Within standard literary histories (including, obviously, the present volume), Early Middle English exists at once as a distinctive, self-contained phenomenon, and as an integral and indispensable unit of English literature. This status for Early Middle English (hence forth, eME) reflects foundationalist assumptions about the enduring nature of language and nation as historical realities. On this view, eME language and writing articulate a specific historical milieu embodying the unique cultural life of the land and people. At the same time, the period illustrates a coherent and continuous movement of history, from Old English to later Middle English expressly, and more largely from the pre-recorded to the contemporary. Such history aims to produce in eME the unchanging and therefore still recognizable voice of a single people or nation, whose identity is bound up in a racial (English, or British) core. Rereading vernacular texts according to these principles has made eME out to be, on consensus, one of the dullest and least accessible intervals in standard literary history, an incoherent, intractable, impenetrable dark age scarcely redeemed by a handful of highlights. To be sure, this appearance of dullness or inaccessibility arises in part from the application of inappropriate nineteenth- and twentieth-century models of nationalist histories and racial identities, or through irrelevant conceptions of the status of ‘literature’ itself. Yet this seeming opaqueness stems even more from the fact that, in its surviving writings and in its structural and historical dimensions, eME actually participates in, and therefore puts in question, the historical emergence of these same foundational and analytical categories – race, nation, language of the people, literary writing, historical periodization. In attaching to these concepts a fluid and historical meaning, rather than a settled and self-evident one, the cultural activities of the eME period open to scrutiny, often in ways unfamiliar or uncomfortable to modern sensibilities, the processes by which these ‘natural’ modes of literary analysis take historical shape.