Anglo-Norman Reading Group

Jane Bliss reports on the Oxford Anglo-Norman Reading Group.

The group is now nearly as old as the century! It was born of a chance conversation in the Taylorian Library, as we deplored an apparent lack of interest in Anglo-Norman. Having had a crash course with Tony Hunt during my MPhil studies, I was aware of the riches that are available but usually ignored by those who think the language is even more difficult than Old French.  From the outset we were keen to build an informal and collaborative forum for reading, discussing, and translating a wide variety of texts.  We welcome all comers, primarily graduate students but also numerous others, whatever their level of knowledge.

We study the literature of Anglo-Norman (the insular French of the Middle Ages), presenting and translating texts chosen according to members’ needs or suggestions. The range of material is inclusive: romance, chronicle, saints’ life, religious material, letters, legal texts, and much more. When possible, we invite a guest speaker, or (for example) the editor of a work in progress.  Recent texts have included the Anglo-Norman life of St Godric, presented by one of its recent editors Margaret Coombe, and an Apocalypse edited and translated (with our help) by Antje Carroll.  We even once presented extracts from one of our texts at the Medieval Road Show:  dramatic readings from the Maniere de Langage in which sample conversations, some highly comic, are offered to the language student.

We usually meet fortnightly, from 5.00-6.30pm, on a Friday. The group is currently supported by Helen Swift, who kindly arranges a room for us in St Hilda’s College, and a Convenor (Stephanie Hathaway) who looks after technical matters with splendid efficiency.  I lead the work on the texts:  I have done extensive research in Anglo-Norman literature (as an independent scholar); I studied with Tony Hunt and have many years teaching experience; I have published a number of books and articles in the field. 

The group varies from about 4 to 12 people, depending on their other commitments in a busy Oxford term; our hybrid sessions have attracted scholars from farther afield and may bring the number up to as many as 20. In fact, we have recently attracted a medievalist all the way from Bristol University, to take part in person whenever she can. We take it in turns to read the text aloud, never mind the pronunciation, and then help one another with translation and commentary.  Each text is presented at the beginning of term with an introduction, questions are explored, and discussion is encouraged.  A `padlet’ is provided for disseminating texts, sources, secondary materials, other interesting clips, and so on.

Thanks to our convenor and OMS, our studies are lubricated by a choice of wine or soft drinks. This encourages lateral thinking, and definitely aids relaxation at the end of a busy week. In addition, when we have a visiting speaker, we arrange to take them out to dinner. Failing that, we often meet for a drink together after the end of term.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the memory of Paul Hyams, who declared on joining us: `Historians don’t read enough romances, nor will they read anything in French.’  He was a faithful member of the group almost to his death last year, contributing to our understanding of the language used for day-to-day admin in medieval Britain. 

Jane Bliss (
Image thanks to St Brendan

Conference Report: Hyggnaþing

by Natasha Bradley

Hyggnaþing (‘Meeting of Minds’): A Graduate Conference in Old Norse Studies took place on the 11th of August 2021. A brand-new conference co-organised by Natasha Bradley, a DPhil student at Lincoln College, Oxford, and Ben Chennells, a PhD student at University College London, Hyggnaþing attracted speakers and attendees from across the globe for a one-day online conference exploring all things Old Norse.

Hyggnaþing was created in response to the isolation that has impacted everyone over this past year and a half. With constant lockdowns, library closures, and restrictions on events, postgraduate study has become even more challenging and isolating, with fewer opportunities for students to engage with the academic community. Hyggnaþing was created with connection in mind, providing a virtual space to build networks and share research in a welcoming environment. For this, Hyggnaþing made use of both Zoom and Wonder, a platform which simulates the experience of an in-person meeting and allows for online ‘mingling’.

After some opening remarks from the organisers, the conference began with a panel on the significance of space in saga literature, chaired by Oxford’s own Olivia Elliott Smith. The first paper was by Grace O’Duffy (University of Cambridge), whose paper explored the development of Hǫttr from Hrólf saga kraka, as he progresses from the bone-pile to a masculine ‘ideal’. Then Mary O’Connor (University of Oxford) spoke about courtly space in two Old Norse riddarasǫgur: Ívens saga and Erex saga.

After a quick screen break, the second session of the day, chaired by Sigrun Borgen Wik (Trinity College Dublin), began with a paper from Basil Arnould Price (University of York). Basil’s paper explored the idea of failure as resistance in Grettis saga and Gests þáttr using queer theory. This was followed by a paper from Caroline Bourne (University of Reading), which reassessed the relationship between Scandinavians and the Gower peninsula in South Wales from the tenth century. The panel was concluded with a paper by Giorgia Sottotetti (Háskóli Íslands), who examined small figurines or ‘pocket-idols’ from Iron Age Scandinavia and analysed how they reflect the religious, social, and political changes within the period.

After lunch, Hyggnaþing resumed with a panel on translation, chaired by the co-organiser Natasha Bradley. The first paper, by Katrín Lísa L. Mikaelsdóttir (Háskóli Íslands), analysed the presence of Norwegianisms in medieval Icelandic manuscripts and how their use changes over time. The second paper of the panel was by Davide Salmoiraghi (University of Cambridge). Davide looked at the reception of the Church Fathers in medieval Iceland, examining the spread of the saints’ cult and its influence on the Norse hagiographies. Luthien Cangemi (University College London) concluded the translation panel with her paper on the transition from the concept of Medicina to Physica in Old Norse sources.

Then followed the mid-afternoon virtual coffee break on Wonder. This allowed attendees to mingle together to get to know each other, moving between groups of people to talk. Some attendees continued their discussions about the conference in a more informal setting, and others struck up new discussions about postgraduate life and their own research.

The final panel of the day was chaired by the conference co-organiser Ben Chennells. It explored the receptions and re-castings of Old Norse literature. The first paper, by Grace Khuri (University of Oxford), examined the Victorian novel Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard and its use of Old Norse saga sources. Richard Munro of the University of the Highlands and Islands then presented about how to perform an eddic poem.

The keynote lecture, delivered by Dr Sarah Baccianti, a British Academy Newton International Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, discussed the Old Norse medical charms and healing practices. Exploring material culture and saga literature, Baccianti’s interdisciplinary paper called for a re-evaluation of the distinction between our modern concepts of magic and medicine. The keynote was followed, as with all the panels, by an engaging discussion. An evening social hosted on Wonder concluded the conference.

Hyggnaþing hosted ten speakers, four chairs, and a keynote lecturer, all of whom joined the conference from nine different institutions across the UK and beyond. Seventy-five guests registered to attend, with audience members joining from locations across the globe, from the United States to Australia, to ask questions and make comments that sparked engaging academic discussion. New connections were forged on Wonder and Zoom alike, and the organisers hope that these will be long-lived.

Hyggnaþing is incredibly grateful to Oxford Medieval Studies (OMS), sponsored by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) for the funding to cover the costs of the conference. This allowed the registration for the conference to be completely free of charge, creating an accessible and welcoming conference for attendees and helping to foster the thriving academic community, and ‘meeting of minds’, that came together for Hyggnaþing. For more information about the conference, see the Hyggnaþing website: