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Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England

Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Cultural Geography

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England
    Book Description:

    Eminent Anglo-Saxonist Nicholas Howe explores how the English, in the centuries before the Norman Conquest, located themselves both literally and imaginatively in the world. His elegantly written study focuses on Anglo-Saxon representations of place as revealed in a wide variety of texts in Latin and Old English, as well as in diagrams of holy sites and a single map of the known world found in British Library, Cotton Tiberius B v. The scholar's investigations are supplemented and aided by insights gleaned from his many trips to physical sites.

    The Anglo-Saxons possessed a remarkable body of geographical knowledge in written rather than cartographic form, Howe demonstrates. To understand fully their cultural geography, he considers Anglo-Saxon writings about the places they actually inhabited and those they imagined. He finds in Anglo-Saxon geographic images a persistent sense of being far from the center of the world, and he discusses how these migratory peoples narrowed that distance and developed ways to define themselves.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15014-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Georgina Kleege
  5. Introduction: Book and Land
    (pp. 1-26)

    In hisLives of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow,Bede relates this episode from the career of Ceolfrith:

    Dato quoque Cosmographiorum codice mirandi operis, quem Romae Benedictus emerat, terram octo familiarum iuxta fluuium Fresca ab Aldfrido rege in scripturis doctissimo in possessionem monasterii beati Pauli apostoli comparuit.

    For eight hides of land by the River Fresca he exchanged with King Aldfrid, who was very learned in the scriptures, the magnificently worked copy of the Cosmographers which Benedict had bought in Rome.¹

    The monastery of St. Paul’s at Jarrow was Bede’s home from his boyhood until his death in a.d....

  6. Part I. Local Places

    • 1 Writing the Boundaries
      (pp. 29-46)

      Scholars interested in medieval senses of place have typically begun with the large scale: the Christian map of the world with Jerusalem at its center; the transmission through Christian encyclopedists of ancient geographical lore from Pliny, Strabo, and others; the travels of pilgrims and merchants across the known world and beyond its edges. These are all necessary variations on the theme of place, but each examines the subject from above, and each neglects senses of place that were more immediately present, that is, more local or more ingrained as a setting for daily experience. This scholarly emphasis on the global...

    • 2 Home and Landscape
      (pp. 47-72)

      The dwellings that Anglo-Saxons built and the landscapes they set them within offer other clues as to how lived experience may have shaped their ideas of place. From the timber-built and thus impermanent nature of their houses, one can appreciate why the Anglo-Saxons tended to define home more through the enduring presence of land than the transient existence of buildings. In the vernacular poetry, correspondingly, that notion of the earthlyhammoves by its own internal logic toward a more religiously inspired vision of the heavenly home. This awareness of earthly transience, as it gains pathos from its accompanying faith...

  7. Part II. Geography and History

    • 3 Englalond and the Postcolonial Void
      (pp. 75-100)

      If a sense of place depends at first on some experience of topography, the lay of the land, it may also draw on a knowledge of history, the record of past events on that same land. On a site much used for agriculture or defense, the shape of the land can testify vividly to the transformations worked by human occupation. Landscape is both topography, as it shows traces of water and wind, and history, as it reveals traces of human actions. The human actions may be as local as the daily track of people and animals across a stream between...

    • 4 Rome as Capital of Anglo-Saxon England
      (pp. 101-124)

      As it shifted from being an imperial to a religious center, Rome emerged for the Anglo-Saxons as more than a political memory or trace on the landscape. As they became adherents of the Roman church, with its liturgical practices and customs for dating Easter, the English took on as well a more contemporaneous relation to the city. No longer the capital of a past empire that had left its roads and walls and language on the topography of Britannia, papal Rome became a source of missionary activity, doctrinal teaching, ecclesiastical authority, manuscripts both sacred and secular, as well as a...

    • 5 From Bede’s World to “Bede’s World”
      (pp. 125-148)

      This chapter turns on a site in Northumbria that has been known since at least the eighth century a.d. as On Gyrwum in Old English and Ingyruum in Latin.¹ There, in Jarrow, Bede lived in a monastery from his childhood until he died in 735. There, too, in the late nineteenth century, Palmer’s Shipyard prospered as an engine of British industrialism, and during the depression years of the 1930s, unemployment was endemic after the shipyard was driven into insolvency by a man named McGowan. In 1936, 207 unemployed men and women set out from Jarrow on a march to London...

  8. Part III. Books of Elsewhere

    • 6 Books of Elsewhere: Cotton Tiberius B v and Cotton Vitellius A xv
      (pp. 151-194)

      That we have no evidence for an Anglo-Saxon encyclopedia that might compare with Pliny’sNatural Historyor Isidore of Seville’sEtymologiesdoes not mean that knowledge as a delineated circle or fixed body was alien to the culture. By a certain reading, Bede’s lifework is encyclopedic in range, especially as it relates to matters of geography. His writings on place are directly purposive: to locate and describe the setting of his people’s history; to retrace the territory traversed by Jesus and his apostles; to strengthen the unity of Christendom by establishing a means for dating Easter wherever it must be...

    • 7 Falling into Place: Dislocation in Junius 11
      (pp. 195-224)

      Perhaps the most haunting lament in the Hebrew Bible is Psalm 136 in the Vulgate: “Super flumina Babylonis.” Its fearful burden is that an exiled people displaced from its home will lose its collective memory and fail to honor its covenant with God. The psalm ends with the bitter truth that the exile of a people must lead to the violent destruction of those who earlier had forced it from its homeland. Under such conditions of historical and spiritual extremity, the psalmist must ask the question that threatens the very existence of an exiled people: “quomodo cantabimus canticum Domini in...

  9. Conclusion: By Way of Durham
    (pp. 225-232)

    As the poems of Junius 11 make evident, the theological fall into place resonated powerfully for the Anglo-Saxons. During the years after 1066, this conjunction of place and the fall could also take on a more immediate political sense, though one must be careful not to overstate the similarity. In such instances, as with the poems of Junius 11, the vernacular language marked out the territory of cultural history and identity. Nowhere in Old English poetry is that sense of politics more completely entwined with a local landscape than inDurham,a poem composed so late in the Anglo-Saxon period...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 233-268)
  11. Index
    (pp. 269-278)