Decolonising the Vikings: The Midlands Viking Symposium 2019

Posted by yaj1 at May 20, 2019 10:50 AM |
The Midlands Viking Symposium 2019 took place on Saturday the 27th of April at the University of Leicester, and was a great success. An annual event pitched at the interested public, the Symposium presents the latest Viking research by Midlands-based researchers, and rotates between the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham, and Birmingham.

This year’s event was themed “Decolonising the Vikings”, and sought to challenge assumptions about Viking history, culture, and literature. This is necessary not only due to the Western, masculine history of traditional Viking scholarship, but also due to the increasing appropriation of Viking imagery by the far right in contemporary politics.

Due to generous financial support from the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (https://www.le.ac.uk/lahs/) and the Viking Society for Northern Research (https://www.vsnr.org/), tickets for this year’s symposium were heavily subsidised. The Symposium thus attracted over eighty delegates, many of them attending for the first time.

The day opened with an introduction to decolonisation, and its application to Viking history (Dr Luke John Murphy, University of Leicester), before moving on to a keynote by Prof. Judith Jesch (University of Nottingham) that interrogated the gender bias in both historical sources and modern reporting on Viking warriors.

Other papers in the morning session included studies of Viking masculinity in far-right political discourse (Dr Roderick Dale, University of Nottingham); issues of appropriation and racism in ideas around Nordic craft societies online (Rachel Evans, University of Leicester); and the political use of Vikings in the construction of national identities in modern Ukraine and Russia (William Pidzamecky, University of Nottingham).

Following a lunch break that also afforded delegates the chance to examine book stalls, study reproduction artefacts, and try their hand at Viking poetry, the symposium reconvened with a round table on “Communicating the Vikings”. Representatives from academic publishing (Dr Rosie Bonté, Brepols Publishers), the heritage industry (Dr Erik Grigg, Lincolnshire County Council), higher education (Dr Christina Lee, University of Nottingham), artefact production and historical interpretation (Adam Parsons, Oxford Archaeology/Blueaxe Reproductions; Stuart Strong, Gear & Graith), and historical fiction (James Aitcheson, University of Nottingham) took part in a lively discussion that ranged from the joys of teaching children to structural obstacles to better representation in and outreach from the academy.

The afternoon continued with papers addressing fictionalised Vikings in contemporary media, and the effect of those ideas on both society at large and academic study: the portrayal of death rituals in the TV series Vikings (Prof. Howard Williams, University of Chester) and Viking violence in modern literary fiction (Dr Philippa Semper, University of Birmingham). A last-minute addition to the schedule also saw a paper on female-led migration in the Viking Age (Dr Pragya Vohra, University of York).

The organisers (Dr Luke John Murphy & Dr Rosie Bonté) would like to thank not only the sponsors, speakers, and student assistants who made the day such a success, but also the many delegates who took part. Keep an eye out for details of next year’s Symposium, which will be held on the 25th of April 2020!

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