The Vercelli Book: Accessing Vernacularity in the Tenth Century

Call for Papers

50th International Congress on Medieval Studies (ICMS), Western Michigan University, 14-17 May, 2015


The tenth-century vernacular anthology known as the Vercelli Book is one of the best known early medieval English manuscripts and has long been central to scholarly understanding of literary culture in the Anglo-Saxon period. Editorial work by, for example, Celia Sisam and Paul E. Szarmach, the major edition of the Vercelli Homilies by Donald G. Scragg, recent critical studies by Samantha Zacher and Andy Orchard, and the new digital version of the manuscript witness the  ongoing importance of this manuscript. This scholarship has opened up a range of approaches to the Vercelli Book. However, further questions remain to be explored, not least in relation to the style and rhetoric of vernacular prose and poetry, pedagogy and liturgical culture, translation theory and bilingualism as well as the material history of the book itself. Indeed, the recent launch of the digital Vercelli Book (beta version) offers an opportunity to assess the state of the field thus far as well as to anticipate future research. Responding to the challenges to interpretation that the Vercelli Book continues to present, this session will consider the role of the vernacular anthology in accessing questions of textual and devotional culture in the tenth century.

There is still no critical consensus about the governing principle of selection or function of the Vercelli Book, its purpose as a book of public performance or private devotion, or of how such a consensus might be reached if, indeed, it is to be desired. The use of Latin in this manuscript, evidence for contact-effects between Latin and Old English, and for varieties of Old English all require further consideration. Given that the Vercelli Book includes some of the best-known poems in Old English (such as ‘The Dream of the Rood’) as well as some of its least-known prose texts (such as Vercelli I), the anthology challenges perceptions of vernacularity, aesthetics and literary value. How, therefore, might we reflect on the cultural importance and pedagogic value of the Vercelli Book in the Anglo-Saxon period as well as now and in the future?

All proposals welcomed—ICMS deadline September 15. Please send any thoughts, queries or suggestions to Clare Lees (