The International Viking Seminar

I don’t generally do long posts while out of town, especially on weekends. But I think the best way to deliver my report on the International Vinland Seminar today is to write up a summary while my memory’s fresh.

We met at North Park University in Chicago, a school with Swedish roots that I wasn’t familiar with. It reminds me a little of my alma mater, Augsburg College in Minneapolis, in that it’s set (I suspect the admissions brochures say “nestled”) in an urban neighborhood. Nice place, though.

We met in a lecture hall called Hamming Hall, and I got permission to set up my book table. I was in the back of the room, but it gave me a good view, so I just stayed there through the entire event, selling my books during breaks.

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Our first speaker in the morning was Prof. Torgrim Titlestad of the University of Stavanger. He spoke on a topic you’re familiar with if you’ve been following this blog, the causes of the Viking Age, and Viking Age democracy. I’ve been corresponding with Prof. Titlestad for some years, but I met him first last night.

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Following him was Prof. Gisli Sigurdsson of the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland. He made a couple of good-natured pokes at Prof. Titlestad (I think he thinks he has too rosy a view of the Vikings) but his topic was how we ought to view the two variant versions of the Vinland story as found in Eric the Red’s Saga and The Greenlanders’ Saga. It turns out that what I say in my Vinland lecture, that The Greenlanders’ Saga is now considered more reliable, is out of date. It’s now believed that both versions contain useful factual information–mixed in with a lot of storytellers’ hokum.

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After lunch (I dined at a noted Scottish restaurant with golden arches) we heard the wife of Jarle Rosseland (I failed to note her name), who talked about her husband’s art. A series of prints he’s done on Vinland were on display in the hall. He was actually present, but prefers to let his wife do the talking (or, very likely, he’s just uncomfortable speaking in English). I wasn’t terribly interested at first, but she soon had material I found highly fascinating. Jarle is associated (how I’m not exactly sure) with a new project to build a sailing copy of the Oseberg Viking ship (the one with the curly prow and stern). The last copy that was made capsized almost immediately after launch. They have now done very promising tests on a new keel configuration, and believe they can build a copy that will sail well. (Nobody thinks the Oseberg is a seagoing ship, but it ought to be up to the challenge of coastal sailing, which the old copy wasn’t.)

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Then we heard Ulfar Bragason of the Arni Magnusson Institue. He spoke about the life of Rasmus B. Anderson, the prominent 19th Century Norwegian-American who first popularized Leif Eriksson Day. It was his misfortune to rub most other Norwegian-Americans the wrong way, so that after a time he transferred his enthusiasm to Iceland.

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Birgitta Wallace was a speaker I particularly looked forward to hearing. She’s the former chief archaeologist at the L’Anse Aux Meadows archaeological site. She defended her own present view of that location, arguing that it is actually the source of the places called “Leif’s Booths” and “Straumfjord” in the sagas. Vinland proper, she believes, is further inland along the St. Lawrence Seaway. (I shook her hand before the day was over, just to make my friends envious.)

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Finally we heard from Steve Harding of the University of Nottingham. His field is DNA research, and he talked about his team’s researches into Viking genetics in England. This is a subject that absolutely fascinates me, but which I understand very little. The short version (as I understand it) is that their real purpose is to examine genetic variables in large populations. You can send away for a test for a price, that will tell you whether you’re likely to have Viking ancestors, but the easiest way is to just assume, on statistical grounds, that if you’re north European, you can be pretty sure that at least some of your millions of ancestors were Vikings.

My book sales were excellent–far better than I expected. I was left with only one copy of West Oversea unsold, and I sold quite a few The Year of the Warriors, too. That one WO left over was a nice touch on God’s part, as it gave me the satisfaction of excellent sales without the nagging worry that I could have sold more if I’d brought more stock.

We were done a little after 5:00. Then back to the motel for delivered Chinese food. And here I am.

4 thoughts on “The International Viking Seminar”

  1. Besides the setting, there would be some other parallels with Augsburg. North Park belongs to the Evangelical Covenant Church, whose background in Swedish revivalism has certain similarities with Augsburg’s background. North Park would probably be more in touch with its roots than Augsburg is today, however.

  2. Some years ago I lived across the street from an

    Evangelical Covenant Church. Many of the kids from that town went to North Park. The people I met from that church and other Covenant churches over the years have been conservative evangelicals. But when I visited the North Park website some years ago I found the theology department touting Higher Criticism and JEDP theory. In my mind that puts the Covenant church in the position that the predecessors of the ELCA were about 40-50 years ago. Back then most laymen and many parish pastors held conservative Bible believing views while their colleges were training the next generation of pastors in liberal theology.

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