The Gersum Project: Follow-On Funding

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic


The vocabulary of Standard English includes approximately 600 words from Old Norse, the language of the Scandinavian newcomers who settled in Britain from the 9th to the 11th centuries (popularly known as 'the Vikings'). They tend to be everyday words (e.g. husband, skin, window; happy, ill, ugly; cast, die, scare), even personal pronouns (e.g. they), prepositions (e.g. until) and conjunctions (though). Many more terms are still used in the modern dialects of the areas where the Vikings originally settled (i.e. the so-called Danelaw; e.g. dale, fell, gowk; bain, gormless, mickle; attle, flit, laik). The Gersum Project has revolutionised the way in which we identify Norse loans in English by developing an innovative classification based on the reliability of the evidence for Norse derivation. A freely accessible online database classifying over 900 terms, a collection of essays and a series of journal articles will make our findings available to the academic community and other interested readers. We have also built a significant public engagement agenda, delivering 17 public talks, taking part in 4 radio interviews, etc. These activities have evidenced non-academic audiences' interest in the effects that the country's multicultural past has had on the English language, both at the local and national level.

With this follow-on project we aim to widen the public impact of our work by developing activities and resources that focus primarily on two sectors: education (primary and secondary school children and their teachers) and cultural heritage. We will:

1. Develop a series of online age-appropriate educational resources that will shape the way in which the lasting cultural impact of the Viking presence in England is taught in thousands of primary and secondary schools across the country. The resources will focus on present and past manifestations of Norse-derived words in English in general and the northern dialects in particular, with special emphasis on the North-West Midlands (the area where the texts included in the Gersum corpus originate). The resources will include written content, audio recordings by speakers from different dialectal areas, video recordings of lectures by the Gersum Team and other experts, interactive activities and downloadable resources that can be used in the classroom. Recent changes in the History A-level curriculum of the OCR examining board, where the prominence of this topic has significantly increased, underpin the timeliness of these resources.

2. Establish focus groups with teachers and examination board members, a teacher panel and training sessions in the use of the resources. Collaborating with the relevant stakeholders throughout the project and having the support of various educational organisations will enable us to create relevant and engaging resources that can be widely publicised and used.

3. Train York Archaeological Trust's (YAT; our project partner) front-of-house staff (particularly those working at the JORVIK Viking Centre) in topics concerning the Vikings and their presence in England, with particular focus on their linguistic impact. Need for training has arisen as a result of JORVIK's closure from 2015 to 2017 because of flood damage and subsequent staff changes. We will also provide YAT with a staff training manual for future use and linguistic information for their virtual learning environment.

4. Hold two family days at St Mary's Creative Space (Chester), in conjunction with Cheshire Record Office, and YAT's Barley Hall (York), respectively, as part of the nationwide Being Human festival, where visitors of all ages will be invited to explore the rich linguistic heritage of these dialectal areas through a series of activities aimed at different ages, including arts and crafts, storytelling and public lectures. The data and feedback that we gather during these days will further help the development of our educational resources.

Planned Impact

Our project aims to generate significant cultural and financial impact in relation to the two sectors whose interests are at the core of our work (education and cultural heritage) and to the general public:

1. Education sector: our educational resources aimed at primary and secondary school pupils will support the teaching of courses about the English language (dialectal variation and diachronic change) and British history (Anglo-Scandinavian contacts during the early Middle Ages). They will provide teachers with materials that facilitate the delivery of well-informed and engaging lessons and will invite pupils to develop their knowledge further through self-study. The resources will aim to increase the pupils' interest in these subjects and hence their uptake in GCSE and A-Level courses, and, subsequently, at degree level, a particularly welcome outcome at a time when Arts and Humanities subjects are struggling to recruit students. Given the user numbers reported for the Pearson apps aimed at primary school pupils that the Gersum Team helped develop, and the fact that over 4,000 secondary schools in the country follow the OCR History and the AQA and Edexcel English Language A-Level courses, these resources will help shape the way in which these topics are taught across the country. Furthermore, by engaging teachers from over 30 schools in our focus groups, teacher panel and teacher training sessions, our work will contribute to the teachers' own professional development, a requirement for promotion.

2. Cultural heritage sector: our resources and two family days will draw attention to (and consequently, help increase the use of) the breadth of materials held by local and national institutions (primarily, the Cheshire Record Office and the British Library) for the study of past and current sociohistorical and linguistic topics which are of academic and public interest. The York Archaeological Trust (YAT), our project partners, will further benefit from our work in a number of ways: (i) by helping the Gersum Team to establish teacher focus groups, a panel and training sessions, they will strengthen and widen their existing links with local schools and, through them, the local community; (ii) the printable resources specifically linked to visits to the JORVIK Viking Centre, the linguistic information that will complement YAT's existing educational resources in their own virtual learning environment and the links to our educational resources, our training of between 10 and 20 of their front-line staff and production of a training manual for future use, and the family day to be held at YAT's Barley Hall, will all contribute to attract more visitors to their (physical and virtual) sites, thus boosting their income generation and, ultimately, facilitating the survival of this independent charity.

3. General public: the two family days, which will include hands-on activities, storytelling and public talks, will help redress views on linguistic 'correctness' and regionalism by highlighting the rich linguistic heritage of the northern dialects; this work will also have a positive impact on feelings of self-worth and the linguistic identity of the speakers of these dialects. Moreover, our training of YAT's staff will have a direct effect on visitor experience. With approximately 500,000 visitors per year, their sites are pivotal centres for the promotion of public understanding of the Scandinavian (and, more widely, sociohistorical) heritage of Yorkshire and Britain more generally.

In order to monitor the impact of our work, we will gather feedback from different sources: evaluation forms at the two family days; testimonials from teachers about the impact of our educational resources, and from YAT about our training and future uses of the training manual; and statistical information on the use of various parts of the Gersum website.


10 25 50