Review of Old Norse Poetry in Performance by Ben Chennells (Research Support Fund)

Report of the conference held at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, 21-22 June 2023

Building on previous events held in 2016 and 2019, ‘Old Norse Poetry in Performance: Inheritance and Innovation’ was the third conference in the series which brings established academics, early career researchers, students, and independent scholars of Old Norse poetry together with performers in the poetic traditions of the medieval north. 44 delegates attended, including 15 students/early career researchers, and five more participated online. In-person participants came from as far away as Australia, South Korea, and Colombia, along with representatives of eight different European countries.

The papers presented as part of the academic side of the conference covered a wide range of topics, including medieval modes of Eddic and skaldic performance, how these are represented in both medieval prosimetra and modern performance practices, and the emerging connections between performance and runic poetry. Simon Nygaard’s keynote lecture focused especially on this latter dimension, drawing on the field of contextual runology to produce intriguing insights into the lesser-discussed performative functions of such well-known artefacts as the Schlwesig rune stick and the Ribe skull fragment. The programme also boasted an exciting line-up of performance events. After the first day of the conference, delegates were treated to a two-part event at the Oxford Story Museum. This featured an original English translation of Vǫluspá performed by Clare Mulley and Kjell Braaten, and a performance of Þorbjǫrn hornklofi’s Glymdrápa by Pétur Húni Björnsson and Ben Chennells, which was accompanied by discussions investigating the relationships between performance, performer, and audience. Mulley and Braaten’s performance was especially well received and attracted a favourable review in the national press. As the conference came to a close, delegates also participated in an interactive workshop on Faroese balladry hosted by Tóta Árnadóttir, who combined enthusiasm and patience to great effect in getting a roomful of academics to enact a chain dance.

The conference organisers are immensely grateful to the Viking Society for once again supporting this event via the Research Support Fund, which was used to secure technical support at the Story Museum. The ongoing ONPiP project continues to prove engaging and productive for both academics and performance practitioners, and the organisers look forward to building on its success in the years to come.

Report from Luthien Cangemi (Research Support Fund)

International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, 2023

Thanks to the generous support of the Viking Society and the Wellcome Trust, I had the opportunity to organize and participate in two panels on Illness, Health, and Disease in the pre-modern Nordic areas at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo (May 2023). I am delighted to convey that both sessions attracted a significant audience, and the attendees expressed great satisfaction with the comparative framework employed to explore the themes of illness and health within the contexts of Old English, Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Old Norse.

This experience proved to be immensely valuable for my PhD research and significantly enhanced my academic network and organizational abilities. The connections I established through my involvement in the conference organization are profoundly influencing my academic career trajectory, and I am currently exploring the prospect of editing a volume based on the research presented at the Kalamazoo event.

Furthermore, attending the congress in person rather than online allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the scholarly environment, practices, and research in the United States. I am sincerely grateful to the Viking Society for enabling my in-person attendance and for their assistance in making the most of this invaluable experience.

Report from Natalia Radziwillowicz (Research Support Fund)

The Bergen International Postgraduate Symposium, 2023

With thanks to the Viking Society for Northern Research, and the University of Nottingham, I was able to attend and present a paper at the 14th Bergen International Postgraduate Symposium in Old Norse Studies, which took place from the 17th to the 20th April 2023.

The Symposium has not been held in the last few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and it was encouraging to once again be part of an academic event which was so motivational, supportive and multi-disciplinary.

The Symposium provided the opportunity to meet young academics from many different Universities, and the input of established scholars meant that it was possible to discuss ideas and consider research from different viewpoints. The feedback and questions from the audience after each paper highlighted how clearly engaged and interested everyone was in stimulating discussion, and delving into one another’s research. This made for a lively and very heartening Symposium, and was further evidenced by the fact that these discussions and questions were not limited to the time we spent in the auditorium, but would spill over into lunchtime debates, and increasingly amusing discussions in ‘Det Akademiske Kvarter’ at the end of the day.

My paper focused on the interactions between Danes and Slavs, as portrayed in the 13th century text, Knýtlinga saga, and I was delighted to receive questions and suggestions from the audience. These questions have prompted me to look into some ideas which I had not considered before, perhaps most notably about the ways in which Christian saints could be adopted or even deified by non-Christian communities, and I am delighted to have had this experience, which will doubtless help shape my ongoing research.

Although much of our time was spent in the auditorium (and adjoining tea/coffee station), the organisers also arranged excursions, the first of which was a fascinating visit to the University Library Special Collections exhibit, where we were able to hear about the ways in which the library has specialised in manuscript collection and preservation, and how these manuscripts are safely stored and transported when needed. The final day saw us travel slightly out of Bergen to Lyse kloster (Lyse Abbey), the ruins of a 12th century Cistercian Monastery, with its own quarry nearby, and then on to the Hordamuseet, a museum  which includes exhibits inside showcasing boat building and a history of farming and fishing in the area, as well as open-air sites which included an iron age burial,  the sunken remains of a boat building yard, and examples of different building types from the region.

At the close of this day myself and my fellow University of Nottingham participants had to part ways with the Bergen Symposium organisers and attendees, and say our reluctant goodbyes as we headed to the airport to return to Nottingham. After a very full itinerary I think we were all tired, but the experience had left us excited and ready to head back into our research with a revitalised sense of the importance of research, but also with the knowledge that there is a thriving academic community we belong to.

With sincere thanks to the University of Bergen for hosting and organising this Symposium once more, and with special thanks to the Viking Society for Northern Research and the University of Nottingham for providing me with the means to attend.

Ha det bra, Norge!