Cambridge University Teaching Students That Anglo-Saxons Are Not Real And There Is No ‘Native’ British Identity

Cambridge University is teaching students that the Anglo-Saxons did not exist as a distinct ethnic group in efforts to undermine “myths of nationalism”.

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic is attempting to make teaching more anti-racist by explaining that the Anglo-Saxons were not a separate ethnic group. The department’s approach also aims to show that there were never coherent Scottish, Irish and Welsh ethnic identities with ancient roots.

The increased focus on anti-racism comes amid a broader debate over the continued use of terms like “Anglo-Saxon,” with some alleging that the ethnonym is used to support “racist” ideas of a native English identity.

The Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic’s information explains its approach to teaching, stating: “Several of the elements discussed above have been expanded to make ASNC teaching more anti-racist. One concern has been to address recent concerns over the use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ and its perceived connection to ethnic/racial English identity.” Additionally, the department’s historical modules approach race and ethnicity with reference to the Scandinavian settlement that began in the ninth century.

The term “Anglo-Saxon” typically refers to a cultural group that emerged and flourished between the fall of Roman Britain and the Norman conquest when Germanic peoples – Angles, Saxons, and Jutes – arrived and formed new kingdoms in what would later become a united England.

However, the term “Anglo-Saxon” has recently become embroiled in controversy, with some academics claiming that it has been used by racists, particularly in the US, to support the idea of an ancient white English identity and should be dropped.

In 2019, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists voted to change its name to the International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England, “in recognition of the problematic connotations that are widely associated with the terms ‘Anglo-Saxon’.” This was triggered by the resignation from the society of the Canadian academic Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm, who has since written that the field of Anglo-Saxon studies is one of “inherent whiteness”.

While some have argued that a single term like “Anglo-Saxon” is inaccurate as the Dark Ages were a period of population change, including the Viking invasions, others such as Prof Howard William at the University of Chester maintain that the term remains useful historically and archaeologically.

A statement signed by more than 70 academics in 2020 argued that the furor over the term “Anglo-Saxon” was an American import, with an open letter stating: “The conditions in which the term is encountered, and how it is perceived, are very different in the USA from elsewhere. In the UK, the period has been carefully presented and discussed in popular and successful documentaries and exhibitions over many years. The term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ is historically authentic in the sense that from the 8th century, it was used externally to refer to a dominant population in southern Britain. Its earliest uses, therefore, embody precisely the significant issues we can expect any general ethnic or national label to represent.”