Wednesday 29 August 2012

Review: 15th International Saga Conference (5-11th August 2012, University of Aarhus)

Anna Millward writes:

If I remember correctly, Þórr did not wear tight spandex and dance about on stage waving his hammer.[*] The Norse mythological cosmos was not made up of different dimensional ‘bubbles’, and saga scholars were chained to their desks in dusty old offices, not trekking around the Icelandic wilderness in a battered old Landover. In fact, I thought academics discussed metre and metaphors, not smells and sign language. Yet these quirky papers set the tone for what was to be an inspiring 15th International Saga Conference (University of Aarhus, 5th-11th August): pushing the boundaries, thinking outside of the box, and engaging in a discourse beyond that of the medieval saga.

Of course, the traditional Old Norse super-heroes were there in full force: John Mckinnell, Margaret Clunies Ross, Lars Lönnroth and Ted Andersson to name but a few of the world-leading experts in the Scandinavian scholarly community who gathered together to show-case their most recent research and inspire awe (…or strike terror?) into the hearts of aspiring young scholars. Boasting over 330 participants attending five parallel sessions running over five days, the 15th International Saga Conference was by far the biggest Saga Conference yet -- and as the Glastonbury of academia, Old Norse ASNaCs did not want to miss out. Descending on Aarhus like a troop of shield-maidens (sorry conference boys), the Cambridge crew donned their byrnies in preparation for battle on the academic stage. Yet the Saga Conference turned out to be a surprisingly friendly event: more festival than feud.

Headlining for Cambridge were Dr. Judy Quinn and Dr. Elizabeth Ashman Rowe (the Shirley Basseys and Tina Turners of the Old Norse world, if you will). Judy Quinn’s paper, ‘The Shallowed Depth of the Eddic Past’, explored the notion of cyclical time in eddic heroic poetry, whilst Elizabeth Rowe discussed the interaction between different historiographical genres in her paper, ‘Saga or Annalistic History? Icelandic Interactions of Genre and Concepts of History’. Both scholars gave a first-class performance, and made a valuable contribution to current scholarship.

Of course, no head-liners would be without their (no less amazing) support acts. A whole host of PhD ASNaCs (both ongoing and recently completed) took to the stage to ‘wow’ the academic community with their most recent work. Amongst them, Emily Osborne, Vicky Cribb, Brittany Schorn, Jo Shortt Butler and Jeff Love did the Old Norse literary buffs proud, whilst Paul Gazzoli and Rosie Bonté held up the fort for Scandi history. Even former ASNaCs Eleanor Barraclough (who has since passed over to ‘that other place’) and Emily Lethbridge (usually found on Icelandic horse-back or in a Landrover) did Cambridge proud as they mixed saga landscapes, literature and place names into a delightful interdisciplinary cocktail.

Amidst coffee breaks, trendy conference rucksacks and the world’s most spectacularly luminous yellow cake, ASNaCs attending the 15th International Saga Conference in Aarhus joined with the rest of the Old Norse community to give a memorable performance. Presenting a variety of papers, Old Norse ASNaCs offered experimental ideas and new approaches to Norse scholarship, resulting in dynamic and stimulating discourse. Although the specially-brewed ‘Saga Ale’, no doubt helped the academic conversation flow, Aarhus was an exciting and intellectually challenging event enjoyed by all. Even the ‘ASNaC groupies’, (who escaped the terror of giving conference-speeches) engaged in Norsical discussions and had fun (though being tricked into singing at the Conference Dinner was marginally less amusing). It’s great that such a small department like ASNaC has so many people active in the Old Norse arena; not only is it a testament to the increasing popularity of the medieval Scandinavian world, but it means that ASNaC can continue to really make a positive impact in the field of Norse studies. So forget the rainbow flags currently sweeping Scandinavia: this is Old Norse Pride, and ASNaC an important part of it.

*this was actually a video-clip: unfortunately, no scholar dressed up as Þórr-in-spandex.

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