Anglo-Saxon Plant-Name Survey

First Annual Report, January 2000


ASPNS was accepted as a research project of the Institute for the Historical Study of Language (IHSL) in a letter from IHSL’s Director, Dr Jeremy Smith, dated 23rd February 1999. The IHSL is based in the Department of English Language, University of Glasgow, U.K.

Prior to the 23rd February, I had explored the potential of the project from the autumn of 1998 onwards. While searching for existing publications on Anglo-Saxon plant-names, I had drawn up a draft version of a bibliography, and a list of scholars who had previously published on the subject. I also extracted a list of Old English plant-names from the Thesaurus of Old English by Jane Roberts and Christian Kay with Lynne Grundy (London, 1995), and held preliminary discussions as to the viability of the project with Professor Christian Kay of the Department of English Language, University of Glasgow.

After the acceptance of ASPNS as an IHSL research project, I proceeded to develop an ‘introductory package’ to send out to scholars who might wish to take part in the work, and I also began to produce material for an ASPNS web-site. The first version of the web-site was set up by Mrs Jean Anderson, STELLA Project Manager, and Mr Ewan MacLean, Technical Programmer, both of the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute, University of Glasgow. It consisted, at that time, of a general introduction to the project, and a few useful links. The URL is http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/EngLang/ihsl/projects/plants.htm

The introductory package developed for distribution to researchers, consisted of an ‘Announcement and Invitation’, a ‘General Introduction’, a ‘Guidelines for Contributors’, a ‘List of Plant-Names and Existing Lexical Studies’, and the first issue of the ‘ASPNS Bibliography’. By this time, the logo of ASPNS had been established as an aspen leaf, and headed stationery had been produced.

The intention of the introductory package was, firstly, to let potentially interested people know about the new project, and, secondly, to invite them to take part, either as contributing authors or as expert advisers. The project is predominantly semantic, but the elucidation of meaning in a historical context is often greatly facilitated by input from various other disciplines, and the intention was always to use that evidence in researching the definition of plant-names, and the place of particular plants in Anglo-Saxon society. The range of disciplines which have the potential to help with Anglo-Saxon plant-studies is immense, and includes botany, archaeobotany, landscape studies, Latin, Old Norse, Celtic, dyeing technology, agriculture, food, medicine, and much more. It was clear that a broad range of expert advisers would play a vital role in the work.

The first batch of introductory packages was posted on 23rd April 1999, and other batches followed in July and August. Thereafter, introductory packages were sent to individuals as they were tracked down. One of the pleasures of administering ASPNS in those early months was the kind response of so many respected and usually hard-pressed academics to this request to join the project. At the time of writing this report, there are eight contributing authors and twenty-seven expert advisers.

Meanwhile, it had been decided in March 1999 that there should be an ASPNS symposium to be held in the University of Glasgow in April 2000, and the co-organisers, myself and Christian Kay, set about the arrangements.

In November, two bibliographies were added to the ASPNS web-site: a revised and expanded version of the first ASPNS Bibliography and my Anglo-Saxon Studies: a Select Bibliography, now in its third edition. The ASPNS Bibliography, revised by me, benefitted greatly from the contributions of Dr Debby Banham to the ‘Agriculture, Horticulture and Food History’ section, of Dr Allan Hall to the ‘Dye and Textile History’ section, and of Prof. Mats Rydén to several sections in connection with Scandinavian publications.

This first annual report gives me the opportunity to thank all those who have decided to carry out research for ASPNS, and all those who have so kindly offered their expertise to the project. Prof. Kay and myself look forward to a happy and useful first symposium, and then it will be time to plunge, in earnest, into the jungle of the plant-names of Anglo-Saxon England.


Dr C.P. Biggam, Director of ASPNS
4th January 2000


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