I have co-organized and facilitated three events that share Old English with non-expert as well as academic audiences in creative, interactive ways. These “wordhords” have taken place in public spaces where attendees created visual collages of Old English words. Words, both Old English and modern (to be translated), were crowdsourced through attendees as well as social media prior to the event.
The first of these events was Disclosure: old words made new, which took place at Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park (London). This was one of a series of events organized for Colm Cille’s Spiral, a UK City of Culture 2013 programmed event, co-directed by Clare Lees of King’s College London and Difference Exchange. The project was imagined, planned and organized by a group of (then) postgraduate students from King’s College London, including Fran Allfrey, Rebecca Hardie, Carl Kears, Kathryn Maude, James Paz, Victoria Walker, and myself (Hana Videen). We were assisted by KCL staff members Josh Davies and Clare Lees.
As preparation for the event, we invited people to submit their favourite Old English words on social media. With these we made a list of word “donations” to use at the event.
The event took place in November 2013. Furtherfield Gallery provided us with a blank wall and we arrived armed with paintbrushes and cans of black paint. Our attendees were comprised of local families and dog‑walkers who happened to be passing by as well as students and academics who had come specifically for the event. Some people remembered studying Beowulf in translation in school or seeing the film. Others had taken an Old English module at university. Attendees could choose an Old English word of their own to paint on our wall, or if they didn’t have a word of their own, we let them choose from our word donation list. We explained the meanings of the words and explored their modern cognates, and then the attendees added them to our “wordhord”. (For more about the Old English wordhord, visit the About page.)
By the end of the afternoon, our wordhord looked like this.
You can see scildweall (shield‑wall) painted with a shield and a wall, and also treow (tree, truth) with its tree-shaped capital “T”. Quite a few words were painted at childʹs height, mysterious and like fantastical words like wyrm (dragon/snake/worm) and wyrd (fate). Some of the kids painted their names or smiley faces beside their work. There was a stick-figure illustration of a battle, an exclamation mark, and some hashtags. One woman wanted to know the word for “warrior‑queen” and because none of us could provide an answer, in true scop (poet) fashion, we made up our own compound: cempacwen (literally “warrior‑queen”). A young girl painted her name on the wall: Teagan. We thought the name looked a lot like an Old English verb, so we looked it up and discovered it’s Old English for “to dress” or “to prepare”. Teagan had unwittingly taught us a new word!
A week or so after Disclosure, I had the idea to start an Old English Word of the Day Twitter account (@OEWordhord). (Read more about that on the About page.
The second “wordhord” event was in June 2014: Midsummer Water Day. Midsummer Water Day was devised as an opportunity to bring together researchers from across King’s College London to explore the significances and meanings of water across different academic disciplines (biological, cultural, linguistic, etc). It was staged to coincide with the installation of Amy Sharrocks’s Museum of Water exhibit at Somerset House in London.
We had a series of activities at this event, including a “sound hoard” of us reading Old English poetry, fill-in-the-manuscript drawing stations, and magnetic poetry. To prepare for this event, we again compiled a list of Old English words (this time water-related words) on social media and asked visitors to add their favourites to our wordhord. The Old English Wæter-hord project was created, organized, and run by KCL postgraduates Fran Allfrey, Francesca Brooks, Rebecca Hardie, Carl Kears, Kathryn Maude, Victoria Walker, and myself, with help from Josh Davies, Zach Hines, Clare Lees, and James Paz.
The third “wordhord” event took place in November 2014 at the University of Southampton. Catherine Clarke and I co-organized the event Old English Flashmob to celebrate the launch of the university’s first-year module “Multimedia Old English: Song, Skin and Cyberspace”. Fellow KCL postgraduates Fran Allfrey and Victoria Walker joined me in running the event.
The aim of Flashmob was to engage students and faculty as well as the general public with Old English and early medieval culture. Participants had the opportunity to handle replicas of early medieval artefacts, sample mead (a drink made from fermented honey), and add to our “wordhord”, a visual collage of Old English words.
Here’s my own “Saxon selfie”.