Why study Celtic?
If you are fascinated by the heroic sagas and delicate nature poetry of early medieval Ireland, the fragmentary inscriptions from Celtic Gaul, or the luminous medieval Welsh prose tales of the Mabinogion, then the study of Celtic is something for you.
The Celtic Studies course at Oxford takes you right to the heart of the literature of Britain and Ireland from the earliest evidence through to the Middle Ages and beyond. It extends from intricate bardic poetry to modern drama, and covers the history of the Celtic languages up to the present day. As a subject Celtic intersects with History, Archaeology, English, Linguistics, and Medieval Latin, making it intrinsically interdisciplinary. Celtic Studies is a crucial part of our understanding of the cultural and linguistic formation, not only of Britain and Ireland, but of Europe as a whole. The Celtic-speaking peoples have greatly influenced the history and languages of Europe, and themes originating in Celtic literature, such as the tales of King Arthur, have shaped the literatures of Europe from the Middle Ages onwards.
The strength of the Oxford course is its range and flexibility. You have the option to study modern Welsh and modern Irish alongside medieval Welsh and Old Irish; you can choose to pair French, German, or any other language, with Celtic within the Medieval and Modern Languages faculty, so that you could, for example, study Medieval French or German alongside Medieval Welsh literature, in order to compare the different strands of Arthurian literature. Another option is to pursue a more linguistic approach to Celtic Studies, looking at the development of the Celtic family of languages, from the earliest fragmentary inscriptions to the modern dialects; or you could combine the study of English with Celtic in a Joint Honours course and focus on the genius of the British and Irish poets and story-tellers who created some of the most exquisite and exciting literature in the world. And if both the history and the literature of Britain and Ireland interest you, you could take a Joint Honours course pairing Celtic with History. This allows you to study the historical evidence for the post-Roman period in Britain alongside your study of British and Irish literature from the same period within the Celtic Studies department. This Joint Honours combination allows you to get up close to events and people in Medieval Britain and Ireland.
The Celtic Studies department at Oxford is a dynamic environment with a staff that covers a fantastic range of different Celtic subject-areas. As a result Oxford attracts both undergraduate and postgraduate students from all over the world: Japan, China, Russia, Germany, France, Ireland and Britain, the US, Canada, and Australia. A prestigious research team forms part of the Celtic Studies department in Oxford. In addition, Oxford has some of the best library resources for the subject in the world, with a dedicated Celtic Studies library available to all our students. Indeed, several of the world’s most famous Welsh and Irish manuscripts are kept in Oxford.
The study of Celtic at Oxford has a long and distinguished history. Indeed the (currently vacant) Jesus Professorship of Celtic is the oldest chair in the Modern Languages Faculty (1877) and the only professorship in Celtic in an English university. Previous holders of the chair include famous scholars like Sir John Rhys, John Fraser, Sir Idris Foster, and D. Ellis Evans .
Within the Faculty, Irish and Welsh are regularly taught and other Celtic languages, such as Cornish, Breton, and Scottish Gaelic, on a more occasional basis. The main bulk of the teaching, however, is in the Old, Middle and Early Modern periods of Irish and Welsh language and literature.
More detailed enquiries about the course may be addressed to:
Most students coming up to read Celtic at Oxford are beginners, but we can also supply appropriate language and literature teaching for native speakers. Many of our undergraduates are studying Celtic in combination with another modern language within the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, but it is also possible to study Celtic in one of the various Joint Schools (with Classics, English, Linguistics, History, a Middle Eastern Language, and Philosophy). However, it is NOT possible to study Celtic without a second subject at Oxford.
The course is designed to be manageable for beginners and to allow students to concentrate on Irish or on Welsh, or more usually, to study both together. Those who already have an A Level in one Celtic language will, in the first year, be encouraged to do some introductory work in a different Celtic language.
During the first three terms, leading up to the Preliminary Examination, students receive several hours of intensive language teaching per week, as well as literature teaching conducted mainly in small seminars and personal tutorials. An advantage of the small size of the Celtic Studies department (relative to larger schools such as English or History) is that, with a mixture of one-to-one and small-group teaching, it can offer students flexibility according to their level.
The course for the second and final years (Honours) allows students to balance medieval and modern papers, but the range of options is considerably more extensive on the medieval side. For anyone with medieval interests the course provides an opportunity to study more obscure texts alongside those more commonly read and thus to gain a real familiarity with the language and literature of the British and Irish as it developed and flowered for a period of over a thousand years.