Dr Pragya Vohra

Profile

I am an early medieval historian, with a particular interest in the social dynamics of the Viking Age and medieval Scandinavia, particularly as part of the processes of migration, settlement and the creation of diaspora. My research interests resonate with my own situation as part of a diaspora, and have been shaped by my first degree in History and Anthropology, and my fascination with maritime technologies and cultures, stemming from my early years spent on ships.

Before taking up this post, I have taught at a number of universities, including Leicester. Most recently, I was Lecturer in Early Medieval European History at Aberystwyth University and was an Early Career Researcher on the recently concluded AHRC ‘Viking Age Languages, Myths and Finds’ Project which ran concurrently with the British Museum’s ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ exhibition.

Doctoral Research

My doctoral research, funded by an ORSAS Scholarship, was an ambitious and innovative project, which used the lens of kinship to test medieval evidence of Viking migration and settlement in the North Atlantic against the modern sociological construct of diaspora. I use different theoretical approaches to social memory, social networks, oral history, migration and diaspora and draw on history, anthropology and archaeology for my research. My main focus was the relationship between physical distance, social network formation and the maintenance of kinship ties during and after migration. My study established, for the first time, the Viking world as a socially-functioning diaspora, clearly reflected in the contemporary worldview. Old Norse sources, coming largely from an Icelandic perspective, memorialise a functioning Viking diaspora reflecting maintained social relations and the emergence of local identities in equal measure. This research forms the basis of my forthcoming book Kinship In The Viking Diaspora, currently under contract with Routledge.

My doctoral research represents my first foray into a wider socio-historical investigation into relations across boundaries to see what changes are wrought due to the movement and migration of a people, how social systems cope with geographical displacement, and the manner in which diasporic links emerge and are sustained. These issues of migration, diaspora, acculturation and assimilation resonate in fields beyond medieval and Scandinavian studies and are as relevant to the medieval world as they are to our own times.

Current Research

Remembering England in the Viking Diaspora — The place of England in Viking diaspora and its memorialisation

My current research project was begun under the auspices of the Leverhulme Trust funded ‘Impact of Diasporas’ project. It emerged out of my interests in migration and diaspora studies, and my investigations into the connections between England and the Viking world. While the British Isles are well-represented in Norse sources, England appears to be absent from Viking diasporic memory. Diverse evidence suggests substantial Scandinavian settlement in England, but social ties central to the diaspora are almost invisible. Cultural products and vessels of social memory (sagas, skaldic poetry) about England are deemed to be ‘lost’. This project aims to explain these ‘lost’ diasporic links with England in contrast to the clearer relations with the rest of the British Isles. To address the ‘England conundrum’, I am testing a hypothesis, which centres on the role of the Anglo-Scandinavian elite as the primary commissioners and consumers of artefacts of social memory, and the memorialisation of England’s Viking king, King Knut. My research problematises the impact of changes in elite identity on cultural memory which may have caused England to become ‘lost’ in Viking diasporic memory.
My research is informed by the remarkably rich corpus of Old Norse sources, alongside English textual material (charters, chronicles, etc.), and later Norse and Anglo-Norman traditions about King Knut. I also use place-name evidence, sculptural and archaeological material. The sources are critically analysed using the methodologies of oral history and memory theories, migration and diaspora theory. Social memory theory is an especially useful methodological tool to study changing identities and multifarious connections to illuminate the place of England in the Viking diaspora.

Viking Settlement in North-East England Migration and settlement in Cleveland

This research focuses on the recent discovery by my team of a Scandinavian runic inscription in the Tees Valley, only the eighteenth in England. Despite being a natural conduit into the heart of northern England, the River Tees has traditionally been conceived of as a boundary rather than a region. However, like other major rivers, it was also the locus of Scandinavian settlement, reflected in diverse evidence (place-names, sculpture, etc.). A concentration of enigmatic ‘hogback’ stones in the area points to a distinctive cultural identity. The recently discovered runestone, bearing a Goidelic personal name, hints at connections between this part of the North-East and the Irish Sea Vikings, as well as the wider diaspora. This research investigate the processes of migration, settlement and assimilation in this region, their role in creating the region’s unique cultural identity and illuminate its connections with the wider Viking diaspora.

Future Research Plans

Diasporic Memory and Historiographical Intersections
This project is concerned with the memorialisation of the identity of King Knut and manner in which he is remembered — or forgotten — in the parts of the diaspora which he briefly united. It will bring together a wide range of historical and semi-historical sources, in Old English, Old Norse, Latin and Anglo-Norman traditions, beginning with Knut’s reign in the 11th century to the post-diasporic period of the 14th century. The aim of the project is to unpick what was remembered, how it was remembered and, if possible, how much was forgotten about a figure who was associated with a large part of the Viking diaspora.

Friendship in the Viking Diaspora
This project will look at friendship in medieval Norse society, especially focussing on the mechanisms of friendship-based network formation and mobilisation; and the creation and activation of friendship-based social networks in the context of the movement of peoples. It will consider the importance of friendship as a great mobiliser of human social behaviour and focuses, for the first time, on not the political or economic, but the social aspects of friendship in the Viking diaspora: how friendship networks were created; how friendship ties shaped migration and settlement; and how social memory sustained diasporic friendships over time and long distances.The project will also consider the perception of friendship in the Viking world and the impact of Christian and Classical concepts of friendship on Viking society.

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