University of Leicester eBulletin

Is Old English Old Hat?

February 2003
No 49

A University of Leicester professor has rallied to the defence of Old English studies in UK universities claiming texts produced a millennium apart still have a direct relationship.

Professor Elaine Treharne, Head of the Department of English, delivered her inaugural lecture on Tuesday, February 25.

She highlighted the relevance of Old English in higher education. Old English was used in England from the fifth to the twelfth centuries, and literature in Old English survives in substance from the ninth to the twelfth century.

The lecture came at a time when the subject is being removed from the syllabus of many English degree courses, leading to concern among many Early Medievalists. There are fewer than 40 institutions still teaching Old English in the UK, of which only half teach the language in its original form.

Professor Treharne said: “Many early medievalists in universities throughout the United Kingdom have expressed concern that their subject is being ousted from an already-full English degree syllabus.

“Compounding the difficulties faced by early literature specialists are comments made by leading literary figures that Old English poetry and prose bears no relationship to the subsequent history of English Literature.”

In her lecture, Back to the Future: The Production of English Texts a Millennium Apart, Professor Treharne countered this view.

“The lecture highlighted the links between modern and old literature in terms of literary output, language and cultural impact. It examined Old English manuscripts, taken from the Post-Conquest period, and revealed how textual complexities mirror modern approaches to English literature.

Professor Treharne is uniquely qualified to lecture on this subject, as a specialist in Old and Middle English religious prose. As well as being Head of the Department of English at the University of Leicester, Professor Treharne is Vice-President of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists, Chair of the research group into Post-Conquest English Manuscripts and the author of several books about Old and Middle English.

She added: “Old English, both in terms of its literary output, its language, and its cultural impact has significant relevance for English Studies in the broadest sense.”

Professor Treharne’s lecture, Back to the Future:The Production of English Texts a Millennium Apart, took place on Tuesday, February 25 at 5.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1, Ken Edwards Building.

NOTE TO NEWSDESK: For more information, please contact Professor Elaine Treharne, Head of the Department of English, telephone 0116 252 2636, email 

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