Derryclare wood for Cuach na Coille (‘The Cuckoo of the Wood’).

Tim Robinson: Connemara brilliantly brings to another medium the work of a latter day embodiment of both Caílte and Patrick, and is a film deserving of repeated viewing — and listening.  Finn’s conclusion is admirably justified: the best music is ‘the music of what happens’.

Monday 20 June 2011

Adventures in a graveyard, Part 2

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

Following my adventure in search of the memorial cross erected at St Fintan's church, Sutton, Co. Dublin, to the Celtic scholar, Whitley Stokes (1830-1909), I decided to find the place where he is actually buried, in Paddington Old Cemetery, London. I was particularly interested to see whether his gravestone was similar in style, or whether it bore a similar inscription, to the cross at St Fintan's.

Stokes' memorial cross at St Fintan's, Sutton, Co. Dublin
Paddington Old Cemetery is located in the diverse district of Kilburn, north of Kensington (where Stokes lived after returning from India in 1882 until his death in 1909).

Paddington Old Cemetery, London
I found Stokes' grave in somewhat better condition than some of the others in its vicinity. The cross was indeed in the Celtic Revival style, although notably less ornate than the memorial cross at Sutton.
 grave of Whitley Stokes (1830-1909), Paddington Old Cemetery
 The inscription was also quite different from that at St Fintan's. First, there was no indication of Stokes' profession or scholarly interests.Where the St Fintan's cross had described him as 'Jurist, Scholar and Philologist', his London gravestone gave only the spare details of his name and dates, reflecting perhaps the more private, family-oriented nature of the memorial, as opposed to the more public, or scholarly, nature of the Sutton cross. The quotation chosen for the inscription was also quite different in tone. Where the St Fintan's cross stated:
('Truth lies with God; for us remains Research')
the Paddington memorial gave a biblical quotation, from Philippians 4:8:

Stokes grave inscription
The overall effect was simple, but quite moving, and in striking contrast to the form and content of the St Fintan's memorial.  But having found Stokes' grave I decided that the next challenge would be to find his house. So I left Kilburn, and set off towards one of London's most affluent districts:

Grenville Place, Kensington
Perhaps rather fittingly, Stokes' home at 15 Grenville Place technically no longer exists, since 14 and 15 Grenville Place have been knocked together and turned into separate flats. However, the house still retains the impressive frontage, including the front door (no longer in use), which it would have had in Stokes' day. 
 15 Grenville Place, Kensington, formerly the home of Whitley Stokes (1830-1909)

In Stokes' time, as now, this was a prosperous part of London, and emphasises the wealth which Stokes accumulated during his time as a colonial jurist in British India, where he became President of the India Law Commission. A stark contrast indeed to the penniless young barrister who had to sell his furniture in order to buy his passage to India in 1862, and a reminder of the more problematic moral complexities of the life of Ireland's greatest Celtic scholar.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

ASNC Open Day 2011

The next ASNC Open Day will take place on 29th June. All those interested in applying to study ASNC - and their parents/guardians - are welcome, but booking is essential: further details and the booking form can be found on the ASNC website. Lecturers in ASNC will give brief introductory talks on aspects of the ASNC Tripos, and there will be a visit to the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, to see some Anglo-Saxon and Celtic manuscripts.

Dr Fiona Edmonds addresses a previous Open Day audience

Friday 3 June 2011

ASNC in the media

Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, University Lecturer in Scandinavian History of the Medieval Period, was one of Melvyn Bragg's guests on In Our Time on Radio 4 yesterday. The episode discussed the Battle of Stamford Bridge (1066). You can listen to the programme (for the next few days only) via the BBC's iplayer.

Dr Emily Lethbridge, Honorary Research Associate in ASNC, who is currently travelling around Iceland, visiting the sites of Old Norse saga literature, was interviewed for Radio Cambridgeshire. Again, you can listen to the interview via the BBC's iplayer (starts at 16:40), and follow Emily's journey via her blog.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Ryan Giggs' super-injunction: the ASNC perspective

Prof. Simon Keynes, of the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, University of Cambridge, gives his historical perspective on the 'King Cnut of Football', Ryan Giggs, to the BBC. Read the story here.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Open Resources for Celtic

Jack Leigh writes:

Ever searched in vain for an online text or translation? Wanted to make a correction to something you did find? Only found out about online resources after you managed without them? Open Resources for Celtic Studies is the beginnings of a project to provide an easily-accessible repository of open [1] information of use to Celticists. At the moment it’s somewhat lacking but you can help change that! Please take a look and, if you like the idea, do something to help out.

Things you could do include:
  •  Contribute some translation or bibliography (you need to revise those set texts anyway!) 
  • Post an article you’ve written 
  • Post links to existing online resources you know 
  • Pick a character and write about them (texts they appear in, etc.)
  • Any other idea you think would be useful! 
I was fortunate to recently meet Lucy Chambers and Rufus Pollock of the Open Knowledge Foundation (which has brought us cool projects like Open Shakespeare, Public Domain Works, and Open Bibliography) and we discussed some of the ways to take this idea forward, perhaps through integrating it with work done for Open Shakespeare, into a wider ‘Open Literature’. 

Things I would currently like to see include: a comprehensive bibliography which links books and articles with their reviews, and allows users to add their own reviews; profiles of literary characters, texts they appear in and genealogical information; open transcriptions, critical editions and translations marked up using TEI XML. Anyone have grand ideas of their own? Please take a look and see what you can make of the resource. 

[1] “A piece of content or data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.” (See, particularly the ‘Open Knowledge Definition’ for further explanation)

Monday 23 May 2011

Report of Chadwick Lecture

Dr Jonathan Jarrett, of the University of Oxford, has an interesting report on his blog of Prof. Wendy Davies's 2011 H. M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture, which she delivered in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic on 17th March.

Monday 16 May 2011

Film Review: "Thor" - for Better or Norse?

Robin McConnell writes:

You will probably already be familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is, the series of film adaptations of Marvel Comics superhero properties which began with 2008’s Iron Man and includes The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, the forthcoming Captain America: The First Avenger and the subject of this review, Thor; a series that will culminate in 2012’s The Avengers, featuring all four superheroes. Created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby in 1962, the Marvel Comics series Thor was always one of the more controversial comic books in the genre – just how tasteful was it to appropriate a bygone culture’s mythology and twist it to your own post-industrial, twentieth-century, Cold War-influenced, all-American ends? This is the question that Stan Lee did not ask himself when he decided to create the ultimate superhero: no more (near-)mortal beings with god-like powers, just an all-powerful god, pure and simple.

Consequently, Thor was always going to be the toughest Marvel Comics hero to translate to the big screen. The difficulty comes in trying to integrate a god into the technology-based, sci-fi world of Iron Man and the Hulk. So how do Marvel Studios get around this? Simple: Asgard becomes another dimension where science and magic are “one and the same” (to quote the script), with a portal gate at the end of the Rainbow Bridge that allows its inhabitants – styled ‘Asgardians’ in the film, not ‘Æsir’ – to travel to Earth. The gods are super-powered, yes, but the trick is to recast them as superhuman aliens, not as deities. For example, Thor has no discernable powers of his own except being extra-buff (much to the delight of female members of the audience) – his powers such as they are come from his hammer, Mjolnir (sic.). This isn’t true of all the Asgardians, most of whom are given their own personal skill, but for the most part they are nearly-plausible ‘scientific’ versions of the Norse gods rather than traditional comic book superheroes with impossible magic powers. Then there are the Frost Giants, who break this portrayal by being huge and able to freeze anything, as well as having monstrous guard dogs the size of Godzilla. Oh, well, we can’t have everything.

Marvel Comics' Thor (image from

So, to the story. Is it good? Well, it’s not bad. The premise is that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is heir to the throne of Asgard, and extremely arrogant and irresponsible to boot. When he disobeys his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) orders and attacks the Frost Giants, almost causing a full-scale war between them and Asgard, he is banished to Earth, where he is to be powerless until he can prove his worth. On Earth, he meets astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who helps him survive in an unfamiliar world where he is not only unimportant, but also wanted by secret government agency SHIELD who have taken possession of Mjolnir, which was sent down to Earth separately from Thor. From there it’s a traditional journey of romance and redemption with all the action you’d expect from a summer blockbuster. The twist is the choice of Kenneth Branagh as director. Best known for his work adapting Shakespearian plays to the screen, his influence is most felt in the first portion of the film set in Asgard where the plot machinations are almost lifted wholesale from the Bard: the triangular relationship between Odin and his sons Thor and Loki reflects King Lear, Hamlet and Othello in its depiction of a jealous manipulator (Loki) exploiting the strained relationship between favourite-son (Thor) and father (Odin) for self-gain. This forms the dramatic core of the plot and is probably the most satisfying section of the film, reaching its climax with a spectacular assault by Thor, Loki, Sif and The Warriors Three (Asgardians invented for the comic) on Jotunheim, home of the Frost Giants. Once Thor is on Earth, it transforms into a fish-out-of-water comedy which is genuinely very good. This reflects arguably the film’s greatest strength: the realisation that all the Shakespearian drama in the world won’t engage the audience fully unless the inherent silliness of the scenario is acknowledged and embraced, but without sinking to Batman & Robin levels of self-parodic farce.

Friday 13 May 2011

Adventures in a graveyard

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

In 2009, Dr Paul Russell and I held a conference in Cambridge to commemorate the centenary of the death of Whitley Stokes (1830-1909), colonial jurist and Celtic scholar. A volume arising from that conference is soon to be published by Four Courts Press, but my interest in Stokes has continued to grow, and last week it led me to a graveyard in Co. Dublin in search of a putative memorial cross which was apparently erected for Stokes shortly after his death.

Stokes, who was born in Dublin, left Ireland in 1852, at the age of twenty-two, when he went to study law in London. Although he returned to Ireland for brief visits, he never again lived there, instead travelling to India in 1862, where he spent twenty years in Calcutta and Simla, codifying Anglo-Indian law, eventually becoming President of the India Law Commission. He returned to London in 1882, and spent the rest of his life there. He was a founding fellow of the British Academy. Stokes published prolifically on medieval Celtic languages and literatures, and it remains the case that many medieval Irish texts are only available in print in Stokes's editions and translations. Stokes died in 1909, and was buried in London.

However, according to the genealogical website of a Stokes family in Australia, a memorial cross had allegedly been erected at a "St Finian's" church on the Howth peninsula, in Co. Dublin. In following up this lead, I faced two problems: first, that this cross is not referred to anywhere in the scholarly literature (e.g. in the entries on Stokes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, or the Dictionary of Irish Biography), and so I had no more specific information to go on than one brief remark on a single website; and second, that there is no "St Finian's" church on the Howth peninsula.

It seemed most likely to me that "St Finian's" was a misreading of St Fintan's, a church located in Sutton, close to Howth, and which dates back to the early medieval period (fitting for a scholar such as Stokes, with his interest in the culture of early medieval Ireland). So, on a drizzly, overcast Thursday, I took the DART from central Dublin to Sutton, and wandered through the graveyard in search of a cross which I wasn't sure even existed.

Remains of the early medieval church of St Fintan's, Sutton, Co. Dublin

Friday 6 May 2011

Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture

On Monday 9th May, Prof. Thomas Charles-Edwards, Jesus Professor of Celtic, University of Oxford, will deliver the 2011 Kathleen Hughes Memorial Lecture on:

'St Patrick and the Landscape of Early Christian Ireland'
Lives of St Patrick, from the late-seventh century onwards, are rich in information about the political and ecclesiastical landscape—about small kingdoms and large, about ‘seats of kingship’ and local churches. Occasionally they touch upon the major places of pre-Christian Ireland as these were understood in the Christian period. The latter are ubiquitous in early Irish narrative literature and then in the Dindshenchas ‘place-history’ of Middle Irish. The lecture will discuss the relationship between Patrick’s places and those believed to be the central places of pre-Patrician Ireland.
This lecture will take place at 5.45pm in the Pavilion Room, Hughes Hall, Cambridge. All welcome.

Monday 2 May 2011

Authorities and Adaptations

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

On Friday 15th and Saturday 16th April, thirty scholars working on various aspects of medieval Irish history and literature gathered in Cambridge for an advanced research workshop on the theme of 'Authorities and Adaptations: the Reworking and Transmission of Sources in Irish Textual Culture, c. 1000 - c. 1200'. The reshaping of earlier source material to accommodate contemporary concerns is a significant phenomenon in medieval literary culture, and particularly so in Ireland. The process of recycling and reworking textual materials has often been commented on by scholars of medieval Irish, but had never been systematically interrogated. Over the course of the two days of the workshop, Celticists from Britain, Ireland, Germany and the United States, addressed the question of how sources were reshaped and adapted in eleventh- and twelfth-century Ireland. By studying how older authorities were used in medieval Ireland, the participants sought to further our understanding of how medieval Irish intellectuals and authors understood their own history and literary inheritance.

The papers presented at the workshop encompassed texts in both Latin and Old/Middle Irish, and ranged across many genres, from law to history-writing, from narrative prose to doctrinal poetry, and from biblical exegesis to grammatical tracts. A number of papers also focused on how earlier texts, including legal texts, grammars and poetry, accreted layers of learned commentary, which shaped the way those texts were read and understood by later audiences. As all of the papers demonstrated, the reworking of earlier source material was not merely a deferential act of preservation: rather, authors engaged actively with their sources, reshaping them to meet contemporary concerns, and using authorities to lend weight to words that would resonate with new, and changing, audiences.

The workshop was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the H. M. Chadwick Fund, and the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. The programme of papers was as follows:

Papers I – III
Session chair: Dr Pádraic Moran (NUI Galway)
I. Prof. Patrick O'Neill (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill): 'Old wine in new bottles: the reprise of early Irish Psalter exegesis in the eleventh and twelfth centuries'
II. Dr Deborah Hayden (Hughes Hall, Cambridge): 'Metrical mnemonics and anatomical accents in Auraicept na nÉces'
III. Dr Paul Russell (University of Cambridge): 'Adaption, re-working and transmission in the commentaries to Amrae Coluimb Chille'

Papers IV - VI
Session chair: Dr Paul Russell (University of Cambridge)
IV. Dr Elizabeth Boyle (St Edmund’s College, Cambridge): 'Invisible authority: Echtgus Úa Cúanáin’s use of Paschasius Radbertus in his poetic treatise on the Eucharist'
V. Dr Brent Miles (University College Cork): 'The Hiberno-Latin background to the Sermo ad reges and an Irish tradition of advice to kings'
VI. Dr Caoimhín Breatnach (University College Dublin): 'Irish and Latin abridged versions of the Gospel of Nicodemus'

Session chair: Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (St John’s College, Cambridge)
VII. Prof. Thomas Charles-Edwards (Jesus College, Oxford): 'The manuscript transmission of Bretha Comaithchesa'
VIII. Prof. Máire Herbert (University College Cork): 'Some thoughts on history and history-writing in the post-Viking era'

Papers IX-XI
Session chair: Dr Ralph O’Connor (University of Aberdeen)
IX. Prof. Ruairí Ó hUiginn (NUI Maynooth): 'Recycling a cycle: some late "Ulster" tales'
X. Dr Hugh Fogarty (University College Cork): 'Aided Guill 7 Gairb and the "inward look" in late Middle Irish prose saga'
XI. Dr Geraldine Parsons (University of Glasgow): 'Revisiting Almu in Middle Irish texts'

Papers XII – XIII
Session chair: Dr Mark Williams (Peterhouse, Cambridge)
XII. Prof. Michael Clarke (NUI Galway): 'Catheads and Trojans: reworking of Sex Aetates Mundi material in later medieval narratives'
XIII. Prof. Dr Erich Poppe (Philipps-Universität Marburg): 'On some sources of "On the beginning of Christ’s teaching" in the Leabhar Breac'

Paper XIV-XV
Session chair: Dr Elizabeth Boyle (St Edmund’s College, Cambridge)
XIV. Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (St John’s College, Cambridge): 'Authorial attribution in twelfth-century Ireland: new wine in old skins'
XV. Dr Kevin Murray (University College Cork): 'The reworking of Old Irish texts in the Middle Irish period: contexts and motivations'

Monday 18 April 2011


The ASNC department's Dr Paul Russell featured in the BBC's recent 'History of Celtic Britain' documentary. It can be viewed via the BBC iplayer facility here. (Unfortunately this may not be viewable in all countries).

Saturday 9 April 2011

Seachtain na Gaeilge report

Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson writes:

The two-week celebration of Seachtain na Gaeilge in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic opened on 9 March with a lecture by Dr. Tim Robinson, Parnell Fellow at Magdelene College for 2011, author of several books and creator of beautifully detailed maps on Aran, Connemara and the Burren. Robinson spoke on the ‘Geophanic Language of Ireland’ and led a discussion on the value of place and Irish placenames—a topic touched upon in his Parnell Lecture and developed further in this open discussion. Faculty, students and guests from various disciplines had an opportunity to examine Robinson’s detailed maps, which were passed around the large round table during the discussion. Robinson noted the importance of the lore of prominent places (dindshenchas) in medieval Irish texts; he also recounted stories about sacred places which he collected from local inhabitants while walking in remote landscapes in search of holy wells, prehistoric forts and other antiquities. The long-term consequences of the loss of place and the effects of rapid change in Ireland were also considered.

Among Tim Robinson’s many publications are Connemara: Listening to the Wind; Connemara: the Last Pool of Darkness; and Stones of Aran: Part I: Pilgrimage. He is also the subject of the recent film Tim Robinson: Connemara, directed by Pat Collins.

On 17th March the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, and St John’s College, offered faculty, students of palaeography and visitors from various disciplines an opportunity to see the ‘Southampton Psalter’, an Irish psalm-book of ninth or tenth century date and one of the finest treasures of the Old Library of St. John’s College (more details on the Southampton Psalter can be found here).  

Examining a map from Cox's Hibernia Anglicana (1679) (photograph by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge)

Dr. Denis Casey, Honorary Research Associate in medieval Irish history, guided participants through the history of the manuscript and spoke on the significance of the interlinear Irish and Latin glosses in this predominantly Latin manuscript.  Dr. Casey offered insights into the bilingual culture in which the Psalter was produced and drew attention to some particularly interesting Irish glosses, including the scribe’s passing comment in his own native language: ‘it is Beltaine (Mayday) today, a Wednesday.’ Those who were present at the viewing had the pleasure of closely examining the decorated initials, interlace work and three striking illuminated images (of David and Goliath, David fighting the lion and the Crucifixion) in the intimate setting of the Old Library. The Special Collections librarian, Kathryn McKee, graciously welcomed the group and prepared a display of other texts of Irish interest from the library’s collection of rare books.  These included sketchbooks of travels in Ireland by the antiquary and astronomer, John Lee (1783-1866), a graduate of St. John’s College;  a life of St. Patrick by Richard Stanyhurst (published 1587); a map of Ireland from Richard  Cox’s Hibernia Anglicana (published in 1679), and a natural history of Ireland from 1729.

Examining the Southhampton Psalter (photograph by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge)

Visiting the Old Library at St John's (photograph by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge)

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas - Colloquium Report

The Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas held its Annual Colloquium in the Faculty of English on Saturday 19 March 2011, organised by Deborah Hayden with the help of several members of the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. The day began with the Leslie Seiffert Lecture, given this year by Professor Emeritus Richard Hudson of UCL, who discussed ‘Why History Matters: From Babylon to Sweet, Tesnière, Chomsky and the National Curriculum’. This was followed by a variety of stimulating papers on topics ranging across the historical study of Chinese, Dutch and Italian. In the afternoon members were treated to a series of Celtic-themed talks, including a discussion of the study of Gaulish in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and two papers on medieval and early modern Irish respectively by ASNaC members Paul Russell and Denis Casey. The event ended with an engaging contribution from Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade concerning her recent book on the life and work of the eighteenth-century English grammarian Robert Lowth.

 John Walmsley (Bielefeld) and Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (Leiden/Cambridge)

Graham Pointon, Georgia Henley (ASNaC) and Louis Kelly (Cambridge)

Friday 11 March 2011

Seachtain na Gaeilge, so far ...

Dr Denis Casey writes:

The famous Irish poet Antaine Ó Raiftearaí may have complained that he was ag seinm cheoil do phócaí falamh (‘playing music for empty pockets’) but anyone who attended last night’s Irish poetry and music event at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic will have come away feeling much fuller than that blind poet’s pockets ever did.

As part of the ongoing Seachtain na Gaeilge, Tim Robinson (Parnell Fellow at Magdalene) held an informal discussion of the value of Irish placenames (Wednesday 9th March), before last night’s wonderful recital by the students of the Department’s modern Irish language classes, which ranged from Katie McIvor’s enchanting solo harp performance of The Waves of Gola to a rousing ensemble chorus of the old Jacobite song Óró sé do bheatha abhaile (‘You are welcome home’). The beautifully enunciated poetry performances were similarly varied, as the words of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Pádraig Pearse and Seán Ó Ríordáin (among others) and the landscape of Connemara (through a special visual presentation), were all vividly brought to life.

Katie McIvor plays The Waves of Gola

The performers are all students of modern Irish in Cambridge (while also studying and working in a variety of departments throughout the university) and hail from a variety of countries, including Holland, Australia, USA and Finland. Their high standard of Irish is a credit to their teacher in the Department of ASNC, namely Dr Margo Griffin-Wilson.

 Ensemble performance of Irish songs

In the first performed poem, Ceist na Teangan (‘The Language Issue’), Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill wrote that she placed her hopes in the little Moses basket of the Irish language, in the anticipation that it might one day land in the lap of a Pharaoh’s daughter. It appears to be in good hands so far.

Students of Modern Irish in the University of Cambridge (in front of portraits of some of our illustrious Elrington & Bosworth Professors of Anglo-Saxon)

Monday 7 March 2011

ASNC Hosts Viking Society Student Conference

Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe reports:
The Viking Society for Northern Research was founded in 1892 and is now a professional organisation for scholars and researchers in the fields of Viking Age Scandinavia and Old Norse literature. In addition to offering public lectures and publishing a scholarly journal and monographs, the Viking Society organises a conference every spring with a student audience in mind.

This year, ASNC was the host department, and on 12 February Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe and Dr Judy Quinn held the conference on the theme of 'The Material Past: Understanding the Old Norse World'. The speakers were all top-level researcher in fields such as archaeology, history of religion, and Viking Studies, and they were asked to discuss an Old Norse text of their choosing in the light of their non-literary research. An overflow crowd of undergraduate and graduate students from across the UK and from as far afield as Norway filled Sidgwick Hall at Newnham College, and all agreed that it was a marvellous opportunity to learn about interdisciplinary approaches to Viking and Old Norse Studies and to ask questions of the experts.

Stefan Brink of the University of Aberdeen began by investigating whether we could rely on the sagas' information about slaves and slavery, and Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham followed by asking whether sagas tell us anything useful about the status of the physically different. Adolf Friðriksson of the Institute of Archaeology of Iceland continued the theme of bodies by discussing death and burial in sagas and archaeology. After lunch, the topic turned from bodies to objects. John Hines of the University of Cardiff discussed poems and sagas that mention houses and artefacts decorated with mythological scenes, and Judith Jesch of the University of Nottingham showed how the references to Viking weapons in skaldic verse corresponded closely to actual weapons that have been found. Lesley Abrams of Oxford University concluded the talks with a survey of runic inscriptions on stone in Britain and Ireland that might provide evidence of the religious beliefs of the Scandinavian settlers in those places. In a final discussion, the speakers asked each other questions about their presentations, and the audience was fascinated to see the experts debate the topics among themselves in a very lively fashion.

To find out what else the Viking Society offers, check out its website.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Seachtain na Gaeilge in Cambridge

Seachtain na Gaeilge, 2011
5 - 17 MARCH

As part of the celebration of 'Seachtain na Gaeilge', a two-week festival which promotes Irish language and culture in Ireland and abroad, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic will host the following events in the English Faculty Building, Sidgwick Site, 9 West Road.

9 MARCH (Wednesday), 5pm, English Faculty Board Room

Dr. Tim Robinson, Parnell Fellow
The 'Geophanic' Language of Ireland: A Discussion on the Value of Irish Placenames

Tim Robinson, author of several books on the landscape of Connemara and the Aran Islands and creator of beautifully detailed maps, will consider the importance of place in Ireland and the consequences of the loss of place in the modern world. All are invited to come and examine Dr. Robinson's maps of Connemara and participate in an informal discussion on the value of place--a topic thoughtfully probed by Robinson in his
recent Parnell lecture.

10 MARCH (Thursday), 5pm, ASNC Common Room

Dánta agus Ceol/ Poems and Music
Irish Film: 'KINGS'

A group of students from Modern Irish language courses will read selected Irish poems, perform traditional music and present a photographic travel account of the Irish landscape.

Student performances will be followed by a showing of 'KINGS', an Irish language film (with subtitles) and winner of five Irish Academy Awards. The film explores the lives of six men who left their homes in Connemara in 1977 with hopes of a better life in England.

Colm Meaney in Kings (image from Alt Film Guide

17 MARCH: H. M. Chadwick Lecture, 5pm (G-R 06/ 07)

Professor Wendy Davies (University College London) will present the annual H. M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture: Water mills and cattle standards: probing the economic comparison between Ireland and Spain in the early middle ages

Irish Manuscripts:
The Chadwick lecture will be preceded by a viewing of medieval Irish manuscripts at St. John's College. Places for the viewing are limited; to book please contact Denis Casey (

These events will be followed by refreshments. All are welcome to attend.