Anglo-Saxon

Update: Friday, 22 November 2019

The University of Illinois Press has given permission for me to post a pre-publication copy of the paper which will appear in an upcoming issue of JEGP (tentatively October 2020, 119.4).

A pdf of the paper can be downloaded from here.

The raw data, in the form an Excel spreadsheet, can downloaded from here.


The article uses linguistic corpora, ranging from the Dictionary of Old English Corpus to the Corpus of Contemporary American English, to trace the usage and senses of the term Anglo-Saxon from the early medieval period through to the present day. It shows that in the early medieval period, while the term was used on the Continent insular use prior to Norman Conquest was rare, referred only to the unified kingdom of Mercia and Wessex, and was limited to the context of royal intitulature. Following the Conquest, it disappeared from English usage before being re-borrowed from continental Latin in the late sixteenth century. And starting at the turn of the nineteenth century it began to be applied to contemporary contexts, first as politico-cultural marker for things English or British, and shortly afterward as an ethno-racial marker. Present-day use of Anglo-Saxon, even in academic circles, is usually not as a reference to the pre-Conquest era, but rather as a contemporary identity label, usually as a marker of whiteness, or as a politico-cultural marker for the global dominance of U.S./British cultural, political, and economic institutions and policies. While the use of the term as an identity label is strongest in North America, such use makes up a substantial percentage of British usage as well.

The results of this study have implications for how the field of medieval studies, and studies of pre-Conquest England in particular, use Anglo-Saxon. Not only is the term analytically problematic because it conflates ethnically and politically distinct peoples in the pre-Conquest era, but its present-day use as a ethno-racial identity marker inevitably associates the field with race and whiteness at a time when the field is striving to break from its roots in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century, ethno-nationalist thinking.

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