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Vikings in the Library: accessing the Medieval World

I’ve been getting ready for my upcoming presentation at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Annual Conference over the past few weeks. Now I just have to keep practicing it so I don’t get a major case of the nerves. It would probably help the nerves if I had more people to discuss it with but that is the nature of working on Vikings this in depth outside of academia I’m finding. I’ve also been looking at some of the sources I have to upgrade my re-enactment gear. Luckily I thought to collect those while still in Europe so its a matter of asking my mom to re-size the patterns for me and finding my nice wool fabric out of the boxes again. Then much hand-stitching until its done- something else to do while I make jam I guess.

Lately my tutoring contracts have all had sessions in public libraries. This happened Fall term as well- with good reason as tutoring in a public place is much safer for me as a female tutor. Its also easier in terms of resources for a lot of things. And sometimes I find copies of Lemert’s Social Theory for $0.25 . A lot of things [these are good libraries even though a bit small], but not Vikings, not really.

The books at the moment total only 15 or so titles between the two locations, including duplicates. Several are Time Life Series Books- these are also the most recently published. The resource assessment comes as a bit of a shock given the growth of public interest regarding Vikings in recent years in the US. I had expected at least a couple more recent titles to be included amongst the books I read during primary and secondary school. I’m hoping that having a local author working on the topic might help with that process. Who knows, maybe in the next year I’ll be able to comment on a change in the resources available.

When faced with the library shelves that ultimately began my slog towards and through graduate school its immediately apparent how much of an impact the social network of my field has made thus far on me as a researcher. Those library books were quite literally the only way I had to peer through to view the vibrant world of the Nordic medieval past [British and French medieval sources are well-represented]. Being from half a planet away from my research area until I started grad school meant I KNEW I would never get to meet the authors, let alone get to work with them in any way on sites, projects or texts. That changed when I began to realize the respect being accorded to my former professors at UC Berkeley. Those same professors who gave me books when I couldn’t afford them and who answered every- most likely naive- question about the medieval Nordic world merely because I wanted to be a Viking archaeologist. When I graduated from UCB with my Bachelor’s I knew I had been lucky to experience learning under some really excellent professors but thought little more of it. The archaeology programs I applied to were much more interested in the anthropology- where admittedly I had a much better idea of who my professors were in relation to the field. Those departments rarely even acknowledged my language skills. Once I established contact with regional specialists during my program things began to rapidly change. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that the Viking research field is one of the friendliest I’ve had the pleasure to know. If I had declared a major in a more gender-aggressive field such as something STEM when I began to fall threw the cracks in the system there would have been a much greater risk of never completing. Instead specifically because others who studied my region considered the ideas I brought to the table to still be interesting I kept trying. For the hope of intellectual understanding on a mutually beloved topic.

But it all started from a meager selection of library books. The very ones still on the shelves with no new additions, lonely and tired sentinels of medieval Nordic culture amongst a sea of California history books.

The view from Signal Hill behind Narsarsuaq, Greenland.


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