Sutton Hoo in public
: newspapers, television, and museums

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The ship burial of ‘Mound 1’, Sutton Hoo, was unearthed in 1939. Almost immediately, Sutton Hoo – a signifier that variously indicates the categories of artefacts, place, seventh-century burial and twentieth-century discovery – was associated with Old English poetry. Interpretations of poems – especially Beowulf – have been resourced to help communicate the function, form, and ceremony of Sutton Hoo. Collocations of Sutton Hoo and Beowulf also enter into discourses which shape and imagine relationships between past and present. This thesis attends to how these narratives are created in public. Historiography, objects, landscape features, and sensations are combined in multi-media presentations of Sutton Hoo. By understanding Sutton Hoo as constitutive of a ‘meshwork’ (Tim Ingold, 2011) of (re)experienced stories, things, spaces, and poems, we may perceive how present-day desires, individuals, and communities shape narratives of the past, and vice-versa.
In Chapter 1 I analyse how local and national newspaper texts from 1939 draw together Sutton Hoo and Beowulf both explicitly and discursively. In Chapter 2 I examine the ways in which television documentaries from 1965-2014 develop meanings of Sutton Hoo, particularly with reference to Beowulf. Chapter 3 focuses on poetry in museum interpretation in guidebooks and displays from the 1960s to the present. In Chapter 4 I examine the archive of the Sutton Hoo Society’s newsletter, Saxon, attending to how poetry influences the experience of place, and how being-in-place produces readings of poetry. In Chapter 5 I examine the effects of Sutton Hoo and Beowulf – and other Anglo-Saxon texts – as resourced in museum performances and installations. In Chapter 6, I discuss participant responses to the Sutton Hoo site, including a temporary display and interactive learning activities that I researched, produced, and evaluated for the National Trust in the summer of 2017
Date of Award1 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorClare Lees (Supervisor), Josh Davies (Supervisor) & Alan Read (Supervisor)

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