English 440: Seminar in Anglo-Saxonism
Patrick W. Conner, Cent. Prof. in English
Updated: 7 January 2001
This is a seminar on the cultural problem of origins. Since the Renaissance,
English speaking people have looked to the Anglo-Saxons as the point of
origin not only for their language, but also for their ideologies. The
first published Old English text was a sermon of Ælfric's on the
significance of the Eucharist, and Archbishop Parker published it to support
the "correctness" of protestant dogma, which he found supported there.
Logic compells us to believe that what is prior has priority, or does it?
Eighteenth-century scholars began to comb the Anglo-Saxon lawcodes for
the roots of what the English began to vaunt as an inherited common law
superior to those codes derived from Roman Law when they heard the lorelei
call of Imperialism. The Romantic age brought about interest in the native
origins of a native poetry as an important cultural signifier, and the
Victorian period, with its passion for philology advanced the notion into
a kind of scientific certainty. That certainty gave rise to the expression
"WASP" on the one hand and participated in the fascist myth of the Wagnerian
Uebermensch on the other until the expression became contemptable in the
context of the civil rights movements in the sixties, and the myth was
perverted by the Nazis.
There is much to be learned about the present by focusing on the ways
in which the artifacts of a culture long dead are repeatedly brought into
play in the political arena and appropriated by the ideological apparatuses
of the state. One example: Thomas Jefferson proposed the standing figures
of Hengist and Horsa, the mythical warriors credited with Anglo-Saxon domination
in England, for the great seal of the new United States of America. One
other example: as late as the turn of this century, it was seriously proposed
(I'll bring the book to class!) that Americans needed their own language,
and the language Mr. Molisee proposed in his Saxon to the Front
was the language of the Anglo-Saxons, Old English. Where words were lacking,
he said, we can just borrow them from the Germans, and of course respell
them in correct Saxon.... Origins are always fraught with desire for return.
[Most things will be "recommended," which means you'll have to have
access to them, but not necessarily own them. Allen Frantzen's
for Origins, however, is different; it expresses a number of the concerns
which are central to the seminar and also provides the background we'll
all need to share. You'll need to spring for that one. You should also
have a copy of your own of James Campbell's The Anglo-Saxons]
Frantzen, Desire for Origins (Rutgers)
Campbell, The Anglo-Saxons (Penguin)
Frantzen & Niles, edd., Anglo-Saxonism and the Construction of Social
Identity(UP of Florida)
Scragg & Weinberg, edd., Literary Appropriations of the Anglo-Saxons
from the Thirteenth to the Twentieth Century (Cambridge UP) [RECOMMENDED]
Bradley, Anglo-Saxon Poetry (Everyman) [RECOMMENDED]
Swanton, Anglo-Saxon Prose (Everyman) [RECOMMENDED]
Godden/Lapidge, Companion to Anglo-Saxon Studies (Cambridge) [RECOMMENDED]
Heaney, Beowulf (Norton) [RECOMMENDED]
Basically, we'll work on "community" assignments for much of the course
or better in a period context, and then present one project a night for
the remainder of the semester. The project, i.e., the seminar paper, is
the core of the experience, and should represent a semester's labors on
your particular topic. Ideally, you'd want to know about the way Anglo-Saxon
culture was appropriated in a period or community of particular interest
to you, and your work on that period or community should suggest a specific
and fruitful focus for your paper. This is an area of exploration which
can yield good, publishable results in journals in your own field of interest,
and I expect students to work to such a standard. When, by the luck of
the draw, it's your turn to present, you'll be expected to provide every
member of the class with a copy of your paper at least a week ahead of
time, and to discuss your work for about 45 minutes. This should be a planned
discussion, developed in such a way that you take us -- who will have read
your paper -- even further into your subject. In other words, engage
us. Afterwards, we'll all have our own further questions, and each
member of the class (including yer 'onerable hinstructor) will give you
written comments on the work to help in the revision. Revised papers will
have to be handed in to me by the middle of finals exam week (or thereabouts;
exact date subject to change as I design the course).
The community assignments will require library and WWW work to bring
together the archive of materials for historical periods and movements
from the sixteenth century to the present.
9: Introduction [Including Sample Topics
16: Exploring/Constructing the Anglo-Saxon Archive [Exercise
I]. Read or reread Beowulf in the Seamus Heaney translation
as well as Heaney's introduction, Ælfric's Homily on the Sacraments,
and Simon Keyne's edition and commentary on "The Fonthill Letter." (all
but Beowulf will be in handout form.)
23: First Pass at setting Topics
30: Frantzen, Desire for Origins; Class will not meet, but member
of the seminar should begin to develop a prospectus for their projects.
6: Discussion Frantzen, Desire for Origins.Please look in JEGP,
Philology, or Speculum, and xerox any article you like on an
Anglo-Saxon subject; it should be an article written before WWII, and maybe
the earlier the better. Bring a copy of that article to my office before
1:00 pm Tuesday (the earlier, the better!) Don't choose a long piece, but
choose something which you can point to as supporting or refuting a general
or specific claim of Frantzen's. I'll copy them for everyone, and they
should allow us to focus more profitable on what Frantzen's implications
are in the actual archive.
13: Middle English period through 16th Century
20: 17th and 18th Centuries
27: British Romanticism and the Roots of Philology
6: Victorianism and the Medieval Revival
13: American Anglo-Saxonism I
20: American Anglo-Saxonism II
27: SPRING BREAK
Do not miss a class for any reason, except in an extreme emergency.
Always be prepared by having read the assigned work, by having thought
about issues raised previously, and by being ready to present written assignments
in carefully written and well-edited form.
Do not neglect the computing assignments for the course, and read your
e-mail at least three times a week; take the initiative to start and maintain
discussions relevant to the class online.
Present your paper on time to your fellow seminarians and to the
instructor. We must have time to read and respond intelligently to your
Master all necesary research tools, and begin your work early enough to
use inter-library loan to secure necessary materials. Look for opportunities
to visit the Hillman Library in Pittsburgh and/or the Library of Congress
in Washington, D.C. in order to present your paper as fully completed as
Be obsessed with this course; seminars require your obsession.
First off, you need to know about Carl Berkhout's online bibliography
from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century." On that site, you will
find a lot of work about the work of people as different as Matthew Parker,
mentioned in the synopsis above, to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the American
poet. Check around in the periods you know best. You might be surprised
how many influential persons can be labeled as Anglo-Saxonists.
There are many, many other online resources for Anglo-Saxonist studies,
and I have not begun to compile them, but this page will be a mecca for
them, and I'll need your help to find everything which is relevant. The
following links are simply some from my English 312 course which might
be of interest. I especially recommend Essays
in Medieval Studies, but there are also other excellent sources for
contemporary treatment of early works and cultures. Check back here from
time to time; I'll be adding resources will will intrigue you.
in Medieval Studies in an excellent, new online journal dedicated to
publishing a collection of essays representing poststructuralist approaches
to contemporary issues in medieval texts. Check out its contents, and return
to these essays as they become relevant to your work.
Online Reference Book for Medieval
Studies: an excellent collection of items of interest to new students
looking for contextual materials for the period. There is a mirror
site which you might try if the first link is busy. Paul Hasall's Internet
Medieval Sourcebook, a growing repository of essays and materials for
teaching medieval subjects, is also an excellent resource for general information
on medieval subjects.
Encyclopaedia, although published in 1913, is still a useful source
for information about religious conventions, biographies of people whose
lives touched the church, which includes most Medieval writers, and other
historical data. It assumes an educated, but non-specialist audience.
Archbishop Parker and English Nationhood: Colonizing the Eucharist.
what basis could Anglo-Saxon liturgical habits been seen as prior to wishes
of Rome? Does a myth of origin allow one to imagine that the nation colonizes
Textualizing an Origin: Germany, U.K. and America battle to establish
the texts: 1850-1950. Who "created" our A-S editions, and in the service
of what national myths?
Beowulf and the Nazis : Neo-Nazi bookshops peddle Beowulf
and Bede. Why? What is their archive and how do they read it?
Rutting for Roots: How do Australia, Canada, U.S. cultures vary
in attitudes to OE/A-S heritage and what cultural work does such study
do in each?
American Language: Trace Molisee's Saxon to the Front and
similar efforts to make a point about pedigrees in language. Compare, perhaps,
to claims and arguments concerning Ebonics.
Computing and Anglo-Saxon Studies : We've been at it since at least
1972. How does cultural desire and technology work together.
Magistrae Anglo-Saxonicae: Since the 18th century, there have been
important Anglo-Saxon scholars who were women: Anna Gurney, Elizabeth Elstob,
Doris Stenton, Dorothy Whitelock, Janet Bately, etc. Is there a feminist
Anglo-Saxon archive, project, or discourse?
Origin of Origins: how are problems in alterity and reception conjoined
in the earliest evidence for looking back to Anglo-Saxon origins? How/Why
does the British myth replace an Anglo-Saxon archive for the past during
the twelfth century?
Racism, Reconstruction, and American Anglo-Saxonism: Is it possible
that Anglo-Saxonism and Germanism fought cultural battles in bringing the
U.S. to join WW I with Britain? How did race and WASPism affect the American
military from 1865 to 1920.
Illustrations of the Lyrical Ballads: Read J.J. Coneybeare's
of Anglo-Saxon Poesie  against the "Preface" to the Lyrical
Ballads or some other Romantic statement of literary intent in a new
historicist attempt to insert Anglo-Saxonism squarely within the Romantic
By the banks o' Monster's Lair, by the bright and shining mere... :
is Longfellow's ideological point in his essay on Northern poetry? Why
poetry? Why Northern? Why Hiawatha?
Old Novels, New Whine: Examine 19th century novels dedicated to
Anglo-Saxon topics and stories. What cultural work do they do?
Romancing the Tongue: What lies behind the notion of an oral production
of OE poetry? What ideologies of origin or history does it serve?
Historiography: Locate the nineteenth-century ideology of Sharon
Turner's Anglo-Saxon history. Look at other major A-S histories through
Stenton and Campbell, and -- using Hayden White and other theorists of
historiograpy -- discuss the construction and purpose Anglo-Saxon historical
Read and become familiar with Campbell's The Anglo-Saxons, read
his sources, read beyond, and try to formulate a cultural context for one
the of following concepts:
You need to go beyond mere identification, and try to find out as much
as you can about the greater cultural significance of these things, not
only in terms of what scholars say about them in bland schoolbook language,
but also in terms of what you can deduce by looking for as many contexts
in which they occur as you can find.
You will be given no more than ten minutes for your presentation. If
you bring a handout, do not then simply read it, but be prepared to extrapolate
from it to a well-rehearsed, unified, and interesting commentary on your