Monday, 30 January 2012

Giant squid spotted in Iceland?

ASNC lecturer in Scandinavian History, Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe, recently found the following notice in a medieval Icelandic annal:

1345: A strange thing appeared east in Lagarfljót and the Fljóts Dale district, and people know that it was alive. Sometimes it looked like large islands but sometimes it shoots up coils and gaps in between, and many hundreds of fathoms long. No-one knew the size of it, and neither a head nor a fishtail has been seen on it, and for this reason people do not know what [kind of a] wonder it was.

The Icelanders were familiar with ordinary fish and marine mammals, but this creature was new to them. On the basis of the reference to 'coils', Dr Rowe at first was reminded of the Loch Ness Monster, but on further reflection a giant squid seemed more likely. Dr Rowe is currently at work on producing the first English translation of the medieval Icelandic annals, and further unsual events are sure to turn up.

Image from

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Junctions and Crossroads: Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic 2012

The 2012 Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic will take place on 25th February. This year's Colloquium theme is 'Junctions and Crossroads'. The keynote speaker will be Dr Barbara Crawford O.B.E., Honorary Reader at the University of St Andrews, who will speak on 'The Joint Earldoms of Caithness and Orkney'. Papers will be delivered by postgraduate students from home and abroad. Full registration details are available here - registration costs just £5 including lunch! The final programme is now available here. There will be a bookstall offering discounted titles from CUP, Yale University Press, Brepols and others.

The Colloquium will be followed by the annual Colloquium Dinner, which will be held this year at Trinity Hall. Prices are £30 for the vegetarian menu or £35 for the meat option. The full menu, including drinks reception and three courses, is attached to the registration form. All those attending the Colloquium are welcome to attend the dinner.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Outreach and widening participation

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

Applications are now open for our annual Sutton Trust Summer School in Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, which will take place on 13th-17th August. The Sutton Trust is an organisation which seeks to promote social mobility through education, and each year participants in our Summer School are given the opportunity to experience life as a Cambridge undergraduate: staying in a College, attending lectures and seminars, and receiving one-to-one or small group 'supervisions' on the languages, literatures, and history of medieval Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. More information on how to apply is available via the University's webpages.

The Summer School is only a small part of the work we do to promote wider engagement with ASNC particularly, and medieval studies more generally. In recent months, for example, I have given various lectures in Cambridge to groups of pupils visiting from Langdon School, East Ham, and from Westminster Academy; I also headed to Dormers Wells High School, London, to give lectures on medieval Irish literature to students drawn from the Borough of Ealing's 'gifted and talented' programme; and last October, I gave a lecture on the historical Macbeth as part of the University of Cambridge's 'inspiring ideas' series. In all cases, I was overwhelmed by the natural enthusiasm shown by the students for medieval studies, despite the fact that most of them had not encountered medieval history or literature as part of their school curriculum.

Giving a lecture to secondary school pupils (and their teachers) on the real Macbeth
So, if you are a Year 12 pupil who is interested in the medieval world, and who attends a state school, please consider applying for a place on the Sutton Trust Summer School in ASNC. Each year, these Summer Schools give students the confidence to apply for a place at Cambridge, or at other leading universities: it could be a life-changing experience for you too.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Cultures in Contact: Conference for Teachers interested in the Medieval World

Dr Elizabeth Boyle writes:

On Saturday 14th January, just before the return of our students and the beginning of the new term, the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic welcomed sixty school teachers, from all over the country, for a one-day conference on the theme of 'Cultures in Contact'. The conference sought to present to teachers working in a variety of disciplines (History, English Literature, Classics and Religious Studies were all well-represented), and at a variety of schools, some of the cutting-edge research being undertaken in the Department, with the general aim of drawing attention to the richness and diversity of medieval studies (now often sadly neglected in the GCSE and A Level curricula). The conference - which was fully booked well in advance (and, indeed, was over-subscribed) - featured the following papers:

Dr Andrew Bell - 'Thinking about early medieval Europe'

Dr Richard Dance - 'Roots, blends and buttocks: finding the Vikings in the English language'

Professor Simon Keynes & Dr Rory Naismith - 'Money talks: wealth and power in Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia

Dr Paul Russell - 'Reading Ovid in medieval Wales'

Dr Elizabeth Boyle - 'From Shakespeare to Tennyson: Celtic influences in English literature'

The day concluded with a Q&A session, which covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from aspects of the University's admissions process to themes which had emerged from the papers earlier that day. Having received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the teachers who participated - and having been delighted at their enthusiasm for, and interest in, all things medieval - we certainly hope to repeat the event in future years.

The Department would like to say an enormous 'thank you' to Dr Denis Casey for co-ordinating the event so efficiently, and to our departmental secretary, Mrs Jayne Riley, for her invaluable support.