Brief background to the study of Anglo-Saxon boundary clauses

The study of Anglo-Saxon boundary surveys as a discrete body of data was pioneered in the early 1920s by the great G. B. Grundy who set about describing their course in the landscape in a series of ground-breaking volumes. The publications of The English Place-names Society (starting with Buckinghamshire in 1925) analysed the meaning of the place-names within the surveys, but it was Margaret Gelling who ushered in a more thorough-going onomastic and topographical approach in Volume 3 of 'The Place-Names of Berkshire' in 1976. Della Hooke greatly extended the study by looking at the boundaries through the perceptive eyes of a Historical Geographer, using fieldwork to identify the points as features on the ground, but also treating them within the larger context of local polities and regional economies. The volumes of the British Academy Anglo-Saxon Charters series root the boundaries within the context of the charters and within the diplomatic and political contexts of those charters, bringing to the study the diplomatic skill and judicious historical expertise of their specialist editors. And then there are countless one-off studies in scholarly and local publications, often (and crucially) based on detailed first-hand knowledge of the surrounding terrain.

The starting-place for any serious work involving specific boundary clauses must, then, be the entry in the Electronic Sawyer (eSawyer), where these and other studies are listed with respect to each boundary. The texts within the LangScape database have direct links to these eSawyer entries.

The LangScape Project

What, then, can a new approach offer?

Easily dealt with is LangScape's aim of bringing the Anglo-Saxon boundary surveys to the attention of a wider public and making them freely accessible in indexed and translated form on a public website.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that by bringing all the materials together, the LangScape project complements the close-focus studies mentioned above. Each text and each word can now be studied in relation to every other text and word in the corpus. This principle operates whether for the comparison of one text against other manuscript copies of the same text, or for examination of one word's context and usage against that in texts of different dates or locations.

At the heart of the project are the headwords (lemmas). Each boundary clause has been analysed into component parts and then these parts have been glossed with a headword (or a choice of several headwords) each of which holds potentially many meanings.

There are two results from this:

  1. The user can see precisely how the running translation which they will find in the secondary sources has been arrived at. They can then go to Glossaries and Dictionaries (see Old English Tutorial Further Reading ) to see what other meanings or nuances further refine this translation.
  2. The search engines can analyse the boundary clauses and bring the metadata for each text in conjunction with the linguistic material within the text in a way which has been quite impossible up to now.

The LangScape project makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel. It takes the work done in the most recent or authoritative work as its starting point when glossing and translating the texts. The user will be able to see which work has been used by looking at the list of Variant Readings in the Semi-diplomatic version of the text, and this will generally, although not always, be the one which we would recommend the user to consult.

We by no means always agree with these analyses, and we frequently present different or alternative suggestions in our glosses. What has been revealing from our methodology has been the ability to see each form not only within the context of the text but also within the context of the Glossary and all other potential headwords. This has frequently prompted entirely new interpretations and suggestions, which in turn can be tried out on the ground.

Every analysis (printed or electronic) is provisional, and users are invited to build on our suggestions and, if possible, feed back into the resource (Feedback).