Not “Anglo-Saxon”

Medieval studies is a field rife with white supremacist views, in both its treatment of historical knowledge as well as its treatment of BIPOC scholars.

It wasn’t long ago that I was using “Anglo-Saxon” to refer to the people of early medieval England — in fact, the word appears in the title of my doctoral dissertation. Since completing my doctoral work, I’ve learned that “Anglo-Saxon” has had a racist history since at least as early as the nineteenth century, both in Europe and in America. Additionally, it was a term very rarely used by people during the Middle Ages. By the time the kingdom of England was unified (to some extent) in the tenth century, people would have referred to it as the kingdom of the English (or Englisc), not of the Anglo-Saxons.

For the past few years, scholars have debated what the least problematic, most appropriate alternative to “Anglo-Saxon” would be. I have switched to using “early medieval” and “English”, broader terms that more accurately reflect the diversity of this historical period. I myself am a “medievalist” or “medieval scholar”. Language matters.

To learn why the term “Anglo-Saxon” is racist, inaccurate and misleading, I highly recommend checking out the resources below. Additionally, Erik Wade has an excellent summary thread on Twitter.

2016. Sierra Lomuto. “White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies”, In the Middle.

“Without a racial consciousness, Medieval Studies in general will only continue to perpetuate a myth of white European supremacy that white nationalists can latch onto for justification and validation for their racist belief system.”

Sierra Lomuto (2016)

2017. Adam Miyashiro. “Decolonizing Anglo-Saxon Studies: A Response to ISAS in Honolulu”, In the Middle.

2018. Mary Rambaran-Olm. “Anglo-Saxon Studies [Early English Studies], Academia and White Supremacy”, Medium.

“Historically, Early English studies was perceived, taught and studied within an Empirical framework which most often created an implicit bias surrounding ‘British’ origins. The perpetuated false narrative continues to prevent students of color from connecting with the texts, and in short, drives away both students and scholars of color — people who, like me, grow tired of constantly being asked to justify their existence in a field assumed to belong to white people.”

Mary Rambaran-Olm (2018)

2019. Matthew Gabriele & Mary Rambaran-Olm. “The Middle Ages Have Been Misused by the Far Right. Here’s Why It’s So Important to Get Medieval History Right”, TIME.

2020. David Wilton. “What Do We Mean by Anglo-Saxon? Pre-Conquest to the Present”, Journal of English and Germanic Philology. (This article is behind a paywall but Erik Wade gives a summary thread on Twitter.)

2021. Mary Rambaran-Olm & Erik Wade. “The Many Myths of the Term ‘Anglo-Saxon'”, Smithsonian Magazine.

“Historically speaking, the name ‘Anglo-Saxon’ has more connection to white hoods than boar-decorated helmets.”

Mary Rambaran-Olm & Erik Wade (2021)

A far more thorough list of resources has been compiled by Mary Rambaran-Olm, which you can read here on Medium.