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England in Europe: Literary Culture from Alfred the Great to the Conquest - ENG00011M

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Elizabeth Tyler
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

This module looks at the literary culture (especially poetry and history-writing) of England from King Alfred the Great (d. 899) to the courtly bishop Wulfstan (d. 1023): the period when the West Saxon dynasty forged a single English kingdom, from previously separate English kingdoms, and from areas of Britain which had been controlled by Scandinavian and Hiberno Norse settlers (Vikings) and the British (Welsh). This kingdom then falls to the Danes (1016) and the Normans (1066).

The module situates the writing of the vernacular within the context of the dynamic exchange between monastic, clerical and lay elites, all of whom moved in social networks that were distinctly multilingual, with strong ties to Francia, the wider insular world and Scandinavia and a keen interest in Europe, Asia and North Africa.

Focusing equally on literary form (poetics, history-writing, manuscript layout, codicology) and historical context, we look at both the theory and practice of vernacular and Latin writing. Throughout, texts from England are studied in their European context – this includes an emphasis on the Latin matrix of vernacular writing, on the distinctive insular (English, Irish and Welsh) experience of using the vernacular, and on England’s engagement with the wide-ranging and diverse literary cultures of Northwest Afro-Eurasia (a space extending from Ireland to India and from Scandinavia to North Africa).

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

  • A good knowledge of the literature of England from the 9th-11th centuries.
  • an awareness of the cultural contexts of literary production in in 9-11th-century England
  • an understanding of the politics of the major trends in the literary criticism of the period

Academic and graduate skills

  • Research skills in the areas of 9th-11th century English literature, in the vernacular and Latin
  • Masters level writing skills
  • Masters level seminar skills - presentations and discussion participation

Module content

The module is organized in 4 clusters, each with two seminars:
1) King Alfred: The Power of the Written Word;
2) The Exeter Book: Building in Time and Space;
3) Beowulf;
4) Monks and Bishops in an Age of Reform


Task Length % of module mark
4,500 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
4,500 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your module tutor, the MA Convenor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours

Indicative reading

Works to be read include: Alfred’s Preface to the Pastoral Care, Asser’s Life of Alfred, the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Chronicles, the Exeter Book, Beowulf, The Letter of Alexander to Aristotle, Ælfric's prefaces and saints lives, Wulfstan Sermo Lupi and Apollonius of Tyre.

Preliminary Reading in Preparation for the Module

Please make sure that you do this reading before the start of term. Please contact for access to Smith, Fleming and Georgianna. Blair is available inexpensively (£8.99 for a new copy, many second-hand copies available very cheaply). All are available on Blackboard/VLE from the start of term.

Julia Smith, Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History, 500-1000. Oxford University Press, 2005. At a minimum, make sure that you have read chapter 1, but you will benefit from reading the whole book. [Chapter 1]

Robin Fleming, Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400-1070. The book is fascinating, you need only to read the introduction which makes the crucial point that writing in the early Middle Ages was the preserve of the super elite and reminds us that we must theorize it as such. [Introduction]

Linda Georgianna, ‘Coming to Terms with the Norman Conquest: Nationalism and English Literary History’, REAL: Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature 14 (1998), 33-53.

John Blair’s The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction (2000). This is a good introduction to the period and useful through the term.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.