Friday, 9 May 2014

2014: Year of the Viking - Midlands Viking Symposium (Part 5/5)

My 5th and I can guarantee not the last viking event I attended this year is the newly discovered Midlands Viking Symposium on Saturday 26th April, held at the University of Birmingham.

Now I in hall honesty didn't realise such a Symposium existed (I hadn't even come across the very word until this year) when I met my author friend James Aitcheson at a book signing during this year's Jorvik Viking Festival and he mentioned it to me and sent the link. HUGE thank you to James! I owe you one!

If you don't know what the Midlands Viking Symposium is all about it's main goal is bring leading academics, experts, archeologists and histories with the most recent up-to-date research into a space where it is available to be enjoyed by the british public and other enthusiasts. As quite a lot of courses now as PHDs or full Degrees are focusing on Scandinavian studies whether it's the viking history, culture and mythology and people like myself can't afford the luxury of attending them so the Symposium was created. And just to make it clear the word Symposium means 'conference' but it sounds extra awesome as Symposium don't you think?

Anyway these were the key speakers and the topics I listened to and experienced on that very enjoyable day:

Dr Christina Lee (Nottingham): Sick Vikings
The paper will look at what we know about responses to illness - in the Viking Age but much more through what later sagas tell us about attitudes towards disease and illness. 

Dr Chris Callow (Birmingham):  Did the Vikings sacrifice their slaves?
There is an account by the traveller-scholar Ibn Fadlan of the Viking community in eastern Europe performing an elaborate funeral ritual in which a slave girl is killed. As a result many scholars cite this and archaeological evidence in support of the idea of so-called ‘slave burials’, for the deliberate killing of slaves to be interred with their masters. This talk reviews the evidence of some of these gruesome and not-so-gruesome-looking graves to consider the question afresh across the Viking world. 

Dr Philip Shaw (Leicester): A glove in hood’s clothing? Hrólfs saga kraka and Beowulf, once more with humour
The Old English poem Beowulf and the Old Norse Hrólfs saga are two of the most important stories in their respective languages. Scholars have often pondered the apparent similarities between parts of each story. In this talk it will be argued that the overall pattern of three monster fights found in Beowulf is retold as a kind of joke in Hrólfs saga when Bo̢ðvarr encounters Ho̢ttr at Hrólf’s hall and he fights with a dragon-like monster. This interpretation has implications for our understanding not only of how this particular Old Norse saga originated but for the nature of story-telling in the Viking Age. 

Dr Slavica Rankovic (Leeds): Grettir’s Secret Formula
Grettir’s saga is one of the most intriguing of the Sagas of Icelanders, the major genre of saga that was written down in medieval Iceland. Through the centuries scholars have puzzled over how and why these stories came into being – at the same time as they look like folktales they look like sophisticated literary works. This talk will present some of the latest research on how the formulaic elements of the sagas ‘worked’ for medieval audiences. Grettir, the aggressive outlawed hero of this saga also famously expressed his ability to resist temptation through what might be called a ‘no reaction’ formula. The nuances of Grettir and his saga will be analysed to show how and why he emerges as one of the most complex characters in world literature. 

Bernadette McCooey (Birmingham): The Viking Age farm
For all their reputation as marauders, the Vikings and their descendants had to feed themselves. This talk consider the Viking ‘colony’ in Iceland where the farm was the basic building block of society and the stage on which most of life’s events took place. The farm was also a unit of production that ensured the survival of the farm’s inhabitants. Livestock were an essential element of farm production, yet questions about how farms worked have been neglected. I hope to raise some of the issues concerning livestock and the daily management of the animals, and offer some insights into the routine of Viking Age Icelandic farm. 

Cat Jarman (Bristol): Resolving Viking Age Repton? New techniques on old bones
One of the most famous Viking Age excavations in England was that around the church of St. Wystan in Repton, Derbyshire, between 1974 and 1993. It uncovered considerable evidence for the presence of the 873-4 AD Viking winter camp recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Among the discoveries were a small fortification, ‘Scandinavian’ burials. Most strikingly there was a mound burial containing the disarticulated bones of at least 264 people. Were these the bones of the Viking army and their followers? This talk presents some of the first results of the scientific analysis of these human remains to determine the geographical origins and social status of those interred.  

Gareth Williams (Curator Viking exhibition, British Museum): Repton revisited: the Viking camps of the Great Army in the light of the Torksey and 'North Yorkshire' sites
The activities of the 'Great Heathen Army' of 865-78 represented an important new phase in Viking activity in England, and one which culminate in the settlement of much of northern and eastern England by the Vikings. This period, which also had parallels in Ireland and the Frankish kingdoms, was characterised by forces campaigning for years at  a time, choosing to over-winter in enemy territory rather than either returning home or (until the very end of the period) settling permanently in the territories they had conquered. This strategy depended on the development each year of so-called 'winter camps' as seasonal bases. Until recently, the only one of these bases to be investigated in any detail was Repton in Derbyshire, where a D-shaped enclosure around the existing monastery church has set a paradigm for what 'Viking camps' were like. Recent years have seen the partial investigation of two new sites, one at Torksey in Lincolnshire, the other in North Yorkshire. Although neither has been fully investigated, they have strong similarities, and suggest a very different scale and character of activity to that suggested in the traditional interpretation of Repton. 

All incredible and remarkable don't you think? Although there is no clear focus to the Symposium lectures provided I quite like the mixture of topics as it makes me think about lots of things I've never considered when discussing the Vikings in any context. Certainly each lecture taught me something new and lots too. I took about 10 pages of notes home with me. And even though I may not use this new knowledge to any degree in my writing I think it's still an awesome way to learn new things on top of all the many books available to read. Plus as it's up-to-date research it isn't reviving old news that people have known or presumed for decades. Just goes to show there is still many amazing things we don't know about the Vikings. Which I am glad for - I want there to always be unknowns so I will never know everything about them hehehe.

The lectures were only 30 minutes each, some had notes and they all had a presentation slide show to better demonstrate excavation sites, artefacts and statistics etc. I quite liked them being only 30 minutes long as it's a nice and easy bite size of knowledge to digest and allows there to be more than a handful of lectures too. There was also a nice lunch provided which allowed eager enthusiasts opportunity to speak to the lecturers as well as mingle and make new friends. I'm half heartedly ashamed to say I stuck to James Aitcheson like glue although we did have a jolly good conversation all day long inbetween lectures. It was nice to have a friendly face there in the crowd of maybe 50 or more.

The extra great thing about the Midlands Viking Symposium is that it is an annual event although it does change location for where it's hosted. And has been enlightening the british public for 10 years! I don't know how I have never heard of it before! Although it took another author friend Giles Kristian to introduce me to the Festival of History now renamed as History Live (mainly by being there as part of a Historical Fiction Festival & where I met him for the 1st time - if he hadn't mentioned it on Facebook I would still be none the wiser) which is a HUGE national celebration of British History and also another annual event. So as well as attending Jorvik Viking Festival & History Live I now have the Midlands Viking Symposium to look forward to every year and get 3 doeses of Vikingy stuff (knowledge or experience) every year! Praise ODIN!

So that is the list and review of the 5 top notch Vikingy events I've already attended this year, 2014, and as you may have guessed there is more to come. In fact in the process of doing these blog posts I came across several other fab vikingy events yet to come that are now in my diary.

I will reveal details of them all tomorrow so others may get as much enjoyment & benefit from them as I do. May the vikingy events never end! 

For 2014 is the Year of the Vikings!

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