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Collaborative Doctoral Award: Understanding the Anglo-Saxons: the English and Continental manuscript evidence (London, British Library)

Collaborative Doctoral Award:
Understanding the Anglo-Saxons: the English and Continental manuscript evidence
London, British Library
Deadline: 28 November 2014

Photo: The British Library (Stowe 944, f. 7)

The culture of Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest is highly distinctive, not least through the use of the Old English vernacular as a language of written record; but Anglo-Saxon political, religious, economic, linguistic, literary and artistic history cannot properly be understood without reference to contemporary connections with the European Continent. These cross-Channel connections were always significant and are manifest in many different ways, such as: migration stories re-told through Beowulf (Cotton Vit. A.xv) or the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle (Cotton Tib. B.i); records of the Christian missionaries from Rome in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (Cotton Tib. C.ii); the adoption of a Frankish Rule for clerics in English cathedral churches (Add. 34652); a family history compiled in England for an Ottonian abbess (Cotton Otho A.x); the patronage of a Danish King of all England (Stowe 944).

The connections went both ways, and – especially in the eighth century – religious men and women from the British Isles travelled widely to Frisia, Francia, and Italy establishing a network of churches with scriptoria that produced books in the Insular style and which maintained active links with English communities through prayer (Cotton Dom. A.vii) and letters (Cotton Vesp. Indeed, although the BL holds by far the largest single collection of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, there are also many manuscripts in European libraries which were written in Continental scriptoria by scribes trained to make books in the fashion of the Anglo-Saxons and Irish. The manuscript history of Anglo-Saxon England before AD 800, is thus a European as well as an English story.

The British Library collections preserve an extensive array of manuscripts, charters, and fragments written before c. AD 1100 that illuminate many aspects of this facet of the cultural history of Anglo-Saxon England. Some of these contain texts that refer directly to cross-Channel contacts, or are English copies of texts by Continental authors, others are books that were written in Continental scriptoria and subsequently imported to Anglo-Saxon England. The chronological range of this material is wide, covering the whole period AD 600–1100, and there are numerous examples of manuscripts made in diverse Irish, Frankish, Breton, Spanish and Italian scriptoria that enable meaningful comparisons with contemporary Anglo-Saxon books.

The depth and range of the BL collections opens up many potential PhD projects under this theme. It will attract students of early medieval history, language, literature, art, palaeography and codicology, as well as those with knowledge of techniques for scientific analysis, and those who want to employ an interdisciplinary approach to their research. It is likely also to attract applications from European students with knowledge of European libraries that have substantial comparative collections.

PhD projects on this theme could use BL MSS to explore aspects of:

– Networks and knowledge exchange across early medieval Europe – including textual analysis (of all genres – including literary, theological, historical, scientific), movements of specific texts, manuscripts and letters, regional connections
– Historical connections with Denmark, Francia, Italy
– Fragments(of books and of texts)
– Glosses and marginalia
– Methods of making: comparative production of manuscripts in England and Europe, incl. inks, pigments, parchment
– Script development in England and Europe, esp. minuscule
– Ornament and illustration
– Elite versus utilitarian books
– Comparative vernaculars / Latin and the vernacular – in England and on the Continent
– Perceptions of the past in Anglo-Saxon England

A CDA in this field would fit exactly with the three-year period of research and preparation for the major British Library exhibition on the Anglo-Saxons which is scheduled to open in October 2018. This exhibition would offer the student an opportunity to contribute to the development of the exhibition and related publications, events and conferences. The student could also support the development of the Library’s digital coverage of Anglo-Saxon and related Continental manuscripts; this is an area we intend to focus on prior to 2018.

For further details and to apply, see:

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