Today on BBC Radio London, ahead of the England vs. Italy Euro 2020 men’s football final, I joined Sangita Myska and fellow-guest Marcus Ryder MBE to discuss what it means to be English in the UK today.
I offered some brief input on this complex topic from the perspective of an early medieval archaeologist.
It was my first-ever stint on a major radio show and it was a chance to discuss the controversial issues surrounding the significance of the story of early medieval ‘English’ origins and the nature of the Anglo-Saxons in current discourse.
I started off by mentioning the contradiction that we claim being ‘English’ matters and we (as a nation) care about the heritage of England and the English, and yet we are seeing the defunding of academic subjects – including medieval English, history and archaeology – which seek to explore two millennia of this story and more. For example, and in the forefront of my mind, tomorrow we learn whether the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield will close.
I then made mention of the need to combat simplistic and racial narratives of Englishness, how the connections and origins of England were complex, involving ongoing and varied contacts and immigrations. I say this based on hard archaeological evidence in the 5th-7th centuries AD. I then tackled how the Victorian origins of Anglo-Saxon archaeology created a racialised vision of English origins using (in part) archaeological evidence. I mentioned an example of the importance of interpreting burial data in terms of networks of communications using the Sutton Hoo Mound 1 ship-burial’s interpretation. Finally, I talked about how Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke were linear monuments constructed to divide us, but we can celebrate their redundancy; they are a part of a borderlands story in which Englishness is but one element. I’m hoping I got some of my points across ok!
Here’s the link if you wish to listen in: my section is from c. 1 hour 35 mins to 1 hour 58 minutes: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09m5mjp
I’m very grateful for this opportunity to speak on this topic and thanks for the recommendation by Claire Millington.
For context, here’s a link to my Aeon article on the importance of an Anglo-Saxon archaeology for all.