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A Consolidated Library of Anglo-Saxon Poetry

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CLASP (A Consolidated Library of Anglo-Saxon Poetry)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-08-31

A Consolidated Library of Anglo Saxon Poetry (CLASP) offers for the first time a comprehensive multimedia and interactive collection of the poetry produced and preserved both in Anglo-Saxon England and for a period after the Norman Conquest, between the seventh and twelfth centuries. This complex corpus of verse, amounting to more than 60,000 lines of poetry in several languages, mostly Old English and Latin (sometimes in the same poem), and comprising the works of more than fifty named poets (that number has grown since the project’s inception, and looks to grow still) alongside a far larger body of anonymous and often undated verse, is often studied in an isolated and monolingual context by specialists, whereas it is clear that throughout this period Anglo-Saxon England was a multicultural and multilingual society with close links, literary and linguistic, to its neighbours both immediate and more distant. To the North lay the Norse raiders, traders, and invaders whose influence on later Anglo-Saxon England was enormous, while in the West the Irish and Welsh had their own highly developed poetic cultures that certainly left a mark on individual Anglo-Saxon authors; from the South and East the entirety of the Continental Christian Latin worldview, occasionally embracing Greek, can be glimpsed frequently in Anglo-Saxon verse. Following the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England to Christianity in the late sixth century, Latin and Old English were the most prominent literary languages, later joined by Old Norse, and with both Celtic and continental impacts easily identifiable. All such influences are explored here, on many levels, and through different lenses.
CLASP is aimed broadly, and intends to introduce poems and poets hitherto largely unknown to the attention of a range of audiences, academic and otherwise, as well as into conversation with each other: it is clear that some Anglo-Saxon verse in both main literary languages was preserved for several centuries in a range of different contexts, and that there was a direct influence of individual poems and poets on later verse compositions. By using a multimedia and interactive platform, CLASP encourages its audiences to compare and contrast different verses, perhaps in different languages, in exciting new ways.
Progress on the project has been swift since September 2016: the mainly bilingual corpus has now been assembled in electronic form, with roughly half in Old English and the other half in Latin, and continues to be marked up and manipulated in a variety of ways designed specifically to assist and enhance pronunciation and aural appreciation of verses that were, after all, primarily intended for the ear as well as the eye. To that end, audio files in a variety of voices are currently being added to demonstrate different aspects of the performance of poetry, whether in the original, or in a variety of translations. During the period, particular attention has been focussed on introducing a teaching element to the project, which will now feature an interactive tool focussed in the first instance on Old English metre, the aspect of the project that most seem to find most challenging.
Given, however, that Anglo-Saxon poetry has survived not simply in manuscript, but also as inscriptions a good deal of the first phase of the project, especially on the Latin side, involved the identifying and collecting dozens of manuscripts, mainly in digitised form: CLASP has already assembled the most extensive catalogue and collection of relevant manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon verse, and such primary investigation has already paid off, both in the discovery of previously unknown manuscript-witnesses to known texts, and of unrecorded poems that travel alongside them, This raises the exciting possibility of expanding the corpus of Anglo-Saxon poetry still further on the Latin side.
To date, four postdoctoral researchers (Rachel Burns, Colleen Curran, Rafael Pascual, and Daniel Thomas) and an IT manager (Nick White), together with an Administrator (Martha Buckley), were employed on the project alongside the PI (Andy Orchard). The Administrator changed to Claire Selby in mid October 2019. All of the postdoctoral researchers and the PI have now presented dozens of papers on the project as outlined in the detailed report. Next year, several of the resulting papers are to be published, with several other in progress under the aegis of CLASP. These will join the proposed volumes on The Sounds and Structures of Anglo-Saxon Poetry and A History of Anglo-Saxon Poetry that are already being compiled to accompany the greatest and most lasting output of the project, namely CLASP itself.
Significant achievements to date: Given that the project is progressing on all fronts, and that its chief value will lie in the integration of the sum of its parts, it is hard to single out specific individual achievements: described above, though the discovery of fresh texts and manuscripts has always been one of the primary aims of the project, and an area where further discoveries are clearly within its developing scope and range.
On the Old English side, the compound-database is substantially complete, and comprises more than 5,000 individual entries. The compound-database offers the most nuanced and powerful tool available to date to measure important aspect of individual Old English poetic style. It will be an important indicator of direct borrowing and imitation, so inviting further analysis.
CLASP has grown and developed over the course of its construction. The original proposal did not include translation to modern English, but it has become clear that this would be extremely useful and so the PI has invested considerable time in translating the assembled texts, which process is substantially complete. The project is also developing a series of teaching tools, linked specifically to the consolidated library, beginning with one for Old English metre, which is already well-advanced, and should go live sometime this calendar year. Likewise, the now-completed Old English compounds database, and the amount of scansion already undertaken dramatically takes the study and appreciation of Anglo-Saxon poetry into new areas.
Another significant development has been on the lexicographical side, an area that was not envisioned in the original proposal, is a fully integrated and complete dictionary of Old English verse. The PI has compiled a complete Wordhord of Old English verse, comprising some 8,500 headwords. It is planned that the Wordhord be developed further, to allow Old English poetic equivalents to Modern English terms and themes. It should also be noted that the PI was invited to give the prestigious biennial Sir Israel Gollancz Lecture at the British Academy ( which was delivered on April 11th 2019 and focussed squarely on illustrating the developing potential of CLASP. All of the progress this year dramatically takes the study and appreciation of Anglo-Saxon poetry into new areas. Progress to date strongly supports the idea that the project will be completed on time, and indeed looks set to exceed the expectations and parameters of its original proposal in exciting new ways.
Post Doc presenting
Post Doc R Burns presenting
Post doc R Pascual