A close up image of a decorative gold shoulder clasp from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo


Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (ASNC) is a degree course unique to Cambridge. It focuses upon the history, languages and literatures of the different peoples of the British Isles and Scandinavia in the early medieval period. It is a distinctive course, which allows for the combination of subjects and techniques rarely taught together, but which mutually reinforce one another in the pursuit of a broad and detailed understanding of the world of which early Britain was a part: it is cross-cultural (involving the study of English, Celtic and Scandinavian materials) and inter-disciplinary (offering a variety of historical, linguistic and literary topics). Several of the subjects taught in ASNC (including palaeography and codicology, the study of medieval scribes and manuscripts) are seldom if ever available in other degree courses at undergraduate level.

Full details are provided on the Department website, and summarised in the University Undergraduate Prospectus.


ASNC at Churchill

As a degree course, ASNC has many aspects in common with the other Humanities courses, especially English, History, Classics and Medieval and Modern Languages. It will therefore appeal to you if you enjoy these and similar subject areas, especially if you are interested in pursuing texts and their traditions back into the Middle Ages and beyond. But in its unique combination of disciplines, ASNC offers you both a greater spread of topics and a greater detail of engagement with the full range of sources than is possible with these more ‘traditional’ courses. At the same time as looking at the history of early medieval Britain, Ireland or Scandinavia, that is, you would be able to examine original texts relevant to this study in their original language, whether Old English, Old Norse, medieval Welsh or Irish, or Insular Latin. ASNC has, moreover, a very strong tradition of literary scholarship, giving you access to great works of literature like Beowulf; the Icelandic sagas, The MabinogionThe Táin and the poetry of Aldhelm, again all in their original languages, and making use of the latest editions, critical writings and electronic resources in exploring them. All this makes for an intellectually challenging, and highly rewarding, combination.

No prior knowledge of any of the ASNC subjects is necessary in order to apply (though you will normally be expected to have demonstrated an aptitude for other linguistic, literary and/or historical subjects).


The ASNC Tripos is examined in two Parts; Part I comes at the end of the second year, with the more advanced Part II at the end of the third. The course is taught in a variety of forms, ranging from lectures and seminars (including language and translation classes) to supervisions. The latter, a mainstay of the Cambridge system, are (ordinarily one-to-one) meetings organised by Churchill, for which you would write essays and then discuss them with a subject specialist; these will be arranged by your Director of Studies, with whom you will also have regular meetings to discuss and plan your work. The ASNC experience is, moreover, enhanced by the small size and friendly nature of the department: its tight-knit, thriving community of undergraduates, post-graduates and senior members means that it is easy to find a like-minded person with whom to discuss your work, whether formally or informally.


Reading ASNC will give you access to library and other information resources that are second to none. The ASNC department has a very well-stocked library of its own, which functions as part of the English Faculty Library and from which books may be borrowed. You would also have access to the unparalleled resources of Cambridge University Library, a major copyright library with one of the most important collections of manuscripts and early printed books in the UK. Some college libraries also hold significant collections of manuscripts relevant to the period studied by those taking ASNC.


Like most subjects in the Arts and Humanities, ASNC is not a vocational course that prepares you for a specific career; but the skills that can be acquired over the three years of the degree are many and varied, and should most importantly provide a thorough grounding in the careful interrogation of a variety of sources from different points of view (literature, history, linguistics), and in the reasoned construction of sound, detailed arguments, whether orally or in writing. Recent ASNC graduates have put these skills to good use in a wide range of jobs, including careers in law, finance, publishing, teaching, the civil service, the armed forces, the police, computing, television and journalism, besides those who have chosen to progress to post-graduate level research.


For more information and for all admissions enquiries, please contact the Admissions Office.

Admissions Office


Images: Gold belt buckle from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon, early 7th century AD © Trustees of the British Museum.