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Individual and Community in Medieval Scandinavia

Wed, 22/05/2019 - 09:30 to Thu, 23/05/2019 - 16:30


Room 311

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Inter-Scandinavian Research School in Medieval Studies.

Preliminary Programme:

Wednesday 22 May 2019

  • 9.30 Opening of the Symposium (in Árnagarður, Room 311)
  • 10.00 Miriam Mayburd, Body, Mind, and Matter in the Medieval North: New Theoretical Perspectives on Self and Personhood
  • 10.30 Guðrún Harðardóttir, Architecture in ecclesiastic seals in Iceland and Norway - Variations in interpretations
  • 11.00 Coffee break
  • 11.15 Comments by a senior scholar: Elizabeth Walgenach
  • 11.45-13.00 Lunch break
  • 13.30 Marion Poilvez, From Outlaws to Fugitives? Transition and Changes in Penal Policy in Late Medieval Iceland [13th-15th]
  • 14.00 Juan Eduardo Valle, Outlawry and unatonable crimes in Grágás and Jónsbók
  • 14.30 Comments by a senior scholar: Sverrir Jakobsson
  • 15.00 Coffee break
  • 15.30 Rakel Igland Diesen, Conceptions of Nordic Childhood and Youth in Medieval Hagiography
  • 16.00 Ryan Eric Johnson, Grappling with the World View Exposed by a Cultural Artefact: AM 226 fol.
  • 16.30 Comments by a senior scholar: Viðar Pálsson

Thursday 23 May 2019

  • 10.00 Gro Tove Sandsmark, Christianity and paganism in The Saga of Arrow Odd
  • 10.30 Michael A. Hansen, The martial culture of late-commonwealth Iceland
  • 11 Coffee Break
  • 11.15 Comments by a senior scholar: Randi Wærdahl
  • 11.45-13 Lunch Break
  • 13 Meghan A. Korten, Vaðmál, the Household, and Cloth Production in Medieval Iceland
  • 13.30 Bethany L. Rogers, Áfram með smjörið: The Cultural Significance of Dairy Products in Medieval Iceland
  • 14 Comments by a senior scholar: Ármann Jakobsson
  • 14.30 Coffee Break
  • 15 Yoav Tirosh, Lundarbrekkumálið – On the 15th Century Dispute between Ólafur Loftsson and Þorkell Guðbjartsson
  • 15.30-16.30 Concluding Debate


Rakel Igland Diesen, Conceptions of Nordic Childhood and Youth in Medieval Hagiography   

The primary objective of my project - Conceptions of Nordic Childhood and Youth in Medieval Hagiography - is to gain new knowledge about the conceptions and representations of childhood and youth in the Nordic region during the High Middle Ages by exploring Nordic vitae and miracle collections. To date, there are few studies on how childhood is presented in these sources. These texts are however among our richest sources of information about Nordic childhood and children in the Middle Ages. They should offer new insight into a wide variety of social, material, mental and discursive aspects of medieval childhood. These include everyday life minutiae and religious and social frameworks that Nordic children were raised within. The main body of primary texts relevant for this project is from the 12th to the 15th century and primarily written in Latin. The outlined project is designed as a contextually informed text- and discourse analytical study, paying special attention to patterns and traditions of genre, textual communities, intertextuality and purpose.

Guðrún Harðardóttir, Architecture in ecclesiastic seals in Iceland and Norway - Variations in interpretations

An important part of my doctoral research is architecture in the ecclesiastic seal material from Iceland and Norway. Seals were used to verify important documents in the middle ages. Because of this, medieval seals are in nature an expression of the identity of their owners. Seals contained both an image of some kind, somehow related to the owner as well as a written legend around the edges. The recognition of the seal owner was primarily through the visual reception of the seal image. For example, kings were usually presented sitting on a throne with a globe and a sceptre or on horseback wielding a sword.

In the case of communal seals, architecture is often used as a symbol of a community, a gateway or a castle in the case of cities and churches in the case of religious communities. One of the main research questions of the thesis is to what extent the church images in the Icelandic monastic seals could be interpreted as simplified “portraits” of the actual churches. In this course I would like to test the possibilities of interpretation through the theories of Richard Krautheimer and the concepts of medieval micro-architecture in the school of Francois Bucher.

Michael Anthony Hansen, The martial culture of late-commonwealth Iceland

The Sturlunga Age is seen as the most violent period of Icelandic history, fewer chieftains competed for control of larger territories then previously attempted, which ended only when the Norwegian king took possession of all the chieftaincies in Iceland. Scholars believe that during this period most classic Icelandic sagas were compiled, and as such, the tumult of the period had a profound impact on how we perceive medieval Iceland today. My dissertation addresses this period as a period of violence and conflict by examining the contemporary martial culture as displayed in sources such as the Íslendingasögur, and Samtíðarsögur. Martial culture here will be defined and described by examining the actions, values, and customary behaviors of not only the participants in violence, but also its witnesses who shaped their larger cultural perception. This is then compared with the martial culture of the earlier Icelandic commonwealth period and Viking age. This study proposes that: the martial culture of late-commonwealth Iceland was characterized by its violence-limiting aspects; the martial culture in this context was the result of staged demonstrations of power utilized for competition among the goðar; and the demonstrative and non-violent aspects progressed from earlier violent and heroic imperatives.

Ryan E. Johnson, Grappling with the World View Exposed by a Cultural Artefact: AM 226 fol.

My PhD project, which is involved in the inspection of the world view of the medieval Icelandic Canons Regular, has culminated in the inspection of a particular manuscript, AM 226 fol. I would like to develop my skills in presenting the methodology behind viewing the manuscript as a cultural artefact along with the findings of this research. As opposed to a philological taxonomic style of interpretation, the cultural artefact is most importantly viewed as a piece representative of the group of people, referred to as the scribal community, that created and subsequently used the object. Important facets of the theory this methodology has behind it and some of the pitfalls encountered require review. The world view of the scribal community involved with the cultural artefact takes centre stage in this discourse.

In this PhD course I would like to explore ways in which I am able present and analyze the preliminary findings allowing for an entertaining discourse and a chance to explore possibilities and the opinions of others in the continuation and conclusion of the research.

Meghan Anne Korten, Vaðmál, the Household, and Cloth Production in Medieval Iceland

This project will examine the textile vaðmál in order to gain insight into gender roles in textile production in medieval Icelandic society, using vaðmál as a tool to understand how gender was formed and practiced in this medieval society. Based upon mainly textual resources, the outcome of this project is intended to recast the role of women, particularly the Icelandic housewife, in order to demonstrate how gender relations in the medieval work realm were less separated than they were complementary and interconnected. Through the application of gender theory to the study of the production and use of vaðmál, it will be evident that these Norse settlers were able to survive in this new land by utilizing the labour force and skills of both gender to adapt this traditional type of cloth into a quasi-national cottage industry which helped ensure the country's economic survival.

Miriam Mayburd, Body, Mind, and Matter in the Medieval North: New Theoretical Perspectives on Self and Personhood

Mentalities and cognitive structures are historically variable, and result in variable conceptions of personhood and self-experience. This talk examines how these concepts were understood and portrayed in medieval Scandinavian literature, and explores the unlikely and unexpected ways in which bodies, minds, and the physical world around them were perceived to intertwine. It is contended that magic and supernatural form an integral part of medieval Scandinavian worldview, thus becoming dominant factoring agents in constructions of medieval Norse personhood and the self. I take this beyond the texts and endeavor to situate it within cognitive space of medieval audiences among whom such narratives circulated. Analysis into constructions and depictions of personhood and psychosomatic dynamics in medieval Scandinavian texts will open up new pathways towards reconceptualizations of the ways pre-modern minds and bodies are usually understood. After introducing main issues in current discourse on the subject, the aim is to draw attention to several theoretical tools being used in adjacent fields of anthropology and folklore (as well as cognitive science) in the study of pre-modern mentalities and demonstrate their relevance of application to medieval Scandinavian textual sources.

The goal of this presentation is to encourage source criticism of secondary scholarship itself, by tracing how disciplinary boundaries between fields as diverse as literature, archaeology, and folkloristics might dictate or limit the scope of interpretative models used in dealing with medieval mentalities: how the tacitly assumed socio-cultural norms of the present discursively shape critical approaches to socio-cultural norms of the past. The presentation is intended to invite active discussion and thinking adventurously on those broad subjects.

Marion Poilvez, From Outlaws to Fugitives? Transition and Changes in Penal Policy in Late Medieval Iceland [13th-15th]

Being a stateless society between the 9th and 13th century, the Icelandic commonwealth developped specific practices to sanction anti-social/criminal behaviours. Fines, compensations and outlawry emerged as the the main features in penal practices. In the absence of state and death penalty, full outlawry (skóggangr) was the highest sentence, and wrongdoers were thrown outside the protection of the law. In practice, this meant that individuals could be lawfully killed without compensation, or left to die in the wilderness. During the Sturlung age, outlawry took a different shape, eventhough no radical legal changes occurred. Linked to an escalation in patronage, outlaws became valuable pawns in the ongoing conflicts. However, the submission to the Norwegian rule in the mid-13th century brought a qualitative change in penal policy, among which the introduction of death penalty and sheriffs. How did this transition affect penal practices in Iceland?

This investigation aims at identifying changes in penal policy from the Icelandic commonwealth, onto the Sturlung age and the Norwegian rule. Different aspects will be looked at, such as the means of legal reinforcement, detentions, excecutions, regional differences, etc. The relevance of different types of sources (legal codes, sagas, charters, church records and correspondances) will be addressed, and the gap between official policy and actual practices assessed. On a wider scale, this research will question the stakes of penal policy-making and practices in a transitional context from an independent stateless community to a distant royal power.

Bethany Rogers, Áfram með smjörið: The Cultural Significance of Dairy Products in Medieval Iceland

This project aims to achieve a better understanding of the cultural and anthropological significance of dairy products in the context of Icelandic culture, particularly the historical relationship between humans and milk products (milk, skyr [a yogurt-like product], butter, cheese and mysa [a by-product of skyr]) in Icelandic history between 1000-1500 AD. The research is guided by close contextual analysis of key Íslendingasögur [Sagas of the Icelanders] texts, which are set in the everyday lives of medieval Icelanders and as such reflect common knowledge and use of dairy-producing animals and dairy products. This work will engage with existing research from historical, literary studies and physical artefacts of milk-based practices, folklore, and artefacts in order to discuss the evolution and purpose of milk products in medieval Icelandic culture with contextualizing support from elsewhere in Scandinavia in order to show that dairy products are in fact an emblem of culture as defined by historian Fernand Braudel.

Gro Tove Sandmark, Christianity and paganism in The Saga of Arrow Odd

My ph.d. will address the sagas from a literary angle with a didactic question in mind: How is multiculturality presented in the sagas and what does this have to say for the potential in the modern multi-ethnic classroom? In this paper I will elaborate some issues on one of three articles that will build my thesis. The research question in this article is: “How does the Christian normative in the time of writing meet with the pagan normative of the past in The Saga of Arrow Odd?” My theoretic approach will be of mixed origin, mainly literary theory with a mythological and historical twist. The Saga of Arrow Odd is a legendary saga about a Norwegian chieftain’s son, who after a life of travelling becomes king of Byzantium (Hunaland). Throughout his life Odd travels to most corners of the world known by Scandinavians. He ends his life where he started it, at Berruhrjóðr in South Western Norway, and thus fulfils a pagan volva’s prediction, which he states not to believe in, but still does everything to avoid. Odd believes in “mátt sinn og meginn”, his own power and strength, but in spite of his declared self-efficacy he takes advice from Odin, and he is also baptised.

Arrow Odd’s position in life, as well as ideological, is thus a kind of between: Norwegian/Sami, king/rambler, civilised/wild, Christian/pagan. 800-1300 is a period of great Norwegian expansion, but also of Christian expansion in Scandinavia. European colonialization, as defined today, had of course not started at the time of saga writing, but still I think that some postcolonial concepts and approaches might be useful to describe the position of the Sami population, and maybe even the pagans. To explore different voices in the narrative I will use Bakhtin’s concept, “polyphony”. Other structural approaches like Olrik’s epic laws of fairy tale narrative might be of good help when studying mythological tracks.

Yoav Tirosh, Lundarbrekkumálið – On the 15th Century Dispute between Ólafur Loftsson and Þorkell Guðbjartsson

In this research I will trace the mid-fifteenth century dispute between Þorkell Guðbjartsson and Ólafur Loftsson over the Northern church territories of Lundarbrekka í Bárðardal and Helgastaðir í Reykjadal, focusing on Lundarbrekka since it is better documented. Sometime before 1448, the layman Ólafur Loftsson received control over Helgastaðir í Reykjadal from Hólar Bishop Gottskálk Keneksson; this staðr had previously been held by the elite cleric Þorkell Guðbjartsson, who had previously held the major benefice of Grenjaðarstaðr. Ólafur Loftsson had then purchased Lundarbrekka í Bárðardal from Ásgrímr Jónsson, after Ásgrímr had allegedly bought it a few months before from Þorkell Guðbjartsson. Þorkell had clearly felt that Ólafur had taken something that had belonged to him. After he declared Ólafur excommunicated, Þorkell took his case to the bishop. The final result of the case is unknown, but ownership of the church in Lundarbrekka seems to have moved away, either partly or fully, from the progeny of both Þorkell and Ólafur. Since this dispute is not recorded in narrative form it has will be reconstructed following the diplomatic material available to us in Diplomatarium Islandicum\Íslenzkt Fornbréfasafn.

Julian Eduardo Valle, Outlawry and unatonable crimes in Grágás and Jónsbók

The purpose of this paper will be to explore to which extent the charges of lesser and full outlawry in Grágás were adapted into the Norwegian laws for Iceland after 1280. Although outlawry (útlagi) occurs in Jónsbók, the difference between a temporary and a permanent sentence does not exist as it did in earlier law. However, Jónsbók introduces the concept of óbótamaðr as the most severe form of punishment, to be applied to those without the right to atone by paying compensation.

In this paper, I will attempt to systematize the crimes included in each category in the “Treatment of Homicide” section of Grágás and the “Personal Rights” section of Jónsbók. I will then study the terms connected with the concepts of outlawry and óbótamál.

My hypothesis is that while outlawry entailed the most severe form of punishment in a society like that of Commonwealth Iceland, with the expansion of the Norwegian legal sphere and the introduction of the Royal power that came after the incorporation, new forms of punishment were required. The royal pardon for outlaws and the sentence of óbótamaðr functioned both as means to punish undesirable conducts and as tools to introduce kingship into the Icelandic society.