Old English Has a Serious Image Problem

This fall I will be teaching Shakespeare again; but thereafter, as part of a curriculum redesign, Shakespeare will be rolled into a “Shakespeare in Context” course that will also need to address Beowulf, medieval drama, Arthurian legend, Chaucer, Marlowe, etc. I intend to do this by teaching five different Shakespeare plays, focusing on one play for a week, then on some other literary work for a week, and then on some issue-based project (such as language, or gender, or the monarchy, or the patronage system, theatre history) for a week. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Whew! Here’s an interesting article that identifies the study of Old English as an opportunity for women’s advancement in the late 19thC and also as a locus for the rise of the “alt-right” in the 21stC.

The first generations of female students, however, took advantage of the academic respectability provided by Anglo-Saxon, with some leveraging the knowledge to enter the academic profession as faculty. Between the Civil War and World War I, Anglo-Saxon provided upper-middle-class white women with entry into the tiny ranks of female professors—and the much larger corps of female K-12 classroom teachers. At the same time, however, the study of Anglo-Saxon played a part in the more general cultural belief—prevalent at the time—in the superiority of northern European or “Anglo-Saxon” whiteness. —JSTOR Daily