As something of a break from my main current project, Places of Rebellion, I’m writing up a paper on the meanings and definitions of the ‘Late Anglo-Saxon’ (‘Alfredian’) period of English history, which I presented at a conference in Paris last November, for an Anglophone studies conference, Les Périodisations de l’histoire des mondes Britanniques (incidentally, a conference at which Penny Corfield, the guest speaker for our MA conference last Saturday, was one of the principal speakers). The conference organisers had kindly allowed the Anglophone speakers to speak in English, a fact
for which I was
most grateful at the time, but now the moment has arrived to try to express those ideas for a collection of conference proceedings in French.
Plodding along with a dictionary and my ancient grammar books is one issue, and I will need many more drafts before I can get anything ready that I can pass to a French speaker without my face being painfully red but the translation into French has brought up a whole range of issues about the ways in which historians divide up periods of history. The thoughtful observer might point out that that was, of course, the point of the conference but I mean the process of translation comes with its own set of problems. One of these is how to convey the ways in which Anglophone historians attach a whole range of different meanings to the centuries covered by “high middle ages”, “high medieval” and “central middle ages”, not all of which mean the same period (these can include the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and even fourteenth centuries) — especially difficult as for French speakers “haut [high] moyen age” means the rough equivalent of the early middle ages for an English speaker, though in Britain “our early middle ages” tends to go up to 1066, which, being after the year 1000 (a traditional turning point in French historiography) would probably be explained as something like l’époque féodale in France (phew). And that’s not even before I begin to try to convey the subtle/fudged differences between the “Later” and “Late” Anglo-Saxon periods, as historians, including myself, tend to use the terms, often without precise distinction… does “Later” imply a later part of the “Late” period, or is it broader than the “Late” period, therefore encompassing a few more decades of the ninth or even part of the eighth century than “Late Anglo-Saxon England”?
Still, I will persevere. It’s interesting to think of the range of meanings attached to different periods, how those labels get attached and re-attached by historians, and the effects that these labels have for scholarship. I haven’t yet reached my discussion of where the Anglo-Saxon primary sources convey a sense of distinct periods of history, which is the second part of the paper, but I’m sure that will present its own unique set of issues when it comes to conveying the meaning of the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) terms in French.
Ryan Lavelle (Senior Lecturer in Medieval History)