Old English Newsletter


Back  |  Print


Project Announcement: The Production and Use of English Manuscripts 1060-1220


Elaine Treharne, University of Leicester

A five-year research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), has begun as a collaborative enterprise between the Universities of Leicester and Leeds. The team consists of the two principal investigators, Professor Elaine Treharne and Dr. Mary Swan, and Research Assistant Dr. Orietta da Rold. The aims of this ambitious project are to identify, analyse and evaluate all manuscripts, fragments and single leaf texts containing English written in England between 1060 and 1220, and to produce an analytical corpus of material in order to address fundamental questions about this crucial period in the evolution of English textual culture, from late Anglo-Saxon England through the Norman Conquest and into the high Middle Ages. The project's key research questions include the status of written English relative to French and Latin, the identity of the producers and users of the texts, and the agenda informing the production of so many texts in English during this critical period. Two doctoral students will join the project in 2006 to work on specific case studies; these positions will be advertised in early 2006.


The Research Background

Preliminary work demonstrates that there is an urgent need for a coordinated and sustained project to identify not only all the manuscripts compiled between 1060 and 1220, but also their place of origin, their contents, and the potential agenda behind there compilation. The collection of essays edited by Mary Swan and Elaine Treharne, Rewriting Old English in the Twelfth Century (Cambridge UP, 2000), opened new lines of inquiry about these manuscripts, which have never been considered as a group.

The English material that survives has been studied piecemeal, as a postscript to Old English or as a precursor to Middle English textual and linguistic culture, or for its idiosyncratic dialectal evidence. In disciplinary terms, there is relatively abundant work on social history; work on ecclesiastical history has tended to focus on Latin and Anglo-Norman materials. Cultural, linguistic and literary history all merit much more detailed examination. The traditional boundaries of periodization and disciplinarity have limited scholarship in this important field, and even today much scholarship maintains that little of interest or literary merit was produced in English from ca. 1050 until 1200. This project aims to demonstrate how this predominant view is quite wrong: not only does a great deal of vernacular material survive, but a full study of the English texts composed and compiled in the century and a half after the Conquest will contribute significantly to a proper understanding of the period as a whole. These English texts will be studied in relation to Anglo-Norman materials produced in the period and directly related Latin texts.


What the Project Will Do

The project will establish the corpus, demonstrate its validity within English literary culture, and illustrate its implications for a wholesale reinterpretation of textual production in the post-Conquest period. It will address fundamental research questions about vernacular textual culture and the strategic use of written English in a period that saw both continuity and innovation from pre- and post-Conquest England. The pressing need is for a wide-ranging study that investigates manuscripts and texts in English, situated within their wider cultural context, and examines the relationships between languages, language usage, and regional and national production of English.

At the end of this project we will have the first full and accurate record of the texts, including documents, written in, or containing, English from ca. 1060 to ca. 1220. The analytical work of the project will amount to a mapping of the production of this material in terms of place, date, probable purposes, and scribes and resources. It will help situate English textual compilation in its full cultural context, bridging the traditional periodization of "Old" and "Middle" English and bringing to prominence a significant corpus of material whose importance for understanding the impact of the Norman Conquest and its aftermath has never before been recognized.

The team will be presenting reports at international conferences such as ISAS, Leeds, and Kalamazoo. Two funded symposia devoted to the manuscripts under investigation will be organized in 2007 and 2009, and a number of publications will emerge during and after the period of the Project. The project investigators invite any interested scholars to get in touch with them, and are very keen to hear from Anglo-Normanists, Middle English scholars, historians, linguists, Latinists, and manuscript scholars as well as Anglo-Saxonists who might be willing to participate in these events in 2006-2010 or who may be interested in attending.

The project's website, http://www.le.ac.uk/ee/em1060to1220/, is our portal for the five years of this project. It contains information about the project, contact addresses, and a preliminary list of manuscripts which sets out the parameters of the team's initial research. As with any electronic resource, it has been conceived as a flexible tool for easy access to the information produced by this project. As such, it will be in continuous development as the project progresses, eventually including working papers, symposia reports, and updates on the status of our project. It will also contain the analytical corpus of manuscripts and a working bibliography, frequently updated.

For more information please contact Professor Elaine Treharne, Department of English, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK, or via email at emt1@le.ac.uk. Dr. Mary Swan can be reached at the Institute for Medieval Studies, Parkinson Building 405, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK, or via email at m.t.swan@leeds.ac.uk. Dr. Orietta da Rold can be contacted at odr1@le.ac.uk. The project's general email is em1060to1220@le.ac.uk.