The annual Cambridge Colloquium in Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic (CCASNC) took place this year on the 11th February, with the theme ‘Identity and Ideology’. We welcomed nine postgraduate speakers, and our keynote speaker Dr Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews).
The opening session began with ASNC’s own Rebecca Thomas discussing the multiple identities of Asser behind his Life of King Alfred, followed by Thomas Kearns (University of Durham) providing a detailed look into the charters of Oswald of Worcester and his ideological vision of the Benedictine reform in the tenth-century. To close was Katherine Olley (ASNC), who took us further afield to Norway and gave an emotive description of attitudes towards birth scenes in Old Norse legendary literature. Discussions continued throughout the coffee break, when the next session brought us something slightly different in the form of archaeology. Danica Ramsey-Brimberg (University of Liverpool) presented a microcosm of Viking age burials in the Irish sea region and its political context, with Ben Allport (ASNC) following with an in-depth look at regional identity in medieval Norway, using a mix of both archaeological and saga evidence. Closing this session was a discussion of identity and diet in the Anglo-Saxon conversion period by Samantha Leggett (University of Cambridge), who very deftly provided a scientific discussion of teeth in a way which was not only understandable for those of us who were not archaeologists, but which was highly engaging.
After breaking for lunch – and an opportunity to browse the bookstall! - we were delighted to welcome Dr Alex Woolf, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of St Andrews, as our keynote speaker. Dr Woolf presented a skillful discussion on ‘Imagining English Origins before the Viking Age’, and led us from Germanic mythology to Welsh genealogies and English toponomy. He looked at a range of elements contributing to the identity of the English, including his idea that the character Hengest had its origins in a gloss on the Latin name for Kent. There was much food for thought, and a productive and thought-provoking question-and-answer session followed.
The third and final session continued to provide a broad range of topics, opening with a fascinating discussion from Rachel Fletcher (University of Glasgow) on the first Old English dictionary by William Somner in 1659 and its influence on the field. Following this, Steve Walker (University of Birmingham) spoke on ideological battles between secular and ecclesiastical elites in Britain as an ongoing issue which has modern-day implications. Finally, we had Kathryn Haley-Halinski (University of Iceland/University of Oslo) to close the day with a focus on the Rus in the Volga region as found in the writings of Ibn Fadlan, as part of the Viking Age diaspora.
In many ways, the closing papers reflected the overall feel of the colloquium; detailed analysis of very specific and very different topics, of which all were nonetheless strongly connected to each other by ties of identity. Indeed, it was a predominant theme of the day that one cannot study a subject in isolation; identities and ideologies are both forged through engaging with other cultures, politics, and landscapes.
Post-colloquium, lively conversations could be found in the Red Bull in Newnham, where the dialogue of identity and ideology continued in a more informal setting. Formal dinner followed at Wolfson College, and we enjoyed a drinks reception and excellent three-course dinner.
The quality of this year’s CCASNC was consistently high, both of the standard of papers presented and of the questions they raised. The CCASNC committee would like to thank all those who came, and all those involved behind the scenes, for making this year’s colloquium so successful.