Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module HIST44830: Old English Language, Texts and Contexts

Department: History

HIST44830: Old English Language, Texts and Contexts

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap
Tied to


  • <None>


  • <None>

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • <None>


  • to provide an intensive course on Old English language and Anglo-Saxon literary culture and history;
  • to enable students to gain an understanding of the grammar and syntax of Old English language;
  • to enable students to gain a competent reading knowledge of Old English prose texts, and to introduce them to the metres and subject matter of verse;
  • to introduce students to examples of some of the major genres in Old English literary and historical writing;
  • to enable students to place these works in their historical, cultural and material contexts.


  • Each seminar will be structured around a different theme and focused on texts representative of that theme, so that a number of different types of texts will be explored through the course of the module.
  • Themes for study may include: historical writing, heroic literature, hagiography, homilies, inscriptions, letters, visionary texts, scientific writing, ‘sense of place’, elegies, riddles, biblical texts, ‘the supernatural’, devotional texts.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • to gain an understanding of the structures and working of the Old English language;
  • to gain knowledge of some major features of Old English texts in prose and verse;
  • to gain knowledge of the historical, cultural and material contexts in which Old English texts were composed, circulated and preserved;
  • to gain knowledge and understanding of the key issues involved with interpreting, contextualising and analysing different themes in Old English writings.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • to gain an ability to translate simple 'unseen' passages of Old English prose, supported by a glossary;
  • to translate selected Old English texts and to be able to comment on them, taking into account their historical and cultural contexts;
  • to translate Old English into modern English.
Key Skills:
  • an advanced ability to analyse critically;
  • an independence of thought and judgement, and an ability to assess the critical ideas of others;
  • sophisticated skills in critical reasoning;
  • an advanced ability to interpret complex information of diverse kinds;
  • professional organisation and time-management skills.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • In each two-hour seminar, the first hour will be focused on study of Old English language and the reading of Old English texts, and the second hour will focus on the historical, cultural and material context in which the texts were composed, circulated and preserved.
  • Study of Old English language, texts and contexts in seminars and in individual preparation and reading will enable students to acquire skills and knowledge as described in the Learning Outcomes.
  • Regular formative assessment (translations, grammar exercises) will enable students to assess their progress in language learning.
  • Summative assessment will take the form of an essay of 3000 words on a topic of the student’s choosing (65%) and a one-hour exam (35%). The essay will allow students to explore a topic in some detail and to begin to develop their own lines of questioning of Old English texts and contexts. A question should be formulated in consultation with one of the module tutors and all questions should be submitted to the module convenor by the end of Epiphany Term. The exam will comprise one unseen passage and one seen passage for translation; it will assess students’ skills in translation and interpretation of Old English language.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 10 Fortnightly in Terms 1 & 2 2 hours 20
Preparation and reading 280
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Exam Component Weighting: 35%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
One exam 1 hour 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 65%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
One essay 3000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Regular grammar exercises and passages for translation.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University