Old English lives: outside Oxford

May 19, 2000

It is hard to disagree with Cunningham's cheerful valediction to compulsory Old English at Oxford. In the university marketplace the onus is on those who teach it to make it attractive (which is frankly not difficult and some of them do it very well). But is this an occasion for rejoicing?

I doubt that in 1965 I would have opted for Old English - not because it seemed difficult, but because, coming from Leeds, I already spoke it fluently. Had I not been obliged to learn it, I further doubt that 35 years later I would have found myself publishing verse translations and a book on Anglo-Saxon poetry. The long-term benefits of education are far less quantifiable than is dreamt of in the skills agenda.

Graham Holderness

Dean of humanities, languages and education

University of Hertfordshire

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