Celtic studies

Celtic studies or Celtology is the academic discipline occupied with the study of any sort of cultural output relating to the Celtic people. This ranges from linguistics, literature and art history, archaeology and history, the focus lying on the study of the various Celtic languages, living and extinct.[1] The primary areas of focus are the six Celtic languages currently in use: Irish, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Cornish, and Breton.

As a university subject, it is taught at a number of universities worldwide, most of them in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and France, but also in the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Poland, Austria and the Netherlands.

The Celtic nations, where most Celtic speakers are now concentrated

History (16th–19th century)

Written studies of the Celts, their cultures and their languages go back to classical Greek and Latin accounts, possibly beginning with Hecataeus in the 6th century BC[1] and best known through such authors as Polybius, Posidonius, Pausanias, Diodorus Siculus, Julius Caesar and Strabo. Modern Celtic studies originated in the 16th and 17th century, when many of these classical authors were re-discovered, published and translated.[1]

Academic interest in Celtic languages grew out of comparative and historical linguistics, which was itself established at the end of the 18th century. In the 16th century, George Buchanan studied Gaelic. The first major breakthrough in Celtic linguistics came with the publication of Archaeologia Britannica (1707) by the Welsh scholar Edward Lhuyd, who was the first to recognise that Gaulish, British and Irish belong to the same language family.[1] He also published the English version of a study by Paul-Yves Pezron of Gaulish.

In 1767 James Parsons published his study The Remains of Japhet, being historical enquiries into the affinity and origins of the European languages. He compared a 1000-word lexicon of Irish and Welsh and concluded that they were originally the same, then comparing the numerals in many other languages.

The second big leap forwards was made when the Englishman Sir William Jones postulated that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and many other languages including "the Celtic" derived from a common ancestral language. This hypothesis, published in The Sanscrit Language (1786), would later be hailed as the discovery of the Indo-European language family, from which grew the field of Indo-European studies.[1] The Celtic languages were definitively linked to the Indo-European family over the course of the 19th century.

Although Jones' trailblazing hypothesis inspired numerous linguistic studies, of which Celtic languages were a part, it was not until Johann Kaspar Zeuss's monumental Grammatica Celtica (volume 1, 1851; volume 2, 1853) that any truly significant progress was made.[1] Composed in Latin, the work draws on the earliest Old Irish, Middle Welsh and other Celtic primary sources to construct a comparative grammar, which was the first to lay out a steady basis for Celtic linguistics.[1] Among other achievements, Zeuss was able to crack the Old Irish verb.

Celtic studies in the German-speaking world and the Netherlands

German Celtic studies (Keltologie) is seen by many as having been established by Johann Kaspar Zeuss (1806–1856) (see above). In 1847, he was appointed as a professor of linguistics in Munich. Until the middle of the 19th century, Celtic studies progressed largely as a subfield of linguistics. Franz Bopp (1791–1867) carried out further studies in comparative linguistics to link the Celtic languages to the Proto-Indo-European language. He is credited with having finally proven Celtic to be a branch of the Indo-European language family. From 1821 to 1864, he served as a professor of oriental literature and general linguistics in Berlin.

In 1896, Kuno Meyer and Ludwig Christian Stern founded the Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie (ZCP), the first academic journal solely devoted to aspects of Celtic languages and literature and still in existence today.[2] In the second half of the century, significant contributions were made by the Orientalist Ernst Windisch (1844–1918). He held a chair in Sanskrit at the University of Leipzig, however is most remembered for his numerous publications in the field of Celtic studies. In 1901, the Orientalist and Celtologist Heinrich Zimmer (1851–1910) was made professor of Celtic languages at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, the first position of its kind in Germany. He was followed in 1911 by Kuno Meyer (1858–1919), who, in addition to numerous publications in the field, was active in the Irish independence movement.

Perhaps the most important German-speaking Celticist is the Swiss scholar Rudolf Thurneysen (1857–1940). A student of Windisch and Zimmer, Thurneysen was appointed to the chair of comparative linguistics at the University of Freiburg in 1887; he succeeded to the equivalent chair at the University of Bonn in 1913. His notability arises from his work on Old Irish. For his masterwork, Handbuch des Altirischen (1909, meaning "Handbook of Old Irish"), translated into English as A Grammar of Old Irish, he located and analysed a multitude of Old Irish manuscripts. His work is considered as the basis for all succeeding studies of Old Irish.

In 1920, Julius Pokorny (1887–1970) was appointed to the chair of Celtic languages at Friedrich Wilhelm University, Berlin. Despite his support for German nationalism and Catholic faith, he was forced out of his position by the Nazis on account of his Jewish ancestry. He subsequently emigrated to Switzerland and returned to Germany again in 1955 to teach at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. In Berlin, he was succeeded in 1937 by Ludwig Mühlhausen, a devout Nazi.

After World War II, German Celtic studies took place predominantly in West Germany and Austria. Studies in the field continued at Freiburg, Bonn, Marburg, Hamburg as well as Innsbruck, however an independent professorship for Celtic studies has not yet been arranged anywhere. In this period, Hans Hartmann, Heinrich Wagner and Wolfgang Meid made notable contributions to the scientific understanding of the boundaries of the Celtic language area and the location of the homeland of the Celtic peoples. In East Germany, the Berlin chair in Celtic languages has not been occupied since 1966.

Today, Celtic studies is only taught at a handful of German universities, including those of Bonn,[3] Trier,[4] and Mannheim.[5] the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz,[6] and the Philipps University of Marburg.[7] It is also taught at the University of Vienna.[8] Only Marburg, Vienna and Bonn maintain formal programs of study, however even then usually as a subsection of comparative or general linguistics. Only Marburg offers an M.A. course specifically in Celtic Studies. No Celtic studies research has taken place in the former centres of Freiburg, Hamburg or Berlin since the 1990s. The last remaining chair in Celtic studies, that at Humboldt University of Berlin, was abolished in 1997.

The only Chair of Celtic studies in Continental Europe is at Utrecht University (the Netherlands).[9] It was established in 1923, when Celtic studies were added to the Chair of Germanic studies on the special request of its new professor A. G. van Hamel.[10]

Celtic studies in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England

Celtic studies are taught in universities in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland (see below). These studies cover language, history, archaeology and art. In addition Celtic languages are taught in schools in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Cornwall and the Isle of Man in addition to extramural courses in each Celtic language.

Scholars at the XIV International Congress of Celtic Studies, Maynooth 2011

A notable research project is the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project (CISP), which has made details of the many inscriptions in Britain available online. Work has also been carried out on the Celtic influence on the English language and on the Celtic elements in the place names of England. Books and publications on aspects of Celtic studies are numerous, a notable one being that of Kenneth H. Jackson on Language and History in Early Britain. This included chapters on all the types of Insular Celtic, including Pictish. Several journals on Celtic studies are published including Celtica and Studia Celtica.

Sir John Rhys became the first Professor of Celtic Studies at Oxford in 1874. Henry Jenner was the initiator of the revival of Cornish and the founding of the Cornish Gorseth while Robert Morton Nance founded the Old Cornwall Society. The Institute of Cornish Studies enables academic study and teaching in Cornish studies.

The University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies runs the Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone Project,[11] whose Senior Fellow and Project Leader is Professor John T. Koch,[12] where research is conducted. Professor Koch gave the O'Donnell Lecture in 2008 at Aberystwyth University titled "People called Keltoi, the La Tène Style, and ancient Celtic languages: the threefold Celts in the light of geography".[13][13][14]

The last International Congress of Celtic Studies (XIV) was held at the University of Maynooth, in August 2011.

Celtic studies in North America

While Celtic studies programs in Canada are not as widespread as they are in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England, several universities offer some Celtic studies courses, while only two universities offers a full B.A. as well as graduate courses. St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto and St. Francis Xavier University[15] offers the only B.A. of its kind in Canada with a dual focus on Celtic literature and history, while the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies at the University of Toronto[16] offers courses at a graduate level through their Centre for Medieval Studies, along with St. Francis Xavier University.

Other Canadian universities which offer courses in Celtic, Scottish or Irish studies include Cape Breton University,[17] Saint Mary's University, Halifax,[18] Simon Fraser University,[19] the University of Guelph[20] and the University of Ottawa.[21]

In the United States, Harvard University is notable for their Doctorate program in Celtic studies.[22] Celtic studies are also offered at the universities of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,[23] California, Berkeley,[24] and California, Los Angeles.[25] and Bard College.[26]

Celtic studies in France

France produced the first academic journal devoted to Celtic studies, Revue Celtique. Revue Celtique was first published in 1870 in Paris and continued until the death of its last editor, Joseph Loth, in 1934. After that point it was continued under the name Études Celtiques. In 2007, 2.8% of children in Brittany were enrolled in bilingual primary schools and the number of children enrolled in these schools is steadily growing.[27]

Celtic studies elsewhere

Celtic studies are also taught at other universities elsewhere in Europe, including the Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic),[28] University of Poznań (Poland),[29] Moscow State University (Russia),[30]Uppsala University (Sweden)[31]

Irish studies are taught at the University of Burgos (Spain)[32] and the University of A Coruña (Galicia).[33] Galicia also has its own Institute for Celtic Studies.

Celtic Studies are taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at the University of Sydney (Australia),[34] which also hosts the triennial Australian Conference of Celtic Studies.

Areas of Celtic studies

Notable Celticists

Notable academic journals

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wiley, ""Celtic studies, early history of the field" (2006).
  2. Busse, "Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie." In Celtic Culture, ed. Koch: p. 1823
  3. Celtic Studies at the University of Bonn (German)
  4. Celtic Studies (German)
  5. Current Courses (German)
  6. Scottish Studies Centre Archived October 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. Celtic Studies prospectus (German)
  8. Celtic Studies (German)
  9. Celtic languages and culture
  10. Marc Schneiders, "Hamel, Anton Gerard van (1886-1945)." Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 5 (Den Haag 2002).
  11. "Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone Project". Archived from the original on 8 July 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  12. Koch, John. "Professor John Koch". Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  13. 1 2 http://www.aber.ac.uk/aberonline/en/archive/2008/05/au7608/
  14. "O'Donnell Lecture 2008 Appendix" (PDF).
  15. Celtic Studies.
  16. Celtic Studies Archived April 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine..
  17. Celtic Studies Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine..
  18. Irish Studies
  19. Centre for Scottish Studies
  20. Scottish Studies
  21. Chair of Celtic Studies
  22. See Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures.
  23. Center for Celtic Studies.
  24. Celtic Studies Archived May 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  25. Celtic Studies.
  26. Irish and Celtic Studies Archived December 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. (French) Ofis ar Brezhoneg: Enseignement bilingue
  28. Centre for Irish Studies.
  29. Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures Archived April 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine..
  30. Department of Germanic and Celtic Linguistics Archived April 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. (Russian).
  31. The Celtic Section at Uppsala Archived April 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. (Swedish)
  32. The Spanish Association for Irish Studies (Spanish)
  33. University Institute of Research in Irish Studies, A Coruña, Galicia
  34. Celtic Studies - University of Sydney


Further reading

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