Tuesday 12 November 2013

Cambridge University Festival of Ideas

Myriah Williams writes:

On Saturday, the 26th of October the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic participated in the University of Cambridge's Festival of Ideas, an event held annually since 2008 designed to encourage the community and anyone with an interest in Cambridge’s work and research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, to come over, check us out and meet the faculty and students.

Several events were held within our department on the Saturday, with two well-attended lectures by faculty members Dr Richard Dance and Prof Simon Keynes, speaking on ‘Frontiers in Anglo-Saxon England’, on the Tuesday following.  The majority of Saturday's events, organized under the theme ‘Beyond Borders: Exploring the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Worlds’, were run by graduate students, led by Christine Voth.  Upstairs in the department itself, attendees could enjoy a re-enactment of Groenlendinga saga, have a look at the work being carried out by the Orkney Project, or, for the young (and young at heart), there was a colouring session where future ASNCs were invited to hone their artistic skills with a variety of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic art, or to try their hand at the runic and Ogham scripts.

Downstairs we were happy to present two brief lectures.  The first was a discussion of the Otherworld in Celtic mythology and literature, including a dramatic retelling, in English and Welsh, of a tale from the Mabinogion, a celebrated collection of Medieval Welsh prose texts.  The second lecture was an exploration and appreciation of the importance of borders and marginalia in a selection of medieval manuscripts originating from each of the cultures covered by our research.

Running concurrently with the lectures was a poster session, encompassing a wide variety of topics within the fields covered by ASNC, where attendees of the Festival were welcome to browse at their leisure.  Use of the English Faculty Library’s iPad, generously loaned for the occasion, to explore high-resolution digital images of manuscripts was a popular feature of this session, and was helpful in demonstrating the increasing value of new technology in the study of medieval artifacts.

It’s not every day that we get to share our enthusiasm in our research with the general public, so we hope to see the Festival of Ideas continue to celebrate the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences for many years to come!

Wednesday 6 November 2013

October Computus Workshop

 ASNC doctoral student Tony Harris writes:

On Monday 28th October ASNaC was treated to a visit by Immo Warntjes, Lecturer in Irish Medieval History at Queen’s University, Belfast. Immo originally worked as a postgraduate researcher in the Foundations of Irish Culture Project at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he also completed his Ph.D. under Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in 2007.  Immo’s primary field of interest is early medieval scientific thought but he is probably best known for his work in the field of computus (medieval time-reckoning). His PhD thesis later became his monograph and is published as The Munich Computus: Text & Translation. Irish computistics between Isidore of Seville and the Venerable Bede and its reception in Carolingian times (Stuttgart: Steiner 2010). In addition to this work, Immo has also been extensively involved with the International Conference on the Science of Computus which happens every two years in Galway (next one in 2014)

Immo kindly spent last Monday in the department where he met with members of staff and graduate students and his day culminated in a paper for the ASNC graduate seminar entitled 'Willibrord the computist: harbinger of the Carolingian renaissance?'. The paper provided significant food for thought and argued quite convincingly that the 7th century missionary saint Willibrord had a much more far reaching influence on the study and application of medieval European computistics than had previously been thought.

There are a number of ASNC post-graduate students who are either working directly in the field of medieval computus or in fields that are allied to it. Computus is an area that is under-researched and there is a general dearth of workshops, courses and scholarly material outside of original manuscript sources. It was therefore very kind of Immo to run a two hour computus workshop on the Monday morning (thoughtfully arranged by Dr Rosalind Love) and this was well attended by some twenty students from the faculty. During the workshop Immo discussed the ‘Easter Controversy’ which had occupied the thoughts and minds of the early church fathers and is something that, even today, gives rise to disagreement. Immo also discussed the basis for the calculation of the date of Easter and the differences between Roman and Celtic computistical methods. Latin terminology and manuscript evidence was presented along with relevant historical background. The workshop was extremely enjoyable and highly interactive with lots of opportunities for students to participate. Immo introduced the various types of Easter tables (Celtic and Roman) focusing on differences with interpretation and calculation in a session which was highly informative and provided a significant  amount of useful information. Immo came to medieval studies with a background in mathematics and he has an impressive amount of experience in the area of computistics. His delivery and content was both clear and concise as well as engaging, incisive, and directly relevant to graduate study.

After the workshop a number of ASNC graduates agreed together that a ‘self-help’ workshop focused on working through and interpreting computistical tables would be an extremely useful extension to Immo’s session and something along these lines will be arranged separately. If you would be interested in attending and/or contributing to such a workshop please ask to be added to Tony Harris’s Facebook group on Medieval Computus.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

ASNCs on University Challenge

At least four current and former ASNCs have squared up to Jeremy Paxman on the current series of University Challenge. In the episode broadcast on Monday 14th October, recent ASNC graduates Owain Jones and Daisy Le Helloco helped Bangor defeat Aberystwyth. Their victory, together with Paxman's entertainingly inconsitent pronunciation of Aberystwyth, can be seen on BBC i-Player here until Monday 21st October.

Charter for ten?

Meanwhile, back in August, ASNC second-year Rachael Gregory helped Queens' College to a close-fought victory over Durham. The final score was 190-170. Congratulations, Rachael! A few weeks later, Lizzie Colwill, another second-year, gave a fine performance for Pembroke against Somerville College, Oxford. We are very proud of both of them.

Thursday 3 October 2013

ASNCs on the Road: Celtic Literature in Dublin

From ASNC doctoral student Myriah Williams:

The sun was out in Dublin last week, as were a good number of Celticists hoping to enlighten or be enlightened on the subject of Genre in Medieval Celtic Literature.  The School of Celtic Studies at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies hosted the colloquium, organized by doctoral student Nicole Volmering. The aim of the conference was to open a dialogue about the role of genre, both within modern scholarship in the field and within the minds of medieval authors and editors.  The need for such a discussion was evidenced by the terrific turnout at the conference, with a crowd composed of both new and very familiar faces alike.

Proceedings began on Friday afternoon, with the first session on cycles and cyclification in Irish literature, specifically in the Fenian lays and in Acallam Bec (‘The Little Colloquy’).  The papers provided a good start to a good conference, but in retrospect perhaps they should have been split, with one paper in the last session, to bring the whole thing full-circle...  The half-day was rounded out with an analysis of the sub-genre of tecosc (‘teaching’) and its relation to kingship, and a consideration of the role of women in both saints lives and epic narrative.  Feasting as befits Celtic scholars of course concluded the first day’s festivities.

Saturday presented a full day of papers, four sessions worth in fact.  Continuing on from Friday’s theme, three out of the four were focused on further Irish material.  Concerning aspects of modern scholarship, we heard about editing practices and the theory and application of genre methodology onto medieval texts.  In other papers, we were asked to put ourselves into the place of medieval scribes, to question how they were organizing and categorizing their texts, or into the minds of medieval readers, to consider how they were processing them.

This'll be worth a few bob one day: conference programme signed by the likes of Fergus Kelly, Liam Breatnach, Greg Toner, David Stifter, David Dumville, Jenny Rowland, Lizzie Boyle, Barry Lewis, David Callander and Geraldine Parsons  (a few ASNCs past and present in there...)

The first session on Saturday, however, was concerned with Welsh material, and I am glad to have been a part of it.  Our own ASNC David Callander began the morning with a discussion of narrative verse as a medieval Welsh literary genre.  In his paper, David asked us to reconsider the traditional view that medieval Welsh verse is non-narrative and, having made the argument for narrative verse in Welsh, considered the implications for how the verse might then be regrouped for a discussion of genre.  This conclusion provided a nice segue into my own paper, where I dealt with issues that have been present in the definition of ymddiddanau or dialogue poems as a genre.  I sought to clarify the genre by refining the definition, and in doing so also to highlight the potential danger of trying to explain inconsistencies in the texts in a way not supported by their manuscript context.  Barry Lewis, former ASNC and present researcher at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (who will be giving a lecture at the Graduate Seminar on 25 November – mark your calendars!), concluded our session by reminding us about the importance of analyzing the categories into which we put medieval texts.  He addressed the factors that modern editors consider in distinguishing between religious and secular verse, and argued that such distinctions would not necessarily have been made by the medieval people who were dealing with these texts.

Questioning the validity of our modern editing practices is indeed a topic that ran through a number of papers, and was perhaps one of the most important issues to take a away from the conference for further thought.  Though the matter of genre can certainly stand to further discussion and debate, the colloquium was productive for raising the profile of the topic.  Hopefully in time we will begin to see an expansion of critical thinking on the matter of genre in medieval Celtic literature.

And there's always time for a visit to the National Museum of Ireland. Pictured is the Ardagh Chalice, possibly eighth century, from Co. Limerick.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Colloquium Report for 'Converting the Isles'

Dr Brittany Schorn writes:

The ‘Converting the Isles’ Research Network held its fifth and final colloquium in Cambridge on September 19–21.  The theme of ‘The Isles and the Wider World’ was fitting, as we sought to situate our findings on Insular conversion in a broader geographical, chronological and disciplinary context and to look forward to new directions for future research.  That said, the work of the Network is far from finished.  Two edited volumes are well under way.  These will incorporate material from not only the colloquia, but also the special lectures and Leeds IMC sessions sponsored by the Network. Together with the website, these volumes will represent the most visible legacy of the Network.

Another part of the Network’s legacy is less tangible, but certainly no less valuable.  The ‘Converting the Isles’ colloquia were designed to facilitate discussion between scholars who work in adjacent but not always intersecting fields.  This has led to productive conversations and new collaborations that will advance the discipline in years to come. 

‘The Isles and the Wider World’ left many of us inspired by new questions as well as new answers. The Right Honourable Rowan Williams opened the colloquium by posing the question of what we, and medieval writers like Bede, actually understand by ‘conversion’.  Chris Wickham’s keynote lecture then articulated especially well the complexities inherent in the subject and the advantages and potential pitfalls of a comparative approach.

The second keynote lecture, by Jean-Michel Picard and Sébastien Bully, used recent archaeological discoveries at Luxeuil and Annegray to question the reliability of hagiography and illuminate literary tropes. The other ten speakers presented papers which ranged widely across the conceptual and historical phenomenon of conversion: from converts from Islam to Christianity through to anthropological considerations of religious conversion in the modern world; and from liturgical and literary witnesses to conversion in early medieval northern Europe, to archaeological traces of paganism in southwest Germany.

A full programme remains available on the Network’s website (http://www.asnc.cam.ac.uk/conversion/), where podcasts of papers from the conference are now accessible, along with podcasts from past colloquia and other resources for the study of conversion which will continue to be developed and updated. News about forthcoming and past events can be found on our homepage.  Please do get in touch with Brittany Schorn (bs321@cam.ac.uk), Roy Flecher (roy.flechner@ucd.ie) or Máire Ní Mhaonaigh (mnm21@cam.ac.uk) with any questions, comments or suggestions for the website or if you wish to be added to our mailing list.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Turning darkness into light

Dutch graffiti artist, Niels Meulman, has produced art inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Old Irish poem Pangur Bán, which will be on display in the north of England until the end of September. The BBC cover the story here.

Professor Paul Russell, of the ASNC Department, has inspected and approved the rebound medieval Welsh law manuscript recently purchased by the National Library of Wales. You can read more on the NLW blog, and BBC News recently published an article about it on their website.

Monday 29 July 2013

Anglo-Saxons Documentary Series on BBC4

The ASNC Department has seen some preview clips of this forthcoming series by Michael Wood and we highly recommend it!

Tuesday 16 July 2013

St Samson Colloquy Report

Dr Caroline Brett writes:

At the University of Sydney’s Eighth Australian Conference of Celtic Studies on 11-14 June 2013, Dr Lynette Olson organised a special colloquy on the First Life of St Samson of Dol.  The aim was to assess what progress has been made in recent years in understanding this key text for early medieval British and Breton ecclesiastical history, and whether it can be taken any further.  The answer to the second was a resounding yes, although not all the delegates agreed on the detail!

The First Life of St Samson of Dol is potentially a key source for early medieval British (and Irish) Christianity and the politics of early Brittany.  Ostensibly the biography of a monastic founder and bishop from south-east Wales who ended his life at Dol in Brittany some time in the second half of the sixth century, it has aroused controversy among scholars for more than a hundred years.  The problems turn on the date of the text’s composition, on the reality or otherwise of an earlier biography which the author of the existing text claims to have used, and on the relationship between this existing biography and its putative model.  Various dates between the early seventh century and ca.850 have been proposed for the existing text, and the model or Vita primigenia has been characterised as everything from an eye-witness account by a relative of the saint, to a literary figment of a ninth-century propagandist’s imagination.  The arguments seemed to have reached an impasse by the time the full range of them was presented in Joseph-Claude Poulin’s encyclopaedic Hagiographie bretonne in 2009.  However, the debate has been potentially re-animated by Richard Sowerby in an article in Francia, 2011, in which he suggested new grounds for distinguishing between the successive authors’ contributions, and put in a powerful argument for a date around 700.

Dr Lynette Olson saw this as an opportunity for a renewed attempt to make some solid progress on the understanding of Vita Prima Samsonis, and invited a group of Samson scholars, or ‘Samsonites’, to the University of Sydney to offer their responses to Sowerby’s article and their thoughts on various aspects of the text.  The original line-up of Samsonites included, in alphabetical order, Caroline Brett, Karen Jankulak, Constant Mews, Lynette Olson, Joseph-Claude Poulin, Richard Sowerby, Ian Wood and Jonathan Wooding.  Unfortunately Ian Wood and Richard Sowerby were eventually unable to attend, but it is hoped that their contributions will be included in the published conference proceedings.  Karen Jankulak too was unable to attend, but her paper was brought and read by Jonathan Wooding.

For the five remaining contributors the upshot was a highly stimulating two days in which we went ‘head to head’ with St Samson and discovered ... if not a final solution to our problems, nevertheless a feeling that, as Wooding memorably put it, ‘our history is moving in the direction of our text’ and that the potential exists to put Vita Prima Samsonis at the centre of early Insular Christianity.

Thursday 20 June 2013

More recent ASNC news

Dr Brittany Schorn has been appointed Research Associate on the Interpreting Eddic Poetry project at St John's College Research Centre, University of Oxford, from 1st October 2013.

Dr Elizabeth Boyle has been appointed Lecturer in Early Irish at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, from 1st September 2013.

And, in the recent round of senior academic promotions, Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe and Dr Fiona Edmonds have been appointed to a Readership and a Senior Lectureship respectively, in the Department of ASNC.

Congratulations all round!

Saturday 8 June 2013

Some recent news

Congratulations to Dr Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, ASNC alumna and recent PhD graduate, now at the University of Oxford, who has recently been announced as one of Radio 3's New Generation Thinkers. This initiative, run in association with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will allow Eleanor to bring her research on the worldview of the medieval Icelanders to a wider audience.

Congratulations also to Dr Philip Dunshea, a PhD graduate of ASNC, who studied as an undergraduate with Dr Alex Woolf at the University of St Andrews, and who has recently been appointed to a temporary lectureship in Celtic History here in the Department of ASNC. Phil will be covering the teaching of Dr Fiona Edmonds, while she is on maternity leave (congratulations Fiona!).

And finally, while we wouldn't normally allow commercial advertising here on the ASNC blog, we must make a brief mention of recent ASNC alumnus, George Potts, who stars in a new advert for Virgin trains. We'll try to resist the urge to make a joke about ASNCs going far ...

Saturday 1 June 2013

Sir Frank Stenton (1880–1967), The Anglo-Saxon Coinage and the Historian

Dr Rory Naismith writes:

Sir Frank Stenton was professor of history at the University of Reading, and a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon history in the twentieth century. He is best known as the author of Anglo-Saxon England, still widely regarded as the leading survey of the subject. Stenton possessed an abiding interest in the conjunctures between Anglo-Saxon history and numismatics, and served as founding chairman of the British Academy's Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles committee (1956–66).

On 28 April 1958, Stenton addressed the British Numismatic Society on the points of contact between numismatics and history in the study of Anglo-Saxon England. Dr Stewart Lyon made a recording of this lecture (approximately 75 minutes in length), which has now been digitized and made available as an MP3 on the British Numismatic Society’s website. An annotated text adapted from this recording is included in a posthumous collection of Stenton’s papers, Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England: Being the Collected Papers of Frank Merry Stenton, edited by Doris Mary Stenton (Oxford, 1970), pp. 371–82.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Report: The Orkney Viking Heritage Project Field School

Dr Brittany Schorn writes:

From April 14 to April 20, Kirkwall hosted the field school of The Orkney Viking Heritage Project. Eight current (and three former) members of the ASNC Department travelled to Orkney together with fellow students and colleagues from the universities of the Highlands and Islands, Oxford, Nottingham, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Birmingham, Cardiff, York and Kings College London. The Orkney Viking Heritage Project is an AHRC-funded interdisciplinary training programme. It brings together scholars and heritage professionals to explore the literature, history and material culture of Viking Orkney and provide hands-on experience of a heritage landscape.

[photo credit: Nicola Lugosch]

During the course of the week, we saw viking grafitti on neolithic monuments at the Ring of Brodgar and the spectacular burial chamber of Maeshowe, and visited the ruin of St Magnus Kirk on the small island of Egilsay where Earl Magnús was killed, along with the imposing St Magnus Cathedral, which St Rögnvaldr established on the Mainland.

[St Magnus Kirk, photo credit: Bernadette McCooey]

Through presentations, discussions and excursions, we reconsidered medieval texts and artefacts in situ in order to contextualise our understanding of the past within the reality of the physical landscape. With the help of local academics, heritage professionals and Orkney residents, we also explored how this past, and modern perceptions of it, continue to inform the way current islanders define and relate to the landscape around them.

For more information on the project, including our blog, photos, podcasts and other resources, see the Orkney Project website. You can also find information about our travelling exhibition, which made its first stop at the Midlands Viking Symposium at the University of Nottingham on April 27.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Modern Poets on Viking Poetry - A Reading

Rebecca Merkelbach, a PhD student in ASNC, writes:

The evening of Friday 26 April marked the high point and conclusion (at least of the Cambridge part) of Dr Debbie Potts' project ‘Modern Poets on Viking Poetry’. Members of the department and the public gathered in the Judith E. Wilson Drama Studio to listen to eleven pieces written by poets from a variety of backgrounds and ages. They had all been working with skaldic verses, composed between the 10th and 14th century, and translated for the project by scholars of Old Norse. Debbie Potts introduced each of the original verses, which were then beautifully read by Orri Tómasson, transporting emotion across centuries and languages (as one of the poets remarked).

Some of the poems we heard were translations of, some reactions to, and some inspired by the form or content of the original skaldic verse. Especially topical was Lucy Hamiton's ‘Ring of Brodgar’, a response to a lausavísa by Þjóðólfr Arnórsson – a number of members of the department have visited this sight only ten days ago. Rebecca Perry's interesting, feminist interpretation of ‘The Waking of Angantyr’, which she entitled ‘how the earth increases’, fitted in very well with this week's CUSU Women's Campaign's ‘I need feminism because...’ photos. Anna Robinson's translation of Kormákr Ögmundarson's verses turned them into dialogue between the poet and Steingerðr, the object of his desire, now herself transformed into a subject. Probably the most emotionally charged compositions of the evening were the poems after Egill Skallagrímsson's ‘Sonatorrek’ which framed the interval. Chrissy William's ‘The Bear of the Moon’ beautifully caught the immense grief of the original, while at the same time contrasting it with dense poetic language. The film poem ‘Sonatorrek’ by Alastair Cook, featuring ‘The Lost Boy’ by John Glenday, transposed the metre and imagery of the original to the pointless deaths of World War I, commemorating Glenday's uncle who died in November 1918. It can be watched on the project's website.

All poems were incredibly powerful and inspired pieces of art, taking a lost poetic tradition and transforming it into something new, translating it into our time while also keeping the beauty of the old. Not only did the project offer an opportunity for creative dialogue between poets and scholars. The evening also sparked several new ideas for projects among the graduate students of the department, and we hope that we will hear more of them in the coming months.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Conference report: 'Converting the Landscape'

Dr Brittany Schorn writes:

The ‘Converting the Isles Network’, based in the Department and supported by the Leverhulme Trust, held its fourth colloquium on the 22nd and 23rd of March at Bangor University. Despite somewhat hazardous travel conditions due to an unexpected freeze, all participants managed to make it to what turned out to be an extremely productive gathering. The subject, ‘Coverting the Landscape’, was considered from the perspective of different regions and methodologies, and led to an extremely productive and stimulating discussion of fundamental questions about the nature of Christian conversion.

The colloquium began with a session on burial evidence and problems of interpretation. Elizabeth O’Brien considered the variety of burial practices in early Christian Ireland, focusing in particular on the practice of inserting burials into ‘ferta’. She stressed that this could be read as a political rather than a religious statement, as it provided a means by which important people and newcomers could be incorporated into the existing landscape. Adrián Maldonado provided a fascinatingly nuanced discussion of Pictish barrow types, highlighting regional differences and also pointing out the difficulty in identifying the influence of Christianity itself with certainty. 

In the second session of the morning, Tomás Ó Carragáin and Morten Søvsø spoke on the difficulties involved in identifying ecclesiastical landscapes. Tomás Ó Carragáin examined the problem of how scholars can quantify the density of churches in the landscape in relation to secular sites, pointing out methodological problems that may significantly skew the broad pattern. Morten Søvsø spoke on recent and ongoing excavations at the church-site in Ribe, likely the oldest church in Denmark, which have important implications for our understanding of the history of the church in Viking-Age Denmark. 

Friday afternoon Nancy Edwards led a freezing, but fascinating, excursion to view inscribed stones on Anglesey. Moving through the southwestern part of the island, we took a chronological tour of the development of these inscriptions.

Our discussion of stone monuments continued as the subject of the opening session of the second day of the colloquium. Meggen Gondek discussed the distribution of the different classes of Pictish symbol stones, focusing in particular on a series of sites in Aberdeenshire, demonstrating what they can reveal as evidence of changing religious practice. Cecilia Ljung then examined a phase of early Christian stone grave monuments in Sweden, dated to a very limited period in the 11th century. She considered their relationship to the already significant runic memorial tradition and using Västergötland and Øland as case studies, stressed regional differences in the nature of the church and conversion.

The next session, on technology as a tool of conversion, looked at the way that the conversion affected agricultural organisation and production. Thomas McErlean described the revolutionary changes that accompanied the introduction of mechanical mills at Nendrum, as well as improvements to the exploitation of fishing, forest clearing, and agricultural organisation that monasteries brought. Gabor Thomas then looked at the relationship between monastic foundations and intensification of rural production in Kent, taking the case study of Lyminge: a monastery which is currently the subject of a major interedisciplinary research project.   

Rory Naismith continued the theme of technology and economic impact through examination of monetization in relation to Christianization. He examined a series of areas across northern Europe, in each of which coinage enjoyed a different relationship with religious development. Finally, Lesley Abrams closed the colloquium’s papers with a review of the fascinating question of when and how the Vikings of Dublin converted to Christianity. Several important questions emerged of how conversion is to be defined and contextualized, which led effectively into the closing discussion.

The colloquium ended with a lively roundtable discussion of questions such as: is it possible to distinguish belief from the institution of the Church in the surviving evidence? What is the minimum requirement to identify as Christian and how did missionaries perceive their goals? And to what extent did economic change follow ideology?

The Network now looks forward to our final colloquium to be held in Cambridge on the 19th–21st of September 2013. The subject will be ‘The Isles and the Wider World’ and confirmed speakers include Rowan Williams, Bernhard Maier, Chris Wickham, James Palmer, Sven Meeder, Ingrid Rembold, Geneviève Bührer-Thierry, Jörn Staecker, Stanislaw Rosik, Jean-Michel Picard, Sébastian Bully, Krisztina Szilagyi, and Tomas Sundnes Dronen. A full programme will shortly be available from our website here, along with registration information.