Viking Seminar Session Notes

Colonising, Decolonising and Postcolonising the Viking Age: Notes

17–18 March, University of Leeds

See here for a full schedule of the papers presented.

Themes covered:

  • The Janus face (or doubling) of history and historical phenomenon: the past in the past and the past in the present. Also the problem of scholarly collapse of multiple histories and peoples into single ‘narratives’ and ‘nations’.
  • The sealing off of periods needs to be continually questioned—not just in terms of the medieval—the Viking Age and Anglo-Saxon periods have been ossified and sealed off from the medieval.
  • Translation: linguistic, literary, stylistic, visual, across media. The untranslatability of some words, stories and things.
  • The agency of objects: What narratives do stone sculpture, grave goods, portable metalwork tell? How do they tell them differently?
  • The agency of style, and ‘abstract’, ‘decorative’ or ‘ornamental’ imagery. Recent critiques of Islamic and Hindu art provide useful examples of what and how style and pattern can mean.
  • The construction of centres and margins. Are margins ‘peripheries’ or are they central as structures that contain and define?
  • The construction of hybrid landscapes, historical (Lejre), fictional (Beowulf) and imagined (the landscapes of memory).
  • The uncanny and the scary monsters of the wastelands. The return of heritage and history in contemporary texts and music.

Questions and issues arising:

  • The need to be precise in the use of terminology and to be aware of the theoretical and semantic range of terms such as hybridity, mimicry doubling. Medievalists tend to use these terms differently than many postcolonial theorists, and could take them in some interesting directions.
  • The need to be aware that silences and gaps also bear witness to the past. Trauma studies provide a fruitful way of thinking about the silences in some of the evidence following events like: the withdrawal of the Romans, the Viking invasions, the conquests of Cnut and the Normans. The gap between the verbal and the visual/material needs to be theorised.
  • The need to think critically about ‘nation’ and ‘national identity’ as these tend to be falsely constructed as monolithic (especially for ‘the Vikings’) and sometimes obscured by modern notions of nation and identity.
  • The need to understand postcolonal theory not just in terms of the trinity of Said, Spivak and Bhabha. How does out period/material speak back.