Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC)

The Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic Tripos is concerned with the history, literature, language and material culture of Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia in the early medieval period (from about the fifth century to the twelfth). It appeals to anyone with an interest in medieval history and/or literature and/or early languages, and in particular to those who would like to continue their study of both literary and historical topics at the same time. No previous knowledge of the subject is either expected or assumed. 

The subject as studied is very much source-based and students are taught how to analyse different kinds of primary evidence and to read texts in their original languages.

The range of subjects on offer is wide and varied, enabling students to place the emphasis where they choose. Most will combine language and literature papers with historical ones. However, it is also possible to focus predominantly on history, on the one hand, or on language and literature, on the other, or to study mainly Celtic or Germanic peoples.

Whatever a student’s subject choices, study of them will involve getting to the heart of the matter, the original manuscript work or artefact ever at the core.

A short introduction to Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (ASNC) at St John's College from Professor Máire Ní Mhaonaigh


Course information

The course is divided into Part I (two years) and Part II (one year), and skills acquired during the foundation years of the course (Part I) are applied at a more advanced level at Part II, as students pursue their own particular interests in greater depth.

Six papers (courses) are taken in Part I, and may include Anglo-Saxon History, Scandinavian History, Gaelic History, Brittonic History, Insular Latin Language and Literature, Old English Language and Literature, Old Norse Language and Literature, Medieval Welsh Language and Literature, Medieval Irish Language and Literature, Palaeography and Codicology, as well as papers borrowed from other degree programmes (e.g. English, History, Archaeology, Medieval and Modern Languages).

Students choose five options for Part II, one of which is a dissertation on a topic of their choice, and as the opportunities for original research are great in our subject, many of these have made a real contribution to scholarship.

Choosing St John's 

Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic has a long, distinguished tradition at St John’s. In fact, the earliest manuscript in the College Library is a tenth-century Irish manuscript known as the ‘Southampton Psalter’ acquired by the College in the sixteenth century. The Library has acquired much additional material in our subject since then!

ASNC students are entitled to generous book grants to enable them to purchase essential works, as well as financial assistance towards attending language courses and visiting sites in Britain, Ireland, Brittany and Scandinavia. Moreover, Trinity College Dublin is one of St John’s two ‘sister’ colleges. 

The College Archivist also offers free Palaeography lessons (the study of old handwriting) held in the School of Pythagoras, the oldest building in St John's College and the oldest extant secular building in Cambridge.

St John's has a relatively large body of graduate students who very much contribute to the vibrant subject community. 

Entry Details

UCAS Code: QQ59

Typical Minimum Entry Requirements

A Level: A*AA

International Baccalaureate: 42 points, with 776 at Higher Level

Essential Subjects: None

Desirable Subjects:  No previous knowledge of the subject is expected or required; all languages are taught from scratch and we do not assume that applicants have studied early medieval history or literature at school. Useful preparation subjects can include English (Language or Literature), History, a language (ancient or modern).

Submitted Work: In advance of interview you will be asked to submit 2 school/college essays as examples of written work.

Pre/At-interview Assessment: None.


Admissions Interview

Those who are invited to attend for interview will have two interview each lasting approximately 25 minutes with the Director of Studies and subject specialists. The aim of these interviews is to find out about your motivation and aptitude for Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic. We will not assume any knowledge of the subjects we teach but will be interested in how you approach language, literature and history, the three key areas of our course of study. To this end, we may ask you about certain topics you have studied at school, or about other relevant activities you have undertaken.

Candidates will be asked to consider a piece of text, or an image, or a map. The interviewers will discuss aspects of the text or image as part of the interview process.

We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them. Requests for remote interviews will be considered.

Information regarding interview dates and arrangements


Career Destinations

ASNC students acquire many transferable skills over the course of their degree programme, including critical thinking, source analysis, and working as part of a team. These skills, as well as their intellectual curiosity and versatility make them highly sought after by employers. They obtain jobs in a wide range of professions. These include business, banking, consultancy and management, law, teaching, the media, the heritage sector, the diplomatic and civil service to cite but a few examples.

Former ASNC students, including St John's alumna Carly Hilts, have shared their impressions of life after ASNC on the Department website.

Student Views

Nicola Ibbott, former ASNC student and John Crook Scholar

After a long break, I returned to education in 2013 to read Archaeology and Medieval History at the University of Hull. Two weeks into term I gave birth to my youngest daughter. I went on to achieve a First that year and picked up the Kingsley Prize for the best first-year performance in the History Department. 

I had a determination not to waste my long-delayed chance at university (I had expected to attend after A-Levels, but bereavement prevented this). With the encouragement of a wonderful lecturer who breathed life into Beowulf's mead-hall, I discovered an enchantment for the early medieval. Often misrepresented as the 'Dark Ages', but actually a time of beautiful poetry, bright weaponry and scintillating illuminated manuscripts - I had found my passion.

I quickly realised that I didn't want to end my academic journey there. I unearthed the Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic (ASNC) Department at Cambridge and the John Crook Scholarship. It was an epiphanic moment: it felt as if the Scholarship had been created especially for me! I decided to apply but had no expectations of actually being accepted. The interview was daunting despite the panel's friendliness, so when I found out a week later that I had been accepted, I was stunned to say the least!

At the end of June 2016, I received my results and had achieved the necessary grades, even managing to collect a few more prizes along the way. It was happening. But my excitement was tinged with nerves - I was going to leave my young family (my daughters were ten, six, and two) and move away during term time. How would they manage? How would I manage?

Upon arrival, I immediately felt that this was the place I belonged - studying a fascinating subject, in beautiful surroundings, with inspirational people all around me. I had a fantastic first year at St John's: I won the Master's Prize for my essay 'The Wife, the Warrior and the Witch: Three Women's Roles in Volsunga Saga'; achieved a First in my exams; and have subsequently been awarded a Wright Prize and Whytehead Scholarship. 

It also spurs me on that my daughters are proud of me. I was dreadfully homesick during Michaelmas term, but my family's belief in me helped. At times it was unbearable to concentrate on work, when I was worried that my daughter was ill, or that their schoolwork was suffering because they missed me, but I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderfully supportive partner and family - I couldn't do any of this without them. I cannot describe the honour in knowing my daughters see me as a role model. My academic interests lie in the role of early-medieval women and how they wielded power and influence within male-dominated societies. As such, I hope to empower my own daughters, showing them that the sky is the limit. One already aspires to read Veterinary medicine at St John's, and another to fly jets in the RAF - both careers formerly considered inappropriate for women. 

I still count my blessings, and am so grateful to the donor of the Scholarship, without whom I would never have realised my dream and full potential. Scholarships are invaluable for those who have the passion but not always the opportunity to aim for the stars. I don't want it to end here - I hope to continue and gain a Master's and PhD, for which I already have ideas...