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Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (ASNC)


The Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic Tripos is concerned with the history, literature, language and material culture of Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia in the early medieval period (from about the fifth century to the twelfth). It appeals to anyone with an interest in medieval history and/or literature and/or early languages, and in particular to those who would like to continue their study of both literary and historical topics at the same time. No previous knowledge of the subject is either expected or assumed. 

The subject as studied is very much source-based and students are taught how to analyse different kinds of primary evidence and to read texts in their original languages. The range of subjects on offer is wide and varied, enabling students to place the emphasis where they choose. Most will combine language and literature papers with historical ones. However, it is also possible to focus predominantly on history, on the one hand, or on language and literature, on the other, or to study mainly Celtic or Germanic peoples. Whatever a student’s subject choices, study of them will involve getting to the heart of the matter, the original manuscript work or artefact ever at the core.

Course information

The course is divided into Part I (two years) and Part II (one year), and skills acquired during the foundation years of the course (Part I) are applied at a more advanced level at Part II, as students pursue their own particular interests in greater depth. Six papers (courses) are taken in Part I, and may include Anglo-Saxon History, Scandinavian History, Gaelic History, Brittonic History, Insular Latin Language and Literature, Old English Language and Literature, Old Norse Language and Literature, Medieval Welsh Language and Literature, Medieval Irish Language and Literature, Palaeography and Codicology, as well as papers borrowed from other degree programmes (e.g. English, History, Archaeology, Medieval and Modern Languages). Students choose five options for Part II, one of which is a dissertation on a topic of their choice, and as the opportunities for original research are great in our subject, many of these have made a real contribution to scholarship.

Tradition and resources

Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic has a long, distinguished tradition at St John’s. In fact, the earliest manuscript in the College’s library is a tenth-century Irish manuscript known as the ‘Southampton Psalter’ acquired by the College in the sixteenth century. The Library has acquired much additional material in our subject since then! ASNC students are entitled to generous book grants to enable them to purchase essential works, as well as financial assistance towards attending language courses and visiting sites in Britain, Ireland, Brittany and Scandinavia. Moreover, Trinity College Dublin is one of St John’s two ‘sister’ colleges, facilitating contact with that university. The College Archivist also offers free Palaeography lessons (the study of old handwriting) held in the School of Pythagoras, the oldest building in St John's College and the oldest extant secular building in Cambridge. 

Teaching ASNC at St John's

The Director of Studies in ASNC at St John’s is Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, a specialist in Celtic languages, literatures and history whose research interests also include the Vikings and relations between the Celtic and Scandinavian worlds. She will meet you regularly to advise you on the various options available and help you plan your academic course. All subjects are taught through university lectures, texts classes and seminars. In addition, intensive additional teaching in each subject area (termed ‘supervision’) is arranged by your Director of Studies, the focus being on one or two subjects in any given term. Supervisions involve writing essays on topics of your choice which are discussed in weekly meetings with a supervisor; supervision groups are always small and one-to-one teaching also occurs.

ASNaCs (as they are affectionately known) constitute a diverse group of people. Interest in and enthusiasm for the subject is paramount but the form in which that interest takes varies enormously. Some enjoy hearing of how earlier societies functioned, prompted perhaps by visits to museums, or by acquaintance with historical and/or archaeological sites. Others enjoy learning languages and are keen to understand where some of today’s words and place-names came from; still others want to learn particular languages to experience directly the literary texts of which they may know something in translation  More often than not, it is an interest in literature and history that brings them to us, fuelled by seeing certain TV programmes and films, or by reading particular books. All are genuinely interested in the past and display the critical acumen essential for successful engagement with it.

Directors of Studies

Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh - Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic

UCAS Code: QQ59

Entry Requirements

Typical offer levels are: A-Level A*AA and IB 40-42, with 776 at Higher Level. No specific subjects required but useful preparation can include English (Language or Literature), History, a language (ancient or modern).

Application / interview procedure: 

In advance of interview you will be asked to submit two school/college essays as examples of written work. Those who are invited to attend for interview will have two interviews: one with the Tutor for the subject and one with the Director of Studies and another member of the Department. The aim of these interviews which last upto 30 minutes each, is to find out about your motivation and aptitude for Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic. We will not assume any knowledge of the subjects we teach but will be interested in how you approach language, literature and history, the three key areas of our course of study. To this end, we may ask you about certain topics you have studied at school, or about other relevant activities you have undertaken. We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them. 

Pre-Interview Assessment

As part of your application you will need to sit the University's Pre-Interview Assessment for Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic. More information is available here.

Becky Shercliff
'I am currently in my third year, studying Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC). I studied Medieval History, English Literature, French and Theology at A-level, and the ASNC course appealed to me because I couldn’t decide whether I preferred studying history, literature or languages, and ASNC lets you study all three. A love of The Lord of the Rings may also have had something to do with my...
'ASNC is a fantastic course, and, being a small department, you'll get to know many people from different years and Colleges. On the academic side, St John's has a well-stocked library, so you'll often find that the books you need are easily available in College. Even though you probably won't be taught in College most of the time, you'll be assigned an academic contact in St John's, your...

Further Information

The ASNC Department website contains full details of their activities and of the subjects studies. Information for prospective undergraduates can be found here and details of the epartment's annual Open Day can be found here

Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (ASNC) Course Video, courtesy of the University of Cambridge