Full Description

The Celtic Languages and Cultural Identity: A Multidisciplinary Synthesis

The ‘Celticity Project’ takes its impetus from the fact that those things termed ‘Celtic’ are today simultaneously of growing general interest, controversial (in both the academic and political arenas), and poorly understood. In this period, with the turbulent course of European integration on the one hand, and devolution to the cultural regions and nations within nations on the other, experts in Celtic studies are uniquely placed to illuminate the reality of the historical and cultural relations of Ireland, Britain, mainland Europe, and their respective parts. However, owing to the universal centrifugal tendency of academic specialization, a view of the big picture is a rarity and liable to be individualistically subjective. Too few scholars venture out of their preferred discipline, period, and geographic domain. And of those few, too many fall into the trap of duelling with shades – synthesizing or criticizing what the linguists or archaeologists thought a generation ago.

Therefore, we embarked on a major project which amounted to swimming upstream against the more usual pattern of funded research these days. Rather than staking out a discrete bit of under-exploited turf to explore and publish more-or-less fully, we were aiming for that ‘big picture’ invoked above – Celticity and Celtic studies in both their totality and in quantifiable significant detail.

In order to achieve this, the project’s principal investigator and leader, Professor John T. Koch, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre and a recognized authority on the early Celtic languages and literatures, and main co-investigator Professor James P. Mallory, Queen’s University, Belfast, a world-renowned archaeologist and prolific writer on the subjects of Ireland in the Bronze and Iron Ages, Indo-European Studies, and the saga literature of medieval Ireland, assembled a prestigious Advisory Panel of international senior scholars to provide a wide range of important perspectives on Celticity from a breadth of geographical and disciplinary vantages. The Panel has included Professor Robin Chapman Stacey of the University of Washington, Seattle, Professor Barry Cunliffe of Oxford, Professor William Gillies of Edinburgh, the late Professor Gwenaël Le Duc of Rennes II, Professor Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha of the National University of Ireland Galway, Professor Pádraig Ó Riain of the National University of Ireland Galway Cork, Professor Peter Schrijver of Munich (now Utrecht), and Professor Stefan Zimmer of Bonn. These scholars lent their support to a team of young researchers from America, Germany, Holland, Ireland and Wales based at the Centre which has included the promising young scholars Caroline aan de Wiel, Peter Busse, Marion Löffler, Raimund Karl, Antone Minard, Simon Ó Faoláin, Britta Schultze-Thulin, and Esther Roberts, together with the experienced academic editor Marian Beech Hughes and bibliographer Anne Holley.

The time spanned by the research undertaken extends from later prehistory to the present. (In the modern world, the Celtic countries occupy a special place, as the corner of the Old World closest to the New with a massive impact through emigration.) The evidence gathered encompasses early linguistic material for the Celtic languages and evidence for the non-linguistic culture, particularly the archaeologically defined material culture with its own typology and distribution. Thus linguistic and material evidence for Celticity which for too long had been researched in isolation was combined. The purpose of the research has been to produce several major publications and research tools which would at once be innovative and multidisciplinary in their approach and ground-breaking in their completeness as reference works:

Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, edited by project leader Professor John T. Koch, was published simultaneously in print and e-book format in December 2005. As a comprehensive multidisciplinary work, the Encyclopedia exceeds in both scope and depth any resource previously available for Celtic studies, providing an up-to-date and detailed overview covering all aspects of the languages, literatures, history, archaeology, and cultures of the Celtic world from later prehistory to the present. Celtic Culture is an imposing set of five volumes, comprising 1,500,000 words (approximately), in 1,569 entries by 338 contributing experts representing the leading edge of research currently being carried out at all centres of Celtic studies around the world, with 367 illustrations, including 59 maps. A 220-page, 10,000-item bibliography in Volume 5, including both original manuscript sources and modern scholarship, is an invaluable research tool in its own right. Utility has been maximized with a clear and thorough system of internal cross-references and an 8,000-subject general index. In the final stages of the Centre’s work on the Encyclopedia in 2005, Marian Hughes and Glenys Howells assisted John T. Koch with meticulous editing and proofreading of the gargantuan work, brought forward at the Centre to the point of fully typeset and designed, press-ready digital files in PDF format. Celtic Culture was launched in the Drwm in the National Library of Wales on 3 March 2006, the International Day of the Book, with keynote speeches by the Centre’s Director Geraint H. Jenkins, Andrew Green, Librarian of the National Library of Wales, and Gwerfyl Pierce Jones, Director of the Welsh Books Council. Our warm thanks are due to members of the Celticity Project’s Advisory Panel for the generosity and value of their input, as well as to all of the contributors and to Ron Boehm, President of ABC-Clio publishers, for his unswerving commitment to the project over its five-year life. Also to be included in the roll call of the Encyclopedia’s versatile in-house team over the years are Dr Peter Busse, Anne Holley, Dr Raimund Karl, Dr Marion Löffler, Dr Antone Minard, Simon Ó Faoláin, Esther Elin Roberts, Will Slocombe, Heike Vieth, and Caroline aan de Wiel.

An Atlas for Celtic Studies

Compiled by John T. Koch in collaboration with Raimund Karl, Antone Minard, and Simon Ó Faoláin, and published in November 2007, An Atlas for Celtic Studies  combines thousands of Celtic place- and group names, as well as Celtic inscriptions and other sorts of mappable linguistic evidence, with 358 archaeological distributions. Rather than selecting evidence to illustrate a preconceived narrative ‘Story of the Celts’, the aim of the Atlas is to empower the reader with extensive-to-exhaustive collections of a wide range of evidence, lucidly presented, to show the geographic relationship of Celtic-language and non-linguistic cultural evidence, permitting any number of directions for future research and interpretation. The print Atlas consists of 64 oversize pages of colour maps alongside black and white pages of thorough explanatory text, theoretical discussion, references, map details, and index. Digital maps and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) source files of the maps will be made available as disk files, which will prove an invaluable resource for archaeologists and geographers.
A Lexicon of the Celtic World
The successfully completed AHRC-funded project also involved ground-breaking work on the cultural implications of the semantics of the Proto-Celtic lexicon. ‘Cesair’, a vast interactive English–Early Irish semantic database based on the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language and developed by Celticity Project co-director Professor James Mallory of Queen’s University Belfast, is now on line.


Additional resources:

The Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to view the following PDF files. It may be downloaded (free of charge) from here.

Example pages from the Atlas:

1. Introduction to the Brittany maps [PDF: 48KB]

2. Maps of Brittany  [PDF: 692KB]

3. Early Medieval Brittany  [PDF: 2.4MB]