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The University of Southampton

ENGL1085 Multimedia Old English: Song, Skin and Cyberspace

Module Overview

How were knowledge and ideas shared in a world before writing and the book? How did manuscript and print cultures change our understanding of text? And what are the implications of the digital revolution and an era ‘after’ the book? This module goes back to the very beginnings of English literature to investigate how changing textual technologies have helped to shape culture and community, from the messages conveyed by material artefacts and in oral poetry, to manuscripts written by scribes, and eventually the revolutions of print and digital publication. Through our exploration of the texts and culture of early medieval (Anglo-Saxon) England, we will ask questions about the relationships between literature and archaeology, the impact of transitions from orality to literacy, and the influence of manuscript culture in shaping a sense of national identity. We will also examine how the earliest English literature is re-made in early printed books in the sixteenth century, and the debates about digital editions and ‘virtual’ texts today. This module will place emphasis on close reading and study of the linguistic and material fabric of texts. Old English (Anglo-Saxon) texts will be provided with parallel translations, though we will also work with literature in the original language throughout the course, and there will be opportunities to pursue further linguistic study if desired.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • different technologies of literary production, transmission and reception in England since the early medieval period
  • selected, key Old English texts in their historical and cultural contexts
  • the ways in which Old English texts have been re-appropriated and re-made in later periods
  • critical debates regarding orality and literacy, manuscript and print culture, and digital publication
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • make connections between different kinds of evidence (e.g. text and material artefacts)
  • think critically across a range of sources
  • look at sources in detail (close reading)
  • understand connections between technologies and culture in relation to English literature
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • approach materials from unfamiliar cultural and linguistic contexts with confidence and excitement
  • discuss complex issues using varied source materials to illustrate and support your ideas
  • draw comparisons across a range of sources, genres and media
  • articulate your ideas effectively in written work
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • engage closely with Old English texts, using parallel translations and glossaries to help you
  • make first steps in translating Old English from the original language, using glossaries to help you
  • produce detailed, evidence-based close analysis of sources
  • form your own, evidence-based, critical positions in debates about orality and literacy, manuscript and print cultures, and digital publication


The following topics are indicative of what you will study on the module: Reading Anglo-Saxon England How are messages about culture and identity conveyed by material objects in Anglo-Saxon England? The module will provide an introduction to early medieval England through close readings of a selection of objects. We will focus on the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ of Anglo-Saxon metalwork, discovered in 2009, alongside an interactive exploration of the grave-goods buried at Sutton Hoo, together with short extracts of Old English poetry. Listening to the scop Together, we will explore the oral culture of Anglo-Saxon England, and how the figure of the traditional oral poet (scop or ‘shaper’) is depicted in early texts. We will examine the account of the scop singing in the hall in Beowulf – an important Old English poem – and will also draw on modern linguistic and anthropological theory to frame our discussion of orality and literacy. The riddle of the book We will focus on the manuscript culture of early medieval England, and in particular the Old English riddles of the Exeter Book which play with the wonder and strangeness of this new technology. The lecture will also introduce you to some of the impressive illuminated books of Anglo-Saxon England, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and Codex Aureus. A book for Anglo-Saxon England As well as language and translation practice, using material from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – a collection of manuscripts which record important events in the nation’s history and help to shape a sense of shared, communal identity, we will discover stories of conquest, battle and betrayal, as well as the entry for 793 with its reference to dragons flying over Northumbria… The Battle of Maldon: textual propaganda in tenth-century England This topic introduces you to The Battle of Maldon – an Old English poem about a battle between the Anglo- Saxons and Viking invaders in 991. We will examine the poem as a work of propaganda which responses to an unpopular political policy (the ‘Danegeld’ tax paid to the Vikings) and which presents a nostalgic version of Anglo-Saxon warrior heroic identity. The Battle of Maldon: translating the past We will think about the textual history of The Battle of Maldon, asking questions about how we should read the text (as history or literature?) and how modern translators have approached the work. We will compare some modern translations, and you will be asked to prepare your own translation of a short extract (using published translations and glossaries to help you), to inform your arguments about how we should make Old English poetry accessible for modern audiences. The Dream of the Rood: a people of the book The Old English poem The Dream of the Rood re-tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion from the perspective of the cross itself, portraying Christ as a heroic warrior and the cross as his retainer. We will look at how the new religion of Christianity is assimilated into secular heroic traditions and values in Anglo-Saxon England, as well as how new objects and signs (in particular jewelled and stone crosses) come to be readable as tokens of faith and belief. Dreaming of the Rood: texts and voices We will look at The Dream of the Rood alongside other related early medieval texts. In particular, we will examine the epilogue to Cynewulf’s poem Elene (about Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine who discovers the cross), in which he articulates the experience of composing text in terms which draw together oral and literate practice (and includes his signature hidden in runes). We will ask how different textual technologies challenge our modern notions of ‘authorship’. Printing Old English Here we will explore the revival of interest in early medieval literature from the Early Modern period onwards, and the re-making and mediation of Old English texts through the new technology of print. We will think about the politics of printing Old English – from the context of the Reformation and Protestant ideology in the sixteenth century to nationalism, reactions to industrialisation and the foundations of ‘English’ as an academic discipline in the nineteenth century. After the book: Old English and new media How has our engagement with Old English texts changed in the digital era? Can digital / virtual editions make manuscripts and artefacts more accessible and intelligible? Or do new technologies move us further away from the original texts and their contexts? We will centre our discussion on the ongoing Visionary Cross Project, which aims to present a new digital version of The Dream of the Rood, linked with Anglo-Saxon sculpture and other sources (as well as other relevant websites / digital editions, including The Electronic Beowulf). We will look ‘behind the scenes’ at encoded text to think about its implications for how literature is presented to us. And we will engage with provocative theory such as Martin Foys’ Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media and Early Medieval Studies in the Late Age of Print. There will be opportunities to try Old English translation in most seminars, through short exercises based on original early medieval text. There will also be further practice exercises available on Blackboard each week, as well as directions to resources for further linguistic study.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be structured around 10 weeks of teaching, including 10 weekly one-hour lectures and 10 weekly one-hour seminars. Two weeks will be set aside for individual consultations with tutors, including advice and feedback on assignments. Your lecture and seminar learning will be reinforced through weekly electronic exercises submitted through Blackboard. This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Completion of assessment task22
Preparation for scheduled sessions38
Follow-up work22
Wider reading or practice18
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

The Battle of Maldon hypertext edition.

Mitchell and Robinson, eds (2011). A Guide to Old English. 

Allen J. Frantzen (1990). Desire for Origins: New Language, Old English and Teaching the Tradition. 

.W. Kennedy, trans., Elene.

F. Robinson (1994). The editing of Old English. 

The Visionary Cross.

Bella Millett, Introduction to Traditional Grammar.

Thomas A Bredehoft (Thomas A Bredehoft). The Visible Text: Textual Production and Reproduction from Beowulf to Maus. 

Collating Cædmon: Editing Old English Texts and the Evolution of Anglo-Saxon in Print.

D. Scragg, ed (1981). The Battle of Maldon. 

Michael Swanton (2000). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. 

The Digital Vercelli Book.

The Dream of the Rood hypertext edition.

D. Scragg, ed (1993). The Battle of Maldon, AD 991. 

Martin Foys (2010). Virtually Anglo-Saxon: Old Media, New Media and Early Medieval Studies in the Late Age of Print. 

Rebecca Brackmann (2012). The Elizabethan Invention of Anglo-Saxon England: Laurence Nowell, William Lambarde, and the Study of Old English. 

Elaine Treharne, ed (2010). Old and Middle English c.890 – c.1450: An Anthology. 

M. Godden and M. Lapidge, eds (2013). The Cambridge Companion to Old English Literature. 

Walter Ong (1982). Orality and Literacy. 



Translation exercise


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (500 words) 20%
Take-away exam  (2500 words) 80%


MethodPercentage contribution
Take-away exam 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Purchase of one core textbook (£20.00) and one additional optional book (£15.00). Both are also available in multiple copies in the library.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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