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Image of the Vikings

July 16, 2010

This morning I met with a colleague who is organizing a symposium in the fall on the popular view people have of the Vikings, and more specifically–since that is a very broad topic indeed–on what impact the popular view of the Vikings has on the scholarly community.

There is a growing awareness on the part of scholars in the fields of history, archaeology, and museum studies that popular attitudes about historical subjects influence not how our audiences interpret what they read and hear from scholars, but also affect the scholars themselves in terms of what topics of research they choose to pursue. In some cases, especially in regard to the Vikings, scholars have tended of late to try to research topics that do not fit into the public’s existing idea about the Viking Age. Research into Viking sword types for instance reached its peak in the 1920s and 30s, and nowadays scholars are more likely to take on projects analyzing what sort of grains the Vikings used in their bread or where the water came from that they drank as a child. All of this is of course interesting and valuable scholarly knowledge, but because it is so far removed from the public’s frame of reference for the Vikings, the two groups fail to communicate.

Some scholars have in fact taken up the practice of not using the name Vikings at all, because it has such a fixed, and in many respects erroneous, connotation in many people’s minds.

This was, and is, a major concern in terms of how a museum like Vikingaheimar organizes its exhibitions and programming, what sort of public relations material it produces, and of course what content to include or not include in the museum.

Anyhow, I am very much looking forward to having an opportunity to discuss this complex issue with some of my Icelandic and Nordic colleagues in the Fall, and hoping of course for lots of feedback from the members of the public that attend.

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3 Comments
  1. Suzanne permalink

    Hi, Elisabeth Ida! Will the content of the symposium be recorded in some way and made available to the general public, either on the internet or in the form of conference proceedings? I’d be very interested in hearing what’s presented there, and I’m sure some of my students would be as well!

    • Hello Suzanne!! The conference will be in Icelandic, so I am afraid it might not be too much use to your students. But I will certainly mention it to the conference organizers!

  2. Suzanne permalink

    Ah, okay! I didn’t know if it might be international. If you hear of another similar symposium with English-language contributions, or if the organizers create English-language summaries of the presentations, let me know!

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