Ethnonationalism and medievalism: reading affective ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ today with the discovery of Sutton Hoo

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This essay argues that English imaginaries of the early medieval Western world have long been, and continue to be, crafted by emotions. To demonstrate how the cultural formation of affective Anglo-Saxonism has taken shape across time, I compare how “Anglo-Saxon” studies and stories have been presented in twenty-first-century media with strategies used by newspaper contributors to make sense of the first Sutton Hoo excavation in 1939. So often have emotional attachments and felt connections between past and present shaped the ways in which the “Anglo-Saxon” is written about, that these affective modes of engagement are often understood as neutral or objective. However, the emotions which circulate around “Anglo-Saxon” things have made possible – and continue to make possible – ethnonationalist uses and meanings of “Anglo-Saxon”. The ways in which “Anglo-Saxon” stories, and stories about “Anglo-Saxon” studies, are told in public sustain exclusionary mythologies about past and present identities. Traversing disciplinary divides in early medieval English studies, and interrogating how work from different disciplines emerges into public spaces, is identified as vital for working against exclusionary affective Anglo-Saxonism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-99
Number of pages15
Early online date24 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Medievalism
  • Old English
  • Sutton Hoo
  • Beowulf
  • newspapers
  • Nationalism
  • Race
  • Englishness

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