On the trail of the Vikings

August 18th, 2014

The first major exhibition on Vikings at the British Museum for over 30 years highlights a new research project by experts at The University of Nottingham.

Professor Judith Jesch, pictured, from the University’s Centre for the Study of the Viking Age has contributed her expertise to this landmark exhibition in the form of interviews and audio recordings on Viking culture to accompany the exhibits. She also took part in ‘Vikings Live’ from the British Museum, which was streamed in cinemas across the UK.

Thanks to a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Professor Jesch is leading an initiative to bring knowledge about Viking heritage to parts of the UK and Ireland where there is potential to develop local understanding of their links to this fascinating period.

The BP-sponsored exhibition, Vikings — Life and Legend, showcases archaeological discoveries, including religious images, coins and jewellery, swords and axes. At the centre of the show are the remains of a 37-metre Viking warship excavated at Roskilde in Denmark in 1997.

The AHRC research project, ‘Languages, Myths and Finds’ is built around the British Museum exhibition and involves 20 PhD students from eight universities led by a team of academics. The group was given a private view of the exhibition and gathered valuable information from the curator, Gareth Williams, about new ways of translating Norse and Viking culture for 21st-century audiences.

The researchers traveled to five different parts of the UK and Ireland — Dublin, Cork, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Lewis and Cleveland — to engage with local people and produce a series of guidebooks on the Viking heritage of each area. The teams worked with teachers, schoolchildren and tourism and heritage industry professionals to tailor the booklets to local needs and interests.

A two-day conference on the AHRC Languages, Myths and Finds will be held at The University of Nottingham on 28-29 June to bring academics and non-academic stakeholders together to hear and discuss the results of the project.

Professor Jesch said: “We aim to raise the profile of Viking history both in areas where the Celtic heritage dominates and in areas where there is still little awareness of their Norse history. A good example is Cleveland in north-east England where the hill called Roseberry Topping is the only place-name in England to contain the Norse form of the name of the god Odin.

“We’d like to thank the British Museum for our extremely valuable tour of the Vikings exhibition. We hope our trips to the five research locations will offer a view of the exhibition to people who may not be able to get to London to see it.”

University of Nottingham PhD student Eleanor Rye said: “I’m part of a team going to Cleveland, an area which was on the periphery of the main area of Scandinavian settlement in Northern England. It’s an area where there are plenty of traces of the Vikings in things like place names like Loftus, but where nowadays the Scandinavian story isn’t really told. We are going Viking hunting in Cleveland and will produce a booklet. We’re also holding a final conference and creating a project website. I am really interested in how Viking heritage affected our English language and the British Museum exhibition has given us fantastically rich cultural material including stories and texts to read and get to grips with.”

Aya Van Renterghem, also doing her PhD, added: “I really enjoyed the exhibition. They’ve got a lot of the really famous things on show which you hear about and read about in books but it’s something different to actually see them. I am part of the team going to the Isle of Man to make a Viking trail of the island, especially based around stone sculpture and archaeological evidence. This will eventually be available to the public and the tourist industry there. We are also running a ‘children’s university’ workshop on Viking Runes and even re-enacting a Viking burial so it’s all very exciting and a great way to disseminate our research.”

Vikings — Life and legend is at the British Museum until 22 June.

A new book, The Vikings in Britain and Ireland by Jayne Carroll (Nottingham), Stephen H Harrison (Trinity College Dublin) and Gareth Williams. (British Museum) is published by the British Museum Press to accompany the exhibition.

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