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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Memory and identity in early medieval England


Admission requirements

Relevant BA-degree. A good working knowledge of Old English language and literature is highly recommended; students who haven’t followed a course in Old English can contact the tutor some weeks before the course starts for an alternative, online means to grasp the basics of Old English.


This course will consider The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: a unique document that sheds light on the literature, culture, language, as well as national and local identities in early medieval England. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle survives in seven manuscripts, which were copied, continued and revised at various times, in differing political and geographical contexts. Originating from a ‘Common Stock’ spanning the period from 60 BC to the 890s, the text of some of the manuscripts continues to the 1150s; thus, they cover the entire Anglo-Saxon period and some hundred years after the Norman Conquest. Once considered as an objective account of “what really happened”, the Chronicle, in its multiple versions, is now often read as a cultural document, reflecting but also promoting a national identity for the Anglo-Saxons, shaped by the political agendas of various rulers of England. Aside from its political dimensions, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is of literary interest, since its annals are interspersed with samples of Old English poetry, ranging from early, traditional poems (such as The Battle of Brunanburh) to more innovative texts (such as William the Conqueror). Linguistically, the Chronicle provides a unique insight into the transition from Old English to Middle English, since it features some of the earliest examples of early Middle English. The complexity of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls for a multi-disciplinary approach and this course will introduce students to the various research methods available for studying a medieval document. These methods include manuscript study, placing a document in its historical and cultural context, digital humanities, cultural linguistics and literary criticism.

This course will appeal to students interested in Old English language and literature, Anglo-Saxon culture, Medieval Studies and medieval historiography.

Course objectives

  • The students will be introduced to various scholarly approaches to medieval texts.

  • The students will learn more about the literary, historiographical, cultural and linguistic aspects of one of the most important documents of the early Middle Ages in England.

  • The students will extend their knowledge of and insights into Old English histioriographical writing and develop research skills which they can apply to the course subject. At the end of the course, the students will be able to carry out a small-scale research problem by independently reading and interpreting relevant primary and secondary literature.

  • Students will extend their abilities to present their research results both orally and in written form on a near-professional level.

Upon completion of the course, students will be well equipped to write their MA thesis on a topic in Medieval Studies, with a focus on medieval English literature and culture.


The timetable will be available on the website.

Mode of instruction

Two-hour seminar per week
Independent study of primary material and critical, secondary texts.

Course Load

The course load is 10 ECTS = 280 hours of study.

  • ±26 hours of seminars

  • ±150 hours of studying primary and secondary material in preparation for tutorials

  • ±104 hours for independent research and writing of coursework
    This is an approximation; some students read quickly and write slowly and vice versa.

Assessment method

  • An individual presentation of c. 20 minutes + participation (30%)

  • An end-of-term research essay of c. 5000 words. (70%)

  • If the average grade is lower than 6, the research essay needs to be revised and resubmitted during the English Department’s resit period in March.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with additional information/reading material.

Reading list

  • Swanton, Michael, ed. and trans., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Orion Publishing Co, 2000.

  • Bredehoft, Thomas A., Textual Histories: Readings in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001. (No need to buy this one: available as an e-book via Leiden University catalogue).

  • Jorgensen, Alice, ed., Reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Turnhout: Brepols, 2010. (No need to buy this one: available as an e-book via Leiden University catalogue).

  • Sheppard, Alice, Families of the King: Writing Identity in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2004. (No need to buy this one: available as an e-book via Leiden University catalogue).

  • Reader / Blackboard with sundry texts.


Students need to register in uSis for classes, exams and final papers.

When registering students of the MA Literary studies take priority. The deadline for registration is August 15. All other students should contact the coordinator of studies: Jurjen Donkers.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


For questions about the content of the course, you can contact the teacher: Thijs Porck.

Administration Office: Van Wijkplaats
Coordinator of Studies: Jurjen Donkers.


The literature assigned for week 1 will be available in the course documents folder of the Blackboard site two weeks before the first tutorial, which is when the university makes Blackboard sites available to students. So keep your eye on Blackboard. If in doubt, email the course coordinator Thijs Porck.