The Making of England, c.850-1035

Tutor: Pragya Vohra

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00110I

The idea of England is a powerful one, and excites discussion and debate to this day. This module explores the rise of a unified ‘England’ out of the fragmented kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon world. Beginning with the well-documented reign of King Alfred (d. 899), we will unpick the social, political and religious developments that laid the groundwork for a unified England. Was this unification the product of a shared culture? Did a common religion underpin this? Did the Viking raids solidify English identity in the face of the ‘other’?

We will chart the rise of the idea of England through written historical and literary sources (Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, writings of Alfred and Asser, sermons, vernacular poetry, charters, law codes), and alongside archaeological and numismatic evidence, investigate the creation and solidification of English identity and its role in the ultimate creation of the kingdom of England. We will also consider the challenge to this identity through the rise of England’s Viking kings and developments before the Norman Conquest.

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

  1. Alfred and the ascendency of Wessex
  2. Christian learning, the ‘past’ and the idea of England
  3. The Viking challenge and West Saxon hegemony
  4. Alfred’s successors: Edgar and Æthelflæd
  5. Aethelstan, ‘the English Charlemagne’ 
  6. Æthelred the Unready and the price of a kingdom
  7. The Viking kings of England: Sveinn and Knut
  8. Edward the Confessor and England on the eve of the Norman conquest
  9. Historiographical approaches to ‘England’ 

Project work will consist of a poster presentation and a 1000-word report on a single relevant primary source chosen from a set list consisting of manuscripts and material objects. Both outputs will be required to focus on the historical context of the source, and its particular interpretation of – and implications for – English identity in the early medieval period. Students will work in groups of 3-4 to produce the projects.
 

For more information, please visit the module catalogue.