Gersum Project

This project aims to understand Scandinavian influence on English vocabulary by examining the origins of up to 1,600 words in a corpus of Middle English poems from the North of England.

The Gersum Project aims to understand the Scandinavian influence on English vocabulary. The project is named after the Middle English word gersum, borrowed from Old Norse gørsemi ‘treasure’, and it will be the fullest survey ever undertaken of the rich and varied body of English words derived from Old Norse.gersum2

Its research will result in a fully searchable online catalogue of the up to 1,600 different words for which an origin in Norse has been suggested in a corpus of major Middle English poems from the North of England — a catalogue which will include the medieval ancestors of everyday words like sky, egg, law, leg, take, window, knife, die, skin and they, as well as others as diverse and intriguing as hernez ‘brains’, muged ‘drizzled’, stange ‘pole’ and wothe ‘danger’. The corpus will include the following texts:

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • Pearl
  • Cleanness
  • Patience
  • St Erkenwald
  • The Wars of Alexander
  • The Alliterative Morte Arthure
  • The Siege of Jerusalem
  • The Destruction of Troy

The project will also incorporate a number of events, including an inter-disciplinary conference in Cambridge and a series of talks open to the general public.

Duration: 2016 – 2019

Image Credits: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Cotton Nero MS A.X, art.3. British Library. Public Domain.


Project Team

  • Dr Richard Dance (Principal Investigator – University of Cambridge)
  • Dr Sara Pons-Sanz (Co-Investigator – University of Cardiff)
  • Dr Brittany Schorn (Research Associate – University of Cambridge)
  • Jamie McLaughlin (Developer – The Digital Humanities Institute)