Paper Proposal: “Medieval Materiality: The Nature of Anglo-Saxon Metal Works and Poetry”

For my paper I will be using Anglo-Saxon poetry—specifically “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer,” and others from the Exeter Book if needed—and Anglo-Saxon art objects in order to discuss what I see as a beautifully rich and complex culture that is often misunderstood. The main issue I hope to address with this discussion is that of materialism; too often people assume that because Anglo-Saxon traditions involve gift-giving and material possessions, this means that their culture as a whole is materialistic. However, in my opinion this misunderstanding itself is indicative of a problem with our own culture, and not theirs. One example of many is our reporting on Anglo-Saxon issues; I plan to use a newspaper article by a medievalist that addresses the dismal reporting of the Staffordshire Hoard that demonstrates this disconnect perfectly. In reporting on the find, the media focused entirely on its material value—referring to it almost exclusively as its weight in gold or silver—and neglected to communicate anything at all about the significance of the find for Anglo-Saxon history. All of this is to say that our own obsession with material wealth contributes to a flawed understanding of the Anglo-Saxons. So, in my paper I will first illustrate the issues that cause this misunderstanding. From there I will use literature and art to discuss how Anglo-Saxon culture is far from materialistic, but meaningful. I think that the best way to do this is to demonstrate the symbolism of their art and poetry, and to further demonstrate how these symbols are most often intrinsically linked to nature—after all, what could be more elemental, more opposite of material, than the natural world?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *