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, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton.

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


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 centuries, when many of these classical authors were rediscovered, 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 the Goidelic languages. 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 an 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' trail-blazing 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] Written 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 firm 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 professor of linguistics at the Ludwig Maximilian University of 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; but he is best 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 ("Handbook of Old Irish", 1909), 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 but returned to Germany in 1955 to teach at Ludwig Maximilians 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 in Celtic studies has not been instituted 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. 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, but 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 (in the Netherlands).[9][10] 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.[11]

Celtic studies in Ireland and Britain

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

From the mid-nineteenth century on, Celtic Studies have been formally offered in Irish and UK universities. Eugene O'Curry was appointed professor of Irish history and archaeology at the Catholic University of Ireland in 1854. Sir John Rhys became the first Jesus Professor of Celtic at the University of Oxford in 1874. In 1882, Donald MacKinnon was appointed to the Chair of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh. 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.

Fourteen universities in the United Kingdom have Celtic Studies departments and courses, the top five rated as of 2017 are; (1) Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at University of Cambridge (2) Welsh and Celtic Studies at Bangor University (3) Welsh and Celtic Studies at Cardiff University (4) Celtic and Gaelic at University of Glasgow (5) Irish and Celtic Studies at Queen's University, Belfast.

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.The University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies runs the Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone Project,[12] whose Senior Fellow and Project Leader is Professor John T. Koch,[13] 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".[14][14][15]

The XV International Congress of Celtic Studies was held at the University of Glasgow in 2015. In 2019, the congress will be held at Bangor University.

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[16] 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[17] 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,[18] Saint Mary's University, Halifax,[19] Simon Fraser University,[20] the University of Guelph[21] and the University of Ottawa.[22]

In the United States, Harvard University is notable for their Doctorate program in Celtic studies.[23] Celtic studies are also offered at the universities of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,[24] CaliforniaBerkeley,[25] CaliforniaLos Angeles,[26] Bard College,[27] and many others,[28][29] including programs in which a student may minor, like at the College of Charleston.[30]

Celtic studies in France

In 1804, the Académie Celtique was founded with the goal of unearthing the Gallic past of the French people. France also 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.

The University of Western Brittany (Brest) offers a two-year, an international European-Union certified master's degree course entitled “Celtic languages and Cultures in Contact”. It is part of the Centre for Breton and Celtic Research (CRBC). Thanks to its partnerships with the Ulster University (Coleraine), the University College Dublin and the Aberystwyth University, this master's degree programme is one of a few in the world to offer students the possibility of learning all of the medieval and modern Celtic languages and cultures. Given that students come from around the world, nearly all classes are taught through English and those which are not have English-language supports. The last semester of the second year will be spent abroad at a partner institution in one of the Celtic countries.

Closely linked to this MA programme, the University of Western Brittany organizes an intensive two-week Summer School in Breton Language and Cultural Heritage Studies every year in June. This Summer School is also sponsored by the Centre for Breton and Celtic Research (CRBC) and welcomes scholars from around the world with an interest in the Celtic (and minority) languages and cultures to study Breton, the least known of the living Celtic languages. It is a little-known fact that, next to Welsh, Breton is the most widely spoken Celtic language nowadays. As with the MA programme, all the language classes are taught through the medium of English providing participants with an excellent opportunity to study the only Celtic language to have survived on the continent of Europe.

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.[31]

Celtic studies elsewhere

Celtic studies are also taught at other universities elsewhere in Europe, including the Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic),[32] University of Poznań (Poland),[33] The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland), Moscow State University (Russia),[34]Uppsala University (Sweden)[35]

Irish studies are taught at the University of Burgos (Spain)[36] and the University of A Coruña (Galicia).[37] 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),[38] which also hosts the triennial Australian Conference of Celtic Studies.

Areas of Celtic studies

Notable Celticists

Notable academic journals

See also


  1. 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 (in German)
  4. Celtic Studies (in German)
  5. Current Courses (in German)
  6. Scottish Studies Centre Archived October 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. Celtic Studies prospectus Archived 2007-01-02 at the Wayback Machine (in German)
  8. Celtic Studies (in German)
  9. Keltische talen en cultuur (in Dutch)
  10. Celtic languages and culture
  11. Marc Schneiders, "Hamel, Anton Gerard van (1886-1945)." Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland 5 (Den Haag 2002).
  12. "Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone Project". Archived from the original on 8 July 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  13. Koch, John. "Professor John Koch". Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  14. Affairs, Communications and Public. "Aberystwyth University - News & Events". Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  15. "O'Donnell Lecture 2008 Appendix" (PDF).
  16. Celtic Studies.
  17. Celtic Studies Archived April 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. Celtic Studies Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. "Saint Mary's University - Irish Studies - Home". Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  20. "Centre for Scottish Studies - Simon Fraser University". Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  21. "Centre for Scottish Studies". Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  22. "Research - Department of Modern Languages and Literatures - University of Ottawa". Retrieved 1 January 2017.
  23. See Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures.
  24. Center for Celtic Studies
  25. Celtic Studies Archived May 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  26. Celtic Studies.
  27. Irish and Celtic Studies Archived December 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  28. date=June 24, 2014.
  29. (in French) Ofis ar Brezhoneg: Enseignement bilingue
  30. Centre for Irish Studies.
  31. Centre for Celtic Studies
  32. Department of Germanic and Celtic Linguistics Archived April 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine (in Russian).
  33. The Celtic Section at Uppsala Archived April 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine (in Swedish)
  34. The Spanish Association for Irish Studies (in Spanish)
  35. University Institute of Research in Irish Studies, A Coruña, Galicia Archived 2011-09-01 at the Wayback Machine
  36. "Celtic Studies - Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences - The University of Sydney - Australia". Retrieved 1 January 2017.


  • Busse, Peter E. "Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie." In Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopedia, ed. J.T. Koch. 5 vols: vol. 5. Santa Barbara et al., 2006. p. 1823.

Further reading

  • Brown, Terence (ed.). Celticism. Studia imagologica 8. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996.
  • Fischer, Joachim and John Dillon (eds.). The correspondence of Myles Dillon, 1922-1925: Irish-German relations and Celtic studies. Dublin: Four Courts, 1999.
  • Huther, Andreas. "'In Politik verschieden, in Freundschaft wie immer': The German Celtic scholar Kuno Meyer and the First World War." In The First World War as a clash of cultures, ed. Fred Bridgham. Columbia (SC): Camden House, 2006. pp. 231–44. ISBN 1-57113-340-2.
  • Koch, John T. "Celtic Studies." In A century of British medieval studies, ed. Alan Deyermond. British Academy centenary monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. pp. 235–61. ISBN 978-0-19-726395-2. RHS record
  • Mac Mathúna, Séamus. "The History of Celtic Studies in Russia and the Soviet Union." In Parallels between Celtic and Slavic. Proceedings of the First International Colloquium of Societas Celto-Slavica held at Coleraine 19–21 June 2005, ed. Séamus Mac Mathúna and Maxim Fomin. Studia Celto-Slavica 1. Coleraine, 2006.
  • Meek, Donald E. "'Beachdan Ura à Inbhir Nis / New opinions from Inverness.' Alexander MacBain (1855-1907) and the foundation of Celtic studies in Scotland." Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 131 (2001). pp. 23–39. ISSN 0081-1564.
  • Ó Lúing, Seán. Celtic studies in Europe and other essays. Dublin: Geography Publications, 2000.
  • Schneiders, Marc and Kees Veelenturf. Celtic studies in the Netherlands: a bibliography. Dublin: DIAS, 1992.
  • Sims-Williams, Patrick. "Celtomania and Celtoscepticism." Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 36 (1998): pp. 1–35.
  • Wiley, Dan. "Celtic studies, early history of the field." In Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopaedia, ed. J.T. Koch. Santa Barbara et al., 2006.
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