[Some aspects of formatting apart, this appears exactly as it did when Alaric applied for his research fellowship in November 2004]

Ideologies and Environments in Anglo-Saxon England: Abstract

Alaric Hall, M.Phil. (doctoral defence pending)

The relationship between people and the environments in which they live has received increasing attention in recent years, for a range of intellectual, social and political reasons; I propose to study this relationship in early medieval Europe (c. 400-1100), formative centuries for the Europe we now know. Understanding the dynamic interactions between medieval societies and their environments can help us both to understand medieval societies better, and to bring depth of historical perspective to present-day concerns about our environments. Anglo-Saxon England is uniquely suited as a case-study of this theme, as its archaeology, place-names and written records are exceptionally extensive, diverse and accessible. My investigations, then, will afford a case-study with empirical and methodological importance for the study of medieval Europe, to be published as a book by a suitable international publisher.

I will focus on the roles of ideologies such as group identity, hierarchy and religion in imbuing peoples environments with cultural meaning, showing how ideologies were imposed on environments, and how in turn these meaning-laden environments affected society and culture. I will develop the interdisciplinary approaches of my doctoral research, integrating archaeological, place-name, documentary and literary evidence. In addition to producing new findings by combining disciplinary approaches, I will develop my innovative research, drawing on the cognitive sciences, into using medieval vernacular languages as evidence for the world-views of their speakers. The words and grammar through which environments were given meaning--well-attested for Anglo-Saxon England--are important but little-tapped records of world-views.

The resulting book would comprise four main themes:

Through these interdisciplinary approaches, methodological innovations, and critical assessments of disparate sources, I will cast new light on how Anglo-Saxons experienced and used their environments, unearthing and interpreting new evidence for major developments in Anglo-Saxon society. These were formative to English society, but will also provide models for the study of comparable societies widely in medieval Europe--and a new basis for assessing how Europeans relationships with their environments have changed.

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Ideologies and Environments in Anglo-Saxon England: Research Proposal

The relationships between people and the environments in which they live has received increasing attention in recent years, for a range of intellectual, social and political reasons. Landscape is no longer merely the backdrop against which history was acted out, nor are medieval communities imagined to have been at the mercy of their environs. Rather, the interactions between people and environment are dynamic; understanding them affords new insights into how people live their lives. As recent studies have emphasised, investigating these interactions in the Middle Ages can help us both to understand medieval societies better, and to bring depth of historical perspective to present-day concerns about our environments.1 I propose a case-study in the changing relationships between people and their environments in early medieval Europe (c. 400-1100 AD). Its focus is on the roles of ideologies such as group identity, hierarchy and religion in imbuing peoples environments with cultural meanings: by analysing these, I will assess the roles of interactions between ideologies and environments in shaping society and culture.


Among early medieval societies, Anglo-Saxon England provides a range of evidence for interactions between people and environment which is uniquely extensive and accessible: Anglo-Saxon texts are numerous and diverse, and those in the Old English vernacular almost uniformly available in electronic form; England has enjoyed unusually intensive archaeological surveying and publication; the English Place-Names Society has studied a large proportion of its place-names. Accordingly, Anglo-Saxon England will be the focus of my research. My previous work has equipped me to utilise disciplines of archaeology, history, literature and linguistics, and, in my doctoral work in particular, I have developed ways of integrating these approaches. The social construction of the environment is an ideal topic for developing interdisciplinarity, as all kinds of sources bear on it directly. I will, therefore, be able to collect and synthesise large amounts of data, establishing a case study for work on areas where there is less early medieval evidence (such as Scandinavia), or where much of the extensive evidence is unpublished or unsurveyed (such as Ireland).

My precise relationships with different disciplines and past research will vary. Several areas--particularly place-names, archaeology and Old English poetry--have recently received detailed analyses, affording well-established disciplinary methodologies and discourses on which to build (e.g. Neville 1999; Gelling-Cole 2003; Symonds 2003; cf. Hines 2004). I shall integrate such disciplinary approaches in order to synthesise and develop evidence in innovative ways: previous work will be reassessed, and revisions made accordingly, while my own preliminary research shows that a range of new insights awaits the student who extends previous investigations.

However, methods have been little developed for using medieval language as evidence for how people interacted with the world. But language is arguably one of the main, and most distinctively human, symbol-systems, and a major medium for constructions of cultural meaning. The unusually large quantity and variety of vernacular texts surviving from Anglo-Saxon England gives us a good knowledge of what Old English was like, how it changed, and potentially how it was used to denote and give meaning to Anglo-Saxons environments (cf. Anderson 1991). My doctoral research developed theoretical and methodological frameworks for using vocabulary and grammar as evidence for medieval world-views; the research proposed here would extend and consolidate this work. I feel that the Collegium, where cognitive science and more traditional humanities research routinely rub shoulders, would afford an especially stimulating research community for these investigations.

I will enrich my assessments of Anglo-Saxon evidence by selected comparisons--initially with other areas of medieval Europe in which I specialise, including Scandinavia, but subsequently with wider comparisons drawn from anthropological and sociological literature. Moreover, much of the most important work regarding medieval world-views and constructions of the environment hitherto has been done in and on Scandinavia.2 Coming to Helsinki, where relevant resources are readily accessible, would be a great bonus to my work, while the extensive collections of Helsinkis libraries would mean that the proposed research would not be impeded by distance from Britain.

Aims, outcomes and timescale

This research will produce a book, to be published with an international scholarly publisher, contributing to our understanding of medieval Europe and to the methodologies for studying it. I have, over my research career, opened a number of inroads into the research outlined above; these preliminary investigations provide the basis for the following outline of the proposed book. A period of three years would be ideal for developing my methods and analyses, but a phased approach resulting in a series of journal articles, forming the basis for a later book, would be adopted were a shorter period awarded. Additionally, during 2005 I will prepare my doctoral thesis for book-publication, a project which I would bring to fruition in the earlier stages of the post.

Preliminary guide to contents

The book would comprise four sections, outlined here; each section, however, may comprise more than one chapter.

International contacts

I enjoy developing and maintaining my intellectual connections, and helping others to share them. In returning to Helsinki, I would not only maintain and further these connections, but help to develop links between Finnish and British scholars. If possible, I would aim also to meet with scholars such as Stefan Brink and Frands Herschend at Uppsala and Walter Pohl at Vienna. Visits to Britain to deliver papers and use the British Library would generally be incorporated into visits to family and friends.


Ahlbck, Tore (ed.), Old Norse and Finnish Religions and Cultic Place-Names, Based on Papers Read at the Symposium on Encounters Between Religions in Old Nordic Times and Cultic Place-Names Held at bo, Finland, on the 19th-21st August 1987 (bo: Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, 1990)

Anderson, Earl R., The Uncarpentered World of Old English Poetry, Anglo-Saxon England, 20 (1991), 65-80

Brink, Stefan, Political and Social Structures in Early Scandinavia, Tor, 28 (1996), 235-81

Enright, Michael J., Lady with a Mead-Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tne to the Viking Age (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1996)

Fabech, C. and J. Ringtved (ed.), Settlement and Landscape: Proceedings of a Conference in rhus, Denmark, May 4-7 1998 (Hjbjerg: Jutland Archaeological Society, 1999)

Gelling, Margaret and Ann Cole, The Landscape of Place-Names (Stamford: Tyas, 2000)

Herschend, Frands, Livet i hallen: Tre fallstudier i den yngre jrnlderns aristokrati, Occasional Papers in Archaeology, 14 (Uppsala: Institutionen fr Arkeologi och Antik Historia, Uppsala Universitet, 1997)

Hines, John, Voices in the Past: Engish Literature and Archaeology (Cambridge: Brewer, 2004)

Neville, Jennifer, Representations of the Natural World in Old English Poetry, Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 27 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Symonds, Leigh Andrea, Landscape and Social Practice: The Production and Consumption of Pottery in 10th Century Lincolnshire, BAR, British Series, 345 (Oxford: Hedges/Archaeopress, 2003)