Exploring Celtic Civilizations is an online coursebook suitable for undergraduates introducing the field of Celtic Studies: the various kinds of evidence available about Celtic-speaking communities through over two millennia and the methods available for understanding them. This digital coursebook thus presents texts as well as other sorts of evidence, such as aspects of material culture (e.g., archaeological artifacts), through online exhibits and data visualizations using the Prospect data collaboratory (see manual here).


Coursebook Design Principles

The materials in this digital coursebook – both primary sources and expository units – have been created with the following design principles:

  • Accessibility: Sources need to be comprehensible to undergraduate students without prior training in specialized terminology or detailed background knowledge of any particular discipline. They are, therefore, given introductory notes but not complicated by excessive footnotes and parenthetical asides.
  • Active Learning: Rather than provide all possible conclusions and interpretations, reading exercises are provided for group discussions which invite readers to apply analytical methods to primary evidence.
  • Interpretative Lenses: The coursebook suggests a set of overarching interpretative lenses, or themes, to facilitate group discussion of all readings.

Why a Celtic Civilization Course?

Celtic Studies is a highly multidisciplinary endeavor, drawing upon such diverse fields as history, historiography, archaeology, paleography, linguistics, anthropology, art history and sociology to identity and interpret the remains of the past (and conditions of the present) as they pertain to Celtic-speaking communities. These exercises in analysis have broad applications to other contexts and evidence.

Celtic Studies is a subject worthy of investigation in its own right, however, especially given the increased attention to and interest in the impact of empire across time and space. Celtic peoples are seldom given credit for their contributions to European or world civilization and there is seldom adequate discussion of how the ideologies and practices of colonization developed to conquer and dominate Celtic peoples were transferred overseas in the expansion of Anglo-British power.

Although there are university-level coursebooks covering the topic of “Western Civilization,” the contributions and even existence of Celtic peoples in those histories is seldom well represented or investigated. It is commonplace for Romans and Anglo-Saxons to be lauded for innovations or contributions which were first accomplished by their Celtic neighbors. It is particularly ironic that a very significant number of the audience for these coursebooks in North America are descended from Celtic peoples whose existence is largely silenced and obscured by mainstream historical texts, produced and enshrined at the height of anglocentric imperial power, except to play the part of rebels and barbarians waiting to receive the “benefits of civilization”.

Empires have inflicted immeasurable damage and injustices around the world and critiques of empire have been growing more articulate and passionate. University-level courses about trans-Atlantic or global history represent a diversity of voices and reflect (rather than hide) how the domination and exploitation of empires have devastated indigenous and subaltern peoples, not to mention natural ecosystems. Those who cover these issues as they relate to North America, however, can easily neglect to understand or discuss how the strategies and habits of British imperialism in the “New World” were extensions of centuries of practice on Celtic neighbors, even if they were reshaped in new geographical and ideological contexts. It is impossible to understand fully the social history and cultural trajectory of Celtic peoples in the modern period without taking into account their relationship to British and French empires. The descendants of Celtic peoples displaced by and embedded in colonial processes need the tools and resources to understand this history from something other than an anglocentric perspective.

Using this Coursebook

Although this coursebook provides a number of Units (expository essays) and primary sources, it also exploits the capabilities of the Prospect digital platform by providing data visualizations of primary evidence and special “Volumes” that connect embedded references in text to items in the database of Celtic materials to provide dynamic diagrams.

Textual Conventions

Text is emphasized in boldface; words not in English are shown in italics; words being defined for the first time (or defined in the glossary but appearing for the first time in the text) will be marked in underline.

Historical Eras and Dates

The way in which centuries are numbered is a common source of confusion. The birth of Christ forms the beginning of the “Common Era,” a term used by some, rather than AD (Anno Domini “Year of our Lord”), for a religious-free (though still Eurocentric) chronological system. The abbreviation BCE stands for “Before Common Era” (although many people still use “BC,” which stands for “Before Christ”).

The first century BCE consists of the years 100 BCE to 1 BCE. The second century BCE consists of the years 200 BCE to 101 BCE. The year 190 BCE would be early in the second century, while the year 110 would be late. The first century AD consists of the years AD 1 to AD 99. The second century AD consists of the years AD 100 to AD 199. The year AD 110 would be early in the second century, while the year AD 190 would be late.

Sometimes it is impossible to date a person or event with precision: the symbol “x” is used to express a range of possible dates. Thus, “230 x 5” means “sometime between 230 and 235.” To express a definite range of dates, the symbol “–” is used. Thus, “230-5” means “from the year 230 to 235.”

Class Discussion

“Class Discussion” sections will present questions about the concepts or materials of each Unit. You should prepare your own notes in response to these questions in order to participate in discussions during class sessions. Sometimes this will require reading or studying specific source materials provided by this sourcebook.


Since the online format used for this coursebook does not easily allow for endnote or footnote citations, the “References” sections at the end of each Unit will list the author and text used. See the Bibliography for full listings of all sources used.


Exploring Celtic Civilizations is edited by Michael Newton and maintained with his permission by the Digital Innovation Lab. There are numerous content contributors, however, who are listed on the Collaborate! page.