Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe reports:
The Viking Society for Northern Research was founded in 1892 and is now a professional organisation for scholars and researchers in the fields of Viking Age Scandinavia and Old Norse literature. In addition to offering public lectures and publishing a scholarly journal and monographs, the Viking Society organises a conference every spring with a student audience in mind.
This year, ASNC was the host department, and on 12 February Dr Elizabeth Ashman Rowe and Dr Judy Quinn held the conference on the theme of 'The Material Past: Understanding the Old Norse World'. The speakers were all top-level researcher in fields such as archaeology, history of religion, and Viking Studies, and they were asked to discuss an Old Norse text of their choosing in the light of their non-literary research. An overflow crowd of undergraduate and graduate students from across the UK and from as far afield as Norway filled Sidgwick Hall at Newnham College, and all agreed that it was a marvellous opportunity to learn about interdisciplinary approaches to Viking and Old Norse Studies and to ask questions of the experts.
Stefan Brink of the University of Aberdeen began by investigating whether we could rely on the sagas' information about slaves and slavery, and Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham followed by asking whether sagas tell us anything useful about the status of the physically different. Adolf Friðriksson of the Institute of Archaeology of Iceland continued the theme of bodies by discussing death and burial in sagas and archaeology. After lunch, the topic turned from bodies to objects. John Hines of the University of Cardiff discussed poems and sagas that mention houses and artefacts decorated with mythological scenes, and Judith Jesch of the University of Nottingham showed how the references to Viking weapons in skaldic verse corresponded closely to actual weapons that have been found. Lesley Abrams of Oxford University concluded the talks with a survey of runic inscriptions on stone in Britain and Ireland that might provide evidence of the religious beliefs of the Scandinavian settlers in those places. In a final discussion, the speakers asked each other questions about their presentations, and the audience was fascinated to see the experts debate the topics among themselves in a very lively fashion.
To find out what else the Viking Society offers, check out its website.