Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST3451: Anglo-Saxon Invasion? The Search for English Origins

Department: History

HIST3451: Anglo-Saxon Invasion? The Search for English Origins

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • • A pass mark in at least ONE level 2 module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To enable students to engage critically with different historical approaches to one of the formative moment in English history – the Anglo-Saxon invasions.
  • To develop students’ understanding of the context in which narratives of Anglo-Saxon England were developed.
  • To enable students to explore a range of different methods, down to modern scientific DNA studies, for exploring the emergence of English identity in the early middle ages.


  • As the Roman Empire began to crumble and to withdraw from its furthest outposts, such as Britain, Germanic pirates started to raid the southern and eastern British coasts, as early medieval sources tell us. By the sixth century a historical narrative had emerged that emphasized the invasion of eastern England by these Germanic tribes. This narrative was expanded in the early eighth century by the Northumbrian monk, Bede, who presented the origins of the English in his account of the English Church. The search for English origins continued to fascinate scholars throughout the middle ages and into the early modern period, and is still a significant topic of debate today, both in scholarship and in the wider public domain. This module will explore the Anglo-Saxon migrations of the fifth century and how scholars (both medieval and modern) have attempted to understand them, using a range of disciplines and methodologies including, most recently, scientific approaches such as isotope analysis and the study of DNA. We will consider such questions as: what place did these migration legends play in Anglo-Saxon culture, from the seventh century through to the twelfth? How far can textual evidence be used alongside other forms of evidence to contribute to our understanding of the ‘origins of the English’? How useful are new scientific approaches, compared to more traditional methodologies, and how far do they (or should they) inform one another? What are the most important aspects of ‘Englishness’ (e.g. language, culture, genetics), and how far can we understand these from the surviving evidence? Why has this topic continued to hold such interest over the centuries, and how have contemporary circumstances affected scholars’ interpretations of, and approaches to, the evidence? Finally, we will explore the nature of the Anglo-Saxon ‘invasion’: are we looking at genocide, cultural assimilation and integration, or something else?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • a broad understanding of the source material available for studying the ‘origins of the English’
  • the ability to reflect on the ways in which changing methodologies and trends in scholarship have affected the search for, and the interpretation of, English origins
  • a developing ability to ask deeper questions about how historians themselves act as mediators between ideas about identity and the past
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/
Key Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/history.internal/local/ModuleProformaMap/

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

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge. In addition, seen Examinations (with pre-released paper) are intended to enable Level 3 students to produce more considered and reflective work;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2; 2 in Term 3 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 4 in Term 1, 3 in Term 2 1hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 - not including footnotes and bibliography 2000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 50%
Essay 2 - not including footnotes and bibliography 2000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 50%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen examination [paper to be made available not less than seventy-two hours before the start of the examination] 2 hours 100%

Formative Assessment:

Preparation to participate in seminars. At least one oral presentation or short written assignment.

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