Reading the Past: the History of Written English (MLI325)

This module covers the history of the English language from the beginnings to the present day. It combines the study of language history with a specific focus on the written evidence, and on the social context of language change. We look at what texts were like in the past, who produced and read them, and how changes in language and literacy interact with social and technological change. We also address the question of present-day uses of the past: how much can we know about past languages, and how can we apply and communicate the findings of historical research? At the same time, the course provides a solid, practical introduction to earlier stages of English and addresses the major linguistic developments from Old to Present-Day English.

Course description for study year 2024-2025. Please note that changes may occur.


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Semester tution start


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The module provides an outline of the historical development of written English from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day, with a particular focus on issues such as standardization and the use of written texts as linguistic evidence. The module relates the history of written English to the history of literacy and text production in the English-speaking world.

Learning outcome


The student will gain knowledge of:

  • the traditional periods of the history of the English language and the historical, cultural and technological developments that mark them
  • the main linguistic characteristics of Old, Middle, Early Modern and Late Modern English
  • the major linguistic and sociolinguistic changes in the history of English, with specific reference to the written evidence
  • the linguistic characteristics and historical context of specific texts chosen for study
  • text production, major genres and literacy practices in the different periods


By the end of the course, the student will be able to:

  • explain the traditional periodization of English, with reference to social, cultural and technological change, and point out the major characteristics of English in the different periods
  • translate and comment in detail on the language of selected texts representing Old, Middle and Early Modern English. Comment on the language of an unseen text in an informed way, placing it in the correct historical period
  • describe major linguistic and sociolinguistic changes in the history of English and refer to well-known theories and controversies about them
  • consider critically the written evidence for our knowledge of the history of English
  • pursue a research topic dealing with historical texts

General competence:

By the end of the course, the student will be able to:

  • read historical English texts with better fluency and understanding
  • understand better the complexities of present-day English language
  • introduce a historical awareness into her/his own work (e.g. English teaching)

Required prerequisite knowledge



Written home assignment and written exam

Form of assessment Weight Duration Marks Aid
Written home assignment 1/3 Letter grades All
Written exam 2/3 4 Hours Letter grades None permitted

Written assignment: 2500 words (+/- 500), not including reference list.In the assessment, English language and academic writing skills will be taken into consideration in addition to the course content.

Coursework requirements

Seminars, 75% attendance, Two short written assignments

Attendance at seminars is obligatory. Students who are absent from more than 25% of the seminar meetings will not be allowed to take part in the exam. The student has to be present for at least 2/3 of the duration of the individual seminar meeting for attendance to be recorded.

The students are to submit three written assignments during the course, at the dates specified at the start of the semester for each submission. The first two are not graded, but students will receive feedback.

Students who get one or more assignment assessed as not approved at their first attempt, are given one opportunity to hand in a revised assignment.

Course teacher(s)

Course teacher:

Oliver Martin Traxel

Course coordinator:

Merja Riitta Stenroos

Study Adviser:

Signe Ekenberg

Method of work

Lectures and seminars

Overlapping courses

Course Reduction (SP)
English Writing from Runes to SMS (MLI310_1) 5
Literacy from a Production Perspective (MLI100_1) 5
English Writing: Function, Form and Change (MLI315_1) 5
History of written English (MLI350_1) 10

Open for

Exchange Students at Faculty of Arts and Education

Course assessment

There must be an early dialogue between the course supervisor, the student union representative and the students. The purpose is feedback from the students for changes and adjustments in the course for the current semester.In addition, a digital subject evaluation must be carried out at least every three years. Its purpose is to gather the students experiences with the course.


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