Day Three - Vikings: The Barbaric Heroes

From our own resident Viking, Gudrun, came a very entertaining and informative saga upon the representation of Vikings in popular consciousness over history. I think most of the audience were sold on this presentation from the start, when this video was played. Go on, click the link. You know you want to...

Anyway, back to the serious stuff. We imagine the Vikings as warriors and raiders, strong, tall, in some cases handsome men with long beards, boats, horned helmets and dragons. We are sometimes afraid of them, and the violence which they represent, at least in this country. Certainly the activities of the Viking Age, which Gudrun presents to us, shows them as wide raging and adventurous - for they even settled parts of America for a time. They were not just warriors, however, but settlers, traders and farmers, for 'going viking' was a seasonal activity, in which youths were able to prove themselves as men. The image of the Vikings has been glorified and demonised for political and nationalistic reasons, barbarised and naturised by the romantics and today many of the stereotypical representations to which the Vikings have been subject remain strong in popular culture.

In academia, however, the field is becoming more open. The purpose of Gudrun's research is to understand how representations of Vikings are presented in museums. Though she is currently in the process of finalising her case studies, she has already investigated the British Museum and Jorvik (as well as some sneaky peaking in the Ashmolean) and has found a number of interesting things. She has, for one, discovered that many of the texts which are used to label Viking objects are very emotive, using words such as looting and violence. One of the questions she wants to answer is whether visitors are attracted by this, and whether their pre-existing perceptions of Vikings as 'other' and frightening are reinforced by such texts. In Jorvik, however, the Vikings are shown as 'part of us', rather than just raiders from the outside - this makes me wonder how much representation, at least in the British Isles, is to do with geographical location, for in York, the heart of the Danelaw, it may be that some ancestral pride persists, whilst the south, subject as it was to raids from the outside may unsurprisingly take a dimmer view of Viking activity.

I hope Gudrun will be able to answer some of these questions. But then, as long as she doesn't pillage my flat, I don't really mind...


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