This is a page from MS London, British Library, Cotton BV; it is the oldest surviving map created in early medieval England, and dates to around 1000 CE.

Here is Britain, right at the edge of the world!



Travelers, Missionaries, and Immigrants in Early Medieval England


12/4: Reflection Journal #5 due by email (11:59 pm)

12/7: Research video presentation due on Flipgrid (11:59 pm)

12/9: Research papers due by email (11:59 pm)

12/11: Submit 2 comments on Flipgrid presentations (11:59 pm)



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Required text: Old and Middle English c.890-c.1450: An Anthology, edited by Elaine Treharne (ISBN: 978-1-405-18120-4)


Who wrote the earliest English literature? Today, if we encounter Old English, the language of the Germanic tribes who settled on the isle of Britain around 450 CE, we typically encounter it through the lens of Beowulf and the Scandinavian north: heroes and monsters, blond, blue-eyed Vikings with long beards and wild eyes. But even when Beowulf was written, that world was a myth.


In real life, the inhabitants of Britain between the years 450-1066 AD were culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse. In the South and West, the native Britons in Wales, Dumnonia, and Cornwall fought against the colonization of the West Saxons and the Mercians, but also intermarried and settled with them in shared communities. In the North, English monasteries like Lindisfarne were influenced by Irish monastic culture and book production, and in the East Danish raiders and settlers established what became known as the Danelaw. We also have archaelogical evidence that men and women from sub-Saharan Africa lived and worked in a number of early English communities during this period. And while the early inhabitants of Britain lived on an island, they certainly weren’t stuck there! The sea was a highway as much as a barrier in the early medieval world, and early English travelers, missionaries, and immigrants used it to connect with seemingly-distant shores.


This course will challenge definitions of where the earliest English literature begins and ends, starting with the legacy of the first men to teach writing in England: Archbishop Theodore of Tarsus, a Byzantine Greek, and the North African Abbot Hadrian, who together founded the School at Canterbury and shaped generations of English scribes and authors. We will go on to read Old English fictional travelogues like The Wonders of the East and Alexander’s Letter to Aristotle, which describe parts of the world both real and imagined; the letters of Boniface and the itinerary of Willibald, English missionaries in 8th century Germany; exile elegies including The Seafarer and The Wanderer; and the Old English Apollonius of Tyre, one of the earliest medieval romances.


By the end of our time together, my hope is that you will have a better sense of who the early English actually were—and thus a deeper understanding of the stories and ideas they left behind.

Course Description

Course Policies

Grading and Assignments

Written assignments must be emailed to me before the beginning of class on the due date. They should be send as a .docx Microsoft Word file, written in 12-point, Times New Roman font, with 1” margins on all sides and consistent double spacing throughout. It is your responsibility to make sure I can access your essay; a 1/3 letter grade will be deducted from essays sent in corrupted files or to the wrong email. Extensions must be requested at least 48 hours in advance of the deadline, and late papers will not be accepted.

Image by Thomas Kelley

On Academic Integrity

Academic honesty is a sign of respect for the intellectual community we are creating in this course and at this university. Your assignments are designed to develop your individual abilities to read and write critically, and it is fundamental that all the work you submit is your own, written specifically for this class. All quotations, ideas, or other material that you may derive from the work of others must be properly cited. If you are unsure about what to cite, or how to cite it, please come talk to me! This is our university policy on academic integrity:


The LSA undergraduate academic community, like all communities, functions best when its members treat one another with honesty, fairness, respect, and trust. The College holds all members of its community to high standards of scholarship and integrity. To accomplish its mission of providing an optimal educational environment and developing leaders of society, the College promotes the assumption of personal responsibility and integrity and prohibits all forms of academic dishonesty and misconduct. Academic dishonesty may be understood as any action or attempted action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage for oneself or an unfair academic advantage or disadvantage for any other member or members of the academic community. Conduct, without regard to motive, that violates the academic integrity and ethical standards of the College community cannot be tolerated. The College seeks vigorously to achieve compliance with its community standards of academic integrity. Violations of the standards will not be tolerated and will result in serious consequences and disciplinary action.

You can also read more about the U-M English Department's stance on academic honesty here: A Note on Plagiarism


Course Projects

There and Back Again


From Boniface's letters to The Wanderer's lonely memories of his lord, the first section of our course thinks about people and places far from home. But how do these texts create an idea of "home," and what does it mean to leave home behind? In what ways is the world beyond "home" exoticized, celebrated, or otherwise positioned in relationship to the experience of the narrator? Who can return "home," and who can't? In your first essay, you will develop an analytical argument based on your own close readings of one of the following texts:

  • The Wonders of the East

  • Alexander's Letter to Aristotle

  • Huneberct's Hodoeporicon

  • The Boniface correspondence

  • The Wanderer and The Seafarer

  • Apollonius of Tyre

As you develop your argument, put it into conversation with at least one of the secondary sources we have read so far; think about how the ideas you are exploring relate to (for example) Diane Watt's discussion of women writers, or Asa Mittman's arguments on monstrosity. You don't have to do any outside research for this paper, but you should be able to situate your argument within the larger scholarly context of the class.


Your final paper should be 5-7 pages in length; see our Course Policies section for formatting info. And don't hesitate to reach out if you have further questions!

Into the Unknown


Your final project for this course will be a 10-15 page research essay on a topic of your choice. This is your chance to delve deeply into something you find particularly exciting! If you are interested in literature and the environment, for example, you might choose to explore depictions of sea voyages in Old English and Anglo-Latin literature alongside archaeological evidence for ships and maritime travel in the period. If you are interested in early medieval women writers, you might develop a project based on the letters in the "Boniface correspondence." You must write about at least one of the primary texts we have read in this course; however, you are free to incorporate other early medieval literature into your argument.


You will have a lot of freedom in the texts you read and the questions you choose to explore. However, your research should relate to the themes and subject matter of the course, and you will consult regularly with me as your project develops. Whatever topic you choose, your final essay must have a strong argumentative thesis, and must prove that thesis through an analytical, evidenced-based argument that uses both original close readings and secondary sources. 


11/9: Research project proposals due

11/16: Research bibliographies due

12/9: Final research projects due

Image by Eryk Fudala

Weekly Schedule

England and the Continent

Monday, 8/31: Introduction to the course – synchronous Zoom discussion

Wednesday, 9/2: Mini lecture: Theodore and Hadrian; discussion board responses

Asynchronous in-class assignment (with Perusall): Patrizia Lendinara, "The World of Anglo-Saxon Learning" (on Canvas)


Monday, 9/7: Labor Day (No class)

Wednesday, 9/9: The Wonders of the East – synchronous Zoom discussion

Reading: Asa Mittman, "Are the 'Monstrous Races' Races?" (on Canvas)

The Wonders of the East (pp. 173-81 in Treharne, Old And Middle English) and Alexander’s Letter to Aristotle (on Canvas)


Monday, 9/14: Hodoeporicon of Willibald; English women writers – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Hygeburg's Hodoeporicon of Willibald (on Canvas) 

 Diane Watt, "Exemplary Missionary Lives" (on Canvas)

 Journal reflection due by email

Wednesday, 9/16: Hodoeporicon of Willibald

Asynchronous in-class assignment (with Perusall): Diane Watt, "Missionary Women's Letters and Poetry" (on Canvas)


Monday, 9/21: Boniface, The Seafarer, and Imaginary Exile – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Willibald's Vita Bonifatii (on Canvas)

 The Seafarer (pp. 60-7 in in Treharne, Old And Middle English)

 Selected letters from the Boniface correspondence (on Canvas)

Wednesday, 9/23: The Wanderer and peregrinatio

Readings: Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, "Heroic Values and Christian Ethics" (on Canvas)

 The Wanderer (pp. 54-61 in Treharne, Old And Middle English)


Monday, 9/28: Apollonius of Tyre – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Apollonius of Tyre (pp. 275-99 in Treharne, Old And Middle English; read introduction and then skip to section V and continue to the end.)

 Journal reflection due by email

Wednesday, 9/30: Apollonius of Tyre – mini-lecture + discussion board responses

Readings: Anita Riedinger, "The Englishing of Arcestrate" (on Canvas)


England and the North

Monday, 10/5: Othere and Wulfstan: a comparision – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Othere and Wulfstan (pp. 24-31 in Treharne, Old and Middle English); Introduction and excerpts from Ibn Fadlan (on Canvas); Richman, "Artful Slipping in Old English" (on Canvas) 

Wednesday, 10/7: Individual meetings to discuss close-reading essay


Monday, 10/12: Widsith – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Widsith (online translation here); Rollman, "Widsith as a Defense of Anglo-Saxon Poetry" (on Canvas)

Wednesday, 10/14: Deor

Readings: Deor (pp. 70-73 in Treharne, Old and Middle English); Roberta Frank, "Germanic Legend in Old English Poetry" (on Canvas)

Close reading essay due


Monday, 10/19: The Battle of Maldon – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: The Battle of Maldon (pp. 155-170 in Treharne, Old and Middle English); Fred Robinson, "Some Aspects of the Maldon-Poet's Artistry" (on Canvas)

Wednesday, 10/21: The Rune Poem

Readings: The Rune Poem: A Critical Edition (on Canvas; intro + poem)


Monday, 10/26: Irish influences; Aldhelm’s Letter to Gereint – synchronous Zoom discussion

Wednesday, 10/28: Wessex, Cornwall, and Boniface

Journal reflection due by email


Monday, 11/2: Excerpts from Beowulf – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Toni Morrison, "Grendel and his Mother" (on Canvas)

 Fred C. Robinson, "Beowulf" (on Canvas)

Wednesday, 11/4: Individual Zoom meetings for research projects

Readings: Renée Trilling, "Beyond Abjection" (on Canvas)


England's Imaginary

Monday, 11/9: Dismantling 19th-century fantasies – synchronous Zoom discussion

Research proposals due

In-class Perusall reading: Dave Wilton, "What Do We Mean When We Say 'Anglo-Saxon'?"

Wednesday, 11/11: Being Black in early England: mini-lecture

Readings: Mary Rambaran-Olm, "Early English Studies, Academia, and White Supremacy" (link)

Amy W. Clark, "Sweart as Sin: Color Connotation and Morality in Anglo-Saxon England" (on Canvas)


Monday, 11/16: Being Danish in early England (Beowulf) – synchronous Zoom discussion

Research bibliographies due

Wednesday, 11/18: Being Jewish in early England: mini-lecture, journal reflection

Journal reflection due by email


Monday, 11/23: Thanksgiving Break (No class)

Wednesday, 11/25: Thanksgiving Break (No class)


Monday, 11/30: Wisdom poems: Solomon and Saturn II – synchronous Zoom discussion

Readings: Solomon and Saturn II (link here). Read only the second poem, halfway down the page.

Wednesday, 12/2 Wisdom poems: Maxims I and II 

Readings: Maxims I and II (link here and here)

Journal reflection due by email on Friday


Monday, 12/7: Afterlives: The Phoenix – synchronous group chat

Readings: The Phoenix (link here)

Assignment: Short video presentation on your final paper research (to share)

Wednesday, 12/9: Wrapping up the course – synchronous Zoom discussion

Final research projects due