Advantages Amazing Gaelic, Pure Literature Potential, Viking Focus, Self Study, Cheap.
Disadvantages 3-10 contact hours 24 weeks a year., no Continental Celtic, little Welsh literature
|General Standard of Tuition|
|Quality of Lectures|
|Structure of Course|
This is a review of the undergraduate degree of Celtic Studies at the University of Aberdeen. It will mostly be useful to prospective (and current) students of that subject, but, it should also be useful if you are considering a joint degree, a degree in Celtic Civilisation or considering Celtic Studies at another university.
To start off the review I’ll give a little background information. ‘Celtic Studies’ is essentially a study of culture through analysis of the languages and literature of Celtic-language speaking people. Theoretically this includes speakers of the ‘present’ languages (Welsh, Cornish, Breton; Scottish and Irish Gaelic and Manx) as well as the extinct language cultures like Cumbric, British, Gaulish, etc. However, historically and in practice Medieval Welsh and Irish are emphasised above all others.In Scotland Celtic Studies has a major strength in (Modern Scottish) Gaelic Studies. Although Gaelic modules are not required for Celtic Studies students at Aberdeen the departments of the two subjects will be merged so you’ll find Roinn na Ceiltis is na Gàidhlig (Department of Celtic and Gaelic) signs. Of all the universities in Scotland, Aberdeen has a reputation for being the most likely to produce fluent speaking students at the end of the course (the workload for ab initio learners is incredibly hard). If you’re not interested in learning Gaelic, Celtic Studies at Welsh universities is tightly linked with Welsh, at Irish Universities it’s linked with Irish and at English universities (if you can find any offering the subject) with either philology, history or comparative mythology.
Aberdeen is no exception to the general rule, and although it is possible to do Celtic Studies without touching the modern Gaelic it will just make Old Gaelic harder to pick up. Generally Aberdeen students spend most of their time interpreting the early Irish myths and sagas (especially the Táin and its remscela.) Non-Scottish history is hardly touched, but theories of literature are staples. Continental Celtic and Celtic philology is completely ignored (although there was a module on it a few years ago) and Welsh literature is ignored apart from the Mabinogion, Arthurian Literature and perhaps a small genuflection towards Taliesin (again, the other cynfeirdd were studied only a few years ago). The department is incredibly small (currently three full-time lecturers with assorted Ph.D students and honorary professors) but all of these are expert in their fields. Likewise, class sizes quickly drop from fifteen in first and second year, to one to five in third and fourth year (third and fourth year classes are combined). Celtic Civilisation classes tend to be around twice the size because they require less background and more popular, but in the Celtic Studies modules it will be just you, any postgraduates that don’t know the language you are learning, and your lecturer.For Celtic Studies very little knowledge is assumed. If you have a knowledge of pre-historic Archaeology, any foreign language (particularly a Celtic one, and particularly-particularly Gaelic), or even history or literature you will be at an advantage somewhere.
The difference between Celtic Studies and Celtic Civilisation is that the Celtic Civilisation course can only be done joint with another degree, and usually involves only texts in translation. Celtic Studies requires Old Welsh and Old Gaelic and usually students will do all the Celtic Civilisation modules as well. A strong choice for many students who don't want to do Medieval Languages is Celtic Civilisation and Gaelic Studies which lets you pick and choose all the most Celticy subjects in both. Gaelic modules are fully accredited for Celtic Studies students as well, so if you really want the workload you can do Medieval Gaelic with Early Modern Gaelic and Modern Gaelic at the same time. Celtic Civilisation also goes well with English Literature or History. I would not recommend doing it with Archaeology as the approaches to the period are completely different.
If you are currently going to college, and not enjoying it then I would say learn more about it before you write it off. You only do subjects which you actually sign up for at uni, and mainly no-one cares if you don't show up to lessons/show up drunk, with the possible exception of smaller tutorials and language classes. You are fully expected to be lazy and you can pass a few years (!) studying whatever you want and ignoring the world.For everyone else, lets get into some specifics. The course load of the modules varies considerably. Generally you can expect only 2-4 hours a week of teaching in each module, so about 4-12 depending on your module choices. You will also invariably have work to do outside of class. For the language classes about an extra hour for each hour you do in class will be enough, and for the culture classes, to do them properly you’ll be heavily reading each week, so at least the same amount, sometimes more. This, you might have noticed leads to a 10-25 hour week, so there is plenty of time to get a job/write reviews, but it might have been easier for me because I did already have a fairly good background in the subject. If you actually do more than the bare-minimum of work, and take an active interest to read everything presented to you, add an extra 7-10 hours a week onto that.
I should probably also explain a little about the Scottish degree system at the onset because it is quite complicated. The universities in Scotland are almost all fairly ancient. (Aberdeen for example was established in 1495.) Archaic universities pride themselves on their perverse regulations and therefore the Scottish undergraduate degree is four years and culminates in an M.A.hons degree. This is not unfortunately considered the equal of any other undergraduate honours course rather than a postgraduate masters degree, but nevertheless is pretty cool to have.Ignore the university calendar and pay close attention, because this is complicated! -- Aberdeen has two twelve-week terms each year, and for each term you choose modules totalling 60 credits. Students start off in the first year with three subjects, usually from three different disciplines. In Celtic studies, and most other subjects you’re likely to choose, each module is 20 credits, so you end up doing one module for each subject each term (scroll down for a module guide). In the second year you (theoretically) drop one of your subjects, and second year subjects are typically only worth 15 credits (so you end up doing two in each subject each term).
The third year is where you are considered to have started ‘honours’. Before this point you only needed to get 60% overall, and pass at least 240 (4*60) credits of modules with 40% to get into honours, but at this point your marks start actually counting towards your final degree score. This is also where the compulsory modules really begin, and at this point you make your final choice about what your degree will be on – before this point you can move around as much as you like, and you can get onto any humanities course just so long as you get sufficient background in a subject by doing some of its modules.Honours modules are worth 30 credits each (or 15 credits for Gaelic modules), so you do one each term. For Celtic Studies students these are rather fixed: you are required to do ‘Goidelic Language A+B’ and ‘Brittonic Language A+B’. While I was there Goidelic Language was Old and Middle Irish (C5-15AD) and Brittonic Language was Old and Medieval Welsh (C7-15ish). For your other modules, you have some flexibility. The most popular option would be the ‘civilisation’ modules, which are those required by those doing ‘Celtic Civilisation’ as a joint degree (Celtic Civilisation can only be done as a joint degree). More on those later…
18-20 -- first class
Every piece of work you do is given a ‘CAS mark’ out of 20:
Once you get to third year, these marks start raking up and the final degree mark goes something like this:120/240 credits at 18+ }
There are two Halls of Residence for Aberdeen as well as many student flats, mostly owned by unite. The rent is cheaper in the first of the two (as low as £60 a week for some rooms), but places are more quickly available without too much paperwork from the second. However, essentially these are all the same ‘treacherous hives of scum and villainy’ you might expect from the city. I strongly, strongly advise getting a private flat as soon as possible after you arrive, and at least in time for third year...Aberdeen’s climate is a bit of a problem for those not used to Scottish weather. Generally in the Summer, it starts getting light about 4AM and gets dark about 11PM, in the Winter, it gets light about 11AM and gets dark about 3PM. This, plus the overwhelming cold and mountains of snow in the Winter can lead quite quickly to mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, but thankfully the shape of the Aberdeen year means that the holidays run from late May-early October and late December-early February. If you can escape the city at this time, you can avoid the worst of it.
The University is based around two campuses. There is Fosterhill, which Celtic students should never have to visit, and ‘King’s College’. King’s College is about 30 minutes walk from the town centre and tightly compact. Within King’s College are the oldest buildings, but ‘the Celtic corridor’ can be found in Taylor block C. The Celtic corridor houses the Gaelic faculty and the Celtic ‘noticeboard’ which basically just lists class times. Your lecturers are unlikely to have their office there and classes move from term to term, so more then that you shall have to discover by yourself.
As opposed to the faculty staff who are as a rule, incredibly knowledgeable, scholarly and helpful, if a bit too absent-minded and sober, the librarian staff are as sulphurously tempered and fiery towards students as the messy and uncomfortable land they habituate. You, sad student, can look forward to a newly-constructed, lottery-funded, level of hell when you arrive, as a new library has recently been built which replaced the previous, easy-to-escape nightmare. Here is the library catalogue which you can peruse as a guest – (www.abdn.ac.uk/library/catalogue.shtml). Generally though, if you enter with a list of six books you want, you are likely to find three or four actually in the place they should be. At this point you need to find a free computer (usually wait 20 minutes to get one), make sure you write down the exact title and author in clear lettering and then take it to the desk. According to all student legends, at this point you must be sure not to look the librarian in the eye. There are three schools of thought on this – she (almost always she) may see it as a challenge, she may steal your soul or you may suddenly lose your mind. In any case, no-one lives to tell the tale, and your book will only be found a few days after you fill in one of her little forms which begs the librarians to recover the book from wherever it has been hidden. On the bright side, look out for frequent library sales when the librarians tire of so many books getting in the way of their job of annoying students.
Aberdeen University has a very wide range of student run societies which can be fun to join. Generally all Celtic Students join the Celtic Society, but the Celtic Society has spent the last five years doing nothing but throwing cèilidhean (dance parties) and getting drunk every other week. Storytelling Society, Classics Society or Cearcaill Còmhraidh might be better choices depending on your interests.
I’ll finish here by saying that Celtic Studies in Aberdeen is truly one of the best courses in the country. The university stays out of the way without too many silly flourishes and students have lots of time to organise their own research. The entry requirements are low, the cost of study is low and students can’t learn better Scottish Gaelic outside of Colaisde a’ Chaisteil or Sabhal Mòr. You can feel a bit isolated, especially during the holidays when any pleas for help will be rightly ignored by all members of staff, and you won’t get any reading list until the second or third week of the course. However I would strongly recommend the course to anyone truly interested in the subject. If you are sufficiently interested this course can be really good, and I would hope its position as a flexible Scottish degree (letting you start with three subjects) would make it even better. I’ve known lots of people drop out of their degree in the first year, but in Scotland these people just switch to a different course, but keep the credit for the modules they managed to do.The only thing lacking from this course is a thorough grounding in the cynfeirdd and gogynfeirdd writers who are basically ignored in this course. If Welsh literature is more your thing, you might prefer to try Cardiff, Aberystwyth or Bangor.
If you have any questions, or think I’ve forgotten something, add a comment to the review or in my guestbook. Hopefully I’ll get back to you at some point soon if the alerts are working…
To finish off this review I would like to suggest an ideal list of modules which you could study for your degree. A semi-up-to-date list is available at (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/registry/courses/display.php?Subject=CE) if you don’t want my advice. (click the word ‘registry’ at the top right of the page to look at other departments).Just to let you know. To get into honours on the course you need to get a CAS mark of 12 in at least 30 (as far as I remember) credits of Celtic or Gaelic modules. That's just two. All the other credits can be in anything you like, although you'd be missing out if you didn't do some of the module. In honours years 3 and 4 you need to take Goidelic Language, Brittonic language and the dissertation which is 150 credits. You have 90 credits (3 honours classes) left to choose from, even if you only do the minimum credit needed for the degree. There is some flexibility so that you can do 30 of those credits in another school as well, although you would need special permission.
If you do joint honours in Celtic unfortunately you would just be required to do all Goidelic and Brittonic and all your other credits (except possibly the dissertation) would have to be in your other subject. I would recommend doing Celtic Civilisation in this case, which leaves you more choice of modules.Anyway, this list covers nearly all the modules currently (2011) offered at Aberdeen, but it is likely to go out of date in the next few years. Hopefully you will find something to suit you:
Romans, Celts, Druids and Warriors – This is one of the only general overview modules you are likely to get, so if you don’t know much about the Celtic peoples before you arrive, make sure you study this. Koch and Carey's Celtic Heroic Age might be useful for this course.Gaelic For Beginners 1A – if you don’t have any Gaelic already you start here. If you already have the Higher, or if you are a native speaker you have to do another module instead. Once again, although Gaelic is not compulsory I really do recommend Gaelic. Learning a Celtic language as a Modern Language gives you a very different, and in many ways, a much better grasp of it than doing a Medieval Language, and although it will be one of the most difficult things you could possibly choose to study this year, it is definitely worthwhile, and in the future will set you apart from other Celtic Studies graduates. But DO NOT be fooled. If you are a Celtic student you are not obliged to do the Gaelic culture module they insist is mandatory – that is only mandatory for Gaelic students. The "Teach yourself Gaelic" Dictionary by Boyd is required for this course. (This module is under Gaelic in the registry)
Modern Irish – If this is running it would be well worth taking.Latin 1– Latin is a really solid choice, as lots of the texts you’ll have to study later on are ‘about the Celtic peoples’ by their neighbours rather than by them. You'll be fine with just the workbook for this course. (This is under Latin in the registry).
Vikings! – Is a beginners module on the Norse sea-raiders and their archaeological remains. The newly fledged Centre of Scandinavian Studies might have some similar modules you can take. (this is under Archaeology in the registry)Any other language – Aberdeen offers French, German, Spanish, Italian, Biblical Greek, Classical Greek, Chinese, Hebrew and sometimes Old Norse. Most of these would be useful at some point in the course, and there is a requirement that in order to pass into third year you have to have shown some ability with a foreign language. Some of these have only one year of classes available but some you could take all the way through your degree.
Celtic Scotland – This module is the most historical module of all those you can study under Celtic Civilisation. If you want to learn about the Picts, Gaels, Scots and Yr Henn Ogledd in the south, this is the module to choose. You'll get quite a lot of readings for this course. Generally a copy of Vita Columbae by Adomnan would be the most useful.Gaelic for Beginners 1B – If you took 1A (This is in the registry under Gaelic). You'll still only need Boyd Robertson's dictionary.
Latin 2 – If you took 1 (This is in the registry under Latin).
Arthur in Medieval Welsh and Gaelic Literature – A solid choice. Arthurian literature is a huge part of Celtic Studies, and this module examines it from the archetype in Old Welsh literature to the ending in Continental European amour courtois. Coe and Young’s Celtic Sources for the Arthurian Legend is required reading. This is some of the only Welsh literature you will be able to do.
The Vikings in Scotland – This module is beloved of the Celtic students of Aberdeen University because it actually introduces some archaeology and history to the department.
Gaelic Folklore – This was a staple of Celtic studies and subject of comparison with the ancient world by many scholars only a century ago. There are still many parallels to be drawn, and this module does not have a pre-requisite language ability, although some Gaelic would be handy. You'll need to consult a huge range of sources for this course. A copy of the Carmina Gadelica might be the most useful. (This is in the registry under Gaelic).
History of Language in the British Isles – This is an English module, but really useful at giving historical context and doing a different kind of analysis of all the different languages present in the British Isles including some very useful ones like Old English, Old Norse, Norn, Gaelic, Welsh, British, Cornish etc. You'll need to consult library books for this course. (This is under English Literature in the registry)Gaelic for Advanced Beginners 2B – if you did 2A. You should note that I would strongly appose going on to do level 3 Gaelic language classes after this unless you are in Join Honours. By all means, audit the course, but in third and fourth year students are mixed with students who started with the Scottish Higher in Gaelic. This transit is really incredibly intense, and unless you are prepared to battle really hard to get fluency it might not be worth relying on getting your credits here.
Brittonic Language A+B – As above. I needed Simon Evan's Grammar of Middle Welsh for this book, but you might need something different. This is compulsory for Celtic studies and will run in alteration with Goidelic Language.Religion and the Celts – Lots of literature like you’re probably used to, with a nice classical focus and a long reach through time. The Celtic Heroic Age is likely to be useful.
Magic and the Supernatural – Definitely not focussed on magic at all, but still a great culture module. If you’re lucky you might even be allowed to look at a welsh text! You'll probably be sent readings for this course.Medieval Irish Sagas – As the two above. Gantz’ Early Irish Myths and Sagas is required reading, and very good for other modules. You'll probably find all the readings you need online.
Celtic Myth in the Modern World – This class looks basically at the ripples starting with Macpherson’s Ossian which turned into nationalistic consciousness. After Ossian you look at Yeats, Joyce, the Irish authors of the troubles (Hyde, Padraig Peirce etc) Arnold Bach, Fiona Macleod, Dirmait O’Byrne and other authors with agendas. If you’re lucky you might get to look at Tolkien at the end… At Swim Two Birds is required reading, but I would advise brushing up on the above authors as well.Sagas of the Icelanders – If you enjoyed the Viking modules, you can do some Norse mythology and language. You might be pulled into Scandinavian Studies instead of Celtic if you try to do this module though. (This is under English Literature in the Registry.)
Beowulf and Old English – This amazing class studies the Beowulf poem and introduces you to Old English as fast as the lecturer can talk. The work level you need to actually use the module to its full potential is high, but it’s also really fun. The newest edition of Swanton's Beowulf is what you want for this. (This is under English Literature in the Registry.)Early Modern Gaelic – This is only available if you did Gaelic to Second year, but would definitely help you with your Goidelic Language! (This is under Gaelic in the registry)
Warriors and Poets – This is only available if you did Gaelic to Second year, but it would be a useful module. (This is under Gaelic in the registry)Irish for Gaelic Speakers – If you did Gaelic to second year, you can fast track your Irish from zero to pretty good. This module goes very fast, but you will be pretty good when you come out. (This is under Gaelic in the registry)
Dissertation – This is 10-11,000 words on whatever you like and have studied. It can be in Gaelic or English and you have until the end of the second term to write it. This is required for the degree.
Celtic Homepage - This is the department homepage, and since the majority of the staff are technophobic it will hardly ever be updated. You should be able to get some information here though. (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/celtic/)AUSA is our incompetent student union. - Imagine them like a big friendly puppy. They're clumsy and ineffective guardians of liberty, but they are nice to talk to if you're feeling fed up of the bureaucracy. AUSA societies are the groups who put up with the overlordship of the AUSA and mostly manage to have fun without the AUSA ever noticing them, (http://www.ausa.org.uk/societies?)
HandBooks File Viewer - There are occasionally some resources here. Don't use the "all levels" button, surf them individually. (http://www.abdn.ac.uk/local/handbooks/viewer.php3?handbook)Timetable Suite - This will give you a semi-accurate timetable for those years when you can't be bothered to go to the Celtic corridor and Student Portal isn't working. Be careful though, this site might freeze your computer.
Student Portal is where you go to handle finances, check your timetable and exam results. (http://studportal.abdn.ac.uk/portal/page?_pageid=36,1&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL)VPN - This lets you link straight to the university servers if you have a username and password... You might find some extra resources here if you look hard. (https://vpn.abdn.ac.uk/)
Metalib is the libraries e-resource guide. As long as you're using the university proxy you can find books and especially articles in journals on most subjects online.
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