January 8, 2013, by Kelly Kilpatrick
Place-Names, Languages and Sculpture
I came to the University of Nottingham in June of this year to take up a research fellowship position with the Digital Exposure of English Place-Names project in the Institute for Name-Studies. My primary research focus is on place-name and landscape studies, but as an early medieval historian I have a variety of long-standing academic interests. As a toponymyst, I am especially interested in examining the function of place-names in early texts and also the impact of the Christian conversion on the place-names and landscapes of Britain and Ireland. In addition to toponymy, I concentrate on the languages and literature of medieval Britain and Ireland, and I specialise in early medieval art (specifically sculpture and manuscript illumination). I have a strong background in Celtic, and I have focused on early Celtic languages, specifically Irish and Welsh, though I also study modern Celtic languages as well as Old English and Old Norse. Recently, I have founded a Celtic Reading group. We meet in the School of English and this is intended as an introduction to Old Irish, and it is hoped that early Welsh poetry will be included in the future.
My interest in medieval history began over a decade ago when I was introduced to early Scottish—specifically Pictish—history and sculpture. Since then, I have always taken every opportunity available to study medieval sculpture in Scotland. In 2010 Dr. Matthias Egeler and I began to work on a collaborative project comparing an unsual motif on the Papil Stone from West Burra, Shetland with the battlefield demons of early Irish literature, namely, the Morrígan, Bodb and Macha. Further examination and comparison of the iconography proved that the Papil Stone was of much wider significance than previously thought. A comparison of this motif between specific scenes on Irish high crosses and similar figures in Pictish sculpturework affirmed that the Papil Stone had a Pictish link. Analysis of this Pictish motif revealed that they were likely to be interpreted as mythological war-like creatures in Pictish tradition, which had close parallels with written descriptions of battlefield demons in neighbouring Ireland. Further cultural contacts between Ireland, the Hebrides and Eastern Scotland were revealed by analysing the remaining iconography, indicating the that important early monastic site of Papil, Shetland was at the cultural crossroads of artistic influence between Ireland and Pictland. This paper was published in The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 141 (2012), and was awarded the RBK Stevenson Award by the aforesaid Society.