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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : European Languages & Cultures - Scandinavian Stud

Postgraduate Course: Pretext, Context and Intertext: Navigating Viking Culture, Then and Now (ELCS11014)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course foregrounds and models the key concepts, theories and approaches needed to access and evaluate past manifestations of Scandinavian culture. Its main thematic focus will be the series of developments and events encountered from the 8th to the 11th century, and referred to collectively as 'The Viking Age'. The course has two complimentary dimensions: The first of these introduces three broad 'Topics' in Viking culture, comprising six key 'Strands' as evidenced by contemporary and near-contemporary material, from archaeological, art-historical, and documentary sources. The second centres the appropriation and repurposing of this material in six cultural developments from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, highlighting the profound impact this has had on literature, politics, film and popular culture throughout the Western World. The emphasis throughout is on methodology and process. Each Strand begins by fronting common preconceptions, before highlighting the significance of context in unpacking the meaning and significance of different types of evidence used to frame cultural narratives on the Viking Age. On successful completion of the course, students will have refined the skills and strategies needed to assess how and why representations of Viking Age culture in more recent times have diverged from the material realities of the Viking Age itself. They will, moreover, have gained expertise in tailoring their articulation of those ideas to the requirements of different media.
Course description The term 'Viking' is a ship that comes laden with heavy baggage. Thanks to an endless reel of films, tv-shows, video games and (graphic!) novels, we all 'know' the Vikings as expert seafarers, fearless warriors and brutal pagans. They stand out as free-spirited bands of brothers and adventurers who pillaged and plundered their way across Europe from around AD 750 until conversion to Christianity made them realise the error of their ways a few hundred years later. But the sense of danger, excitement and equality that surrounds their exploits in the popular imagination does not come from the words of the Vikings themselves. Disappointingly for some, most of the more familiar notions and clichés of Viking life can be traced back to writers of the 19th century, striving to thrill, shock and inspire their readers with tales of noble, and sometimes less than noble savagery. The boring truth is that there were no horned helmets, that the Vikings had no monopoly on violence, and that they inflicted considerably less grief on the rest of the world in the name of their religious beliefs than the Christians they are said to have troubled. This context raises several inter-related questions foundational to this course: What was Viking life actually like? What kinds of evidence survive? How do we interpret them? And if things really were so different from the modern clichés, who felt the need to develop them, and why?

This course is aimed at students who aspire to work in the cultural heritage sector. By examining the main preconceptions on Viking Age culture in the light of the surviving evidence from the Viking Age itself, it aims to develop the skills in analysis and presentation needed to unpack and describe those phenomena. By reviewing the societal context and agendas of the cultural movements which lie behind the evolution of the modern Viking 'image', students will learn how to navigate the route between fact and fiction more securely, and understand how and why two centuries of unbroken and expansive political and cultural developments have connected the Western world to the Vikings. Finally, and following training in both academic and popular writing, including analytical essays and magazine articles, students will also gain confidence and practical skills in presenting these topics to different audiences.

Teaching delivery is based around six key 'Topics': The Vikings at Home; Raids & Realms; The Viking Outlook; Constructing the Viking Image; Appropriating the Viking Image; The Vikings in Popular Culture.

Each Topic is further divided into two more nuanced 'Strands', which will cover a broad range of preconceptions, evidence, conceptual approaches, and more recent appropriation of Viking Age culture. Each Strand sets out from the image of an associated artefact, and a short extract from a relevant primary text. Introductory materials will foreground common preconceptions on the topic, provide a manageable amount of required reading, and a selection of recommended reading, covering texts, web-based resources, databases, and audio-visual materials. The format of each strand seminar is the same - combining components of introduction, context, modelling, group-discussion and dissemination, and conclusions.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking Viking Studies (Ordinary) (ELCS09010) OR Viking Studies (ELCS10034) OR Viking Studies (Level 11) (ELCS11007)
Other requirements Students should have passes in an approved sequence of 1st and 2nd year courses in historical, literary, or cultural studies. For confirmation of appropriateness, please contact the course organiser.

Students cannot previously have taken (or currently be taking) ELCS09010, ELCS10034, or ELCS11007
Additional Costs Students will be encouraged to acquire their own copies of some of the primary texts.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students must have successfully completed at least two years of UG study, to include passes in an approved sequence of courses in historical, literary, or cultural studies. For confirmation of appropriateness, please contact the course organiser.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 2
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 34, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 162 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework 100%

Leading and participating in 'text seminar' group discussion (Formative)

25%: 6 x weekly, automatically-corrected online tests designed to encourage and assess acquisition of the factual underpinnings of the topics covered

50%: Analytical essay related to one of the course strands, 2,500-words

25%: Reworking of analytical essay as a magazine or newspaper article, 750 words
Feedback Students will receive peer-feedback on their draft essay; and further summative and formative feedback following the submission of their course essays. Students will be able to use this feedback to help shape their final written submission at the end of the course. Further advice and feedback will be available on request throughout.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate a sound understanding of the factual and conceptual underpinning of key themes in the historical period referred to as the Viking Age, and its representations in the arts and media of the 19th to 21st centuries.
  2. Participate proactively in discussion of these themes in the ongoing development of the Viking ¿image¿.
  3. Convincingly describe concepts from archaeological, historical, cultural and literary studies, and how these can be combined in interdisciplinary approaches to help unpack the Viking concept.
  4. Produce a clear, coherent and nuanced essay, which develops arguments both critically and systematically with the use of relevant emphases, subsidiary points, and examples, and with direct reference to a wide range of primary sources and ongoing academic debate, in order to elicit the connection between material remains, their interpretation, and the representation of Vikings Age culture.
  5. Demonstrate a strong ability to reframe academic work on Viking Age culture in a less formal writing-style, better-suited to newspaper or magazine articles.
Reading List
Reading List

There is a large and growing volume of academic material covering almost every aspect of Viking Studies. This includes edited volumes, peer-reviewed chapters and articles, and monographs - an increasing number of which are now available online. The following examples will form the core of a larger reading list which will evolve and change over time.


Access will be required in part or in whole:

Brink, S. & Price, N. (eds.) (2008) The Viking World. Abingdon: Routledge. (Online access via DiscoverEd)
Jesch, J. (2015) The Viking Diaspora. London: Routledge. (Online access via DiscoverEd)
McTurk, R. (ed.) Old Norse-Icelandic Literature & Culture. London, Blackwell Publishing. (Online access via DiscoverEd)
Helle, K. (ed.) (2008) The Cambridge History of Scandinavia Volume 1. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. (Online access via DiscoverEd)
Darvill, T. (2009) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Oxford, OUP. (Online access via DiscoverEd)
Renfrew, C. & Bahn, P. (eds.) (2005) Archaeology: The Key Concepts. London, Taylor & Francis.

The course will also cover a selection of primary texts, translations and film. Indicative materials might include (extracts from):

Faulkes, A. (1987) Snorri Sturluson: Edda. London, Everyman.
Larrington, C. (2014) The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics, Oxford.
Friis-Jensen, K. (ed.) (2015) Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes, Vol. 1. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
The Annals of Ulster, The Annals of Tigernach, The Annals of the Four Masters and other Irish annalistic material on CELT
Holcomb, T. A. E. & Lyon Holcomb, M. A. (transl.) (1926). Esaias Tegnér's Fridthjof's Saga; a Norse Romance. 3rd edition. London, Trübner and Co.
Gaiman, N. (2017) Norse Mythology. New York & London, W.W. Norton & Company.
Byatt, A. S. (2011) Ragnarok. Edinburgh, Canongate Books.
Eggers, R. (dir.) (2022) The Northman. Universal Pictures.


Learning on this course is supported by a wide range of peer-reviewed journals, including, but by no means limited to:

The Saga Book of the Viking Society for Northern Research
Norwegian Archaeological Review
Viking and Medieval Scandinavia
Northern Studies:
Barrett, J.H. (2008) What caused the Viking Age?' Antiquity 82, pp. 671-75. (Essential)
Ashby, S.P. (2015) 'What Really Caused the Viking Age? The Social Content of Raiding and Exploration' Archaeological Dialogues 22-1, pp. 89-106.
Hadley, D.M. & Richards, J.D. (2016) 'The Winter Camp of the Viking Great Army, AD 872-3, Torksey, Lincolnshire', in Antiquaries Journal 96, pp. 23-67.
Macniven, A. (2013) 'Modelling Viking Migration to the Inner Hebrides' Journal of North Atlantic Studies (Special Volume 4), 3-18.
Brink, S. (2021) Thraldom: A History of Slavery in the Viking Age. London & New York, Oxford University Press.
Holm, P. (1986) 'The slave trade of Dublin, ninth to twelfth centuries', in Peritia, pp. 317-45.
Randsborg, K. (1986) 'The study of slavery in northern Europe: an archaeological approach', in Acta Archaeologica 55, pp. 155-60.
Jesch, J. (1991) Women in the Viking Age. Woodbridge, Boydell & Brewer.
Hedenstierna-Jonson, C. (et al.) (2019) 'A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics', in Am J Phys Anthropol. 2017 Dec (164(4)), pp. 853-860. (
Gunnell, T. (2015) 'Pantheon? What Pantheon? Concepts of a Family of Gods in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions', Scripta Islandica 66, pp. 55-76.
Abrahms, C. (2011) Myths of the Pagan North: Gods of the Northmen. London, Continuum.
Price, N. (2020) Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. New York, Basic Books.
Gunnell, T. & Lassen, A. (eds.) (2013) The Nordic Apocalypse: Approaches to Völuspá and Nordic Days of Judgement. Turnhout, Brepols.
Lönnroth, L. (1997) 'The Vikings in History and Legend', in Sawyer, P. (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 225-49. (See below)
Sawyer, P. (1997) 'The Viking Legacy', in Sawyer, P. (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings. Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 250-61.

Further Reading

Price, T.D. (2015) Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings. New York, Oxford University Press.
Halsall, G. (2003) Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900. London, Routledge.
Heather, P. (2008) Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe. London, Macmillan
Baug, I., Skre, D., Heldal, T. & Jansen, Ø. J. (2019) 'The Beginning of the Viking Age in the West', Journal of Maritime Archaeology 14, pp. 43-80.
Heen-Pettersen, A.M. (2018) 'The Earliest Wave of Viking Activity? The Norwegian Evidence Revisited', European Journal of Archaeology 22 (4), pp. 523-541.
Jesch, J. (2001) Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge, Boydell Press.
Pierce, I. & Oakshott, E. (2014) Swords of the Viking Age. Woodbridge, Boydell Press.
Raffield, B. (2019) 'The slave markets of the Viking world: Comparative perspectives on an "invisible archaeology" ', in Slavery & Abolition, Vol.40 (4), pp. 682-705
Hudson, B.T. (1999) 'The changing economy of the Irish Sea province: AD 900 - 1300', in Smith, B. (ed.) Britain and Ireland 900 - 1300: Insular Responses to Medieval European Change. Cambridge, CUP, 39-66.
Quinn, J. (2007) 'Women in Old Norse Poetry and Sagas', in McTurk, R. (ed.) A Companion to Old Norse Literature and Culture. London, Blackwell Publishing, pp. 518-35.
Hermann, P., Mitchell, S.A., Schjødt, J.P. & Rose, A.J. (eds.) (2017) 'Old Norse Mythology - Comparative Perspectives'. Cambridge, MA & London: The MIlman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, Harvard University.
Skre, D. (2017) 'Scandinavian monetisation in the first millennium AD - practices and institutions', in Mitchell, J., Moreland, J. & Leal, B. (eds.) Encounters, Excavations and Argosies: Essays for Richard Hodges. Oxford, Archaeopress Publishing Ltd, pp. 291-9.
Merkel, S. (2013) 'The Relationship of Hacksilver and Minting in 10th Century Southern Scandinavia' Metalla Nr. 20.2, 75-9.
Skre, D. (2017) 'Monetary Practices in Early Medieval Western Scandinavia (5th-10th Centuries AD), Medieval Archaeology, Volume 61 (Issue 2); pp. 277-99.
Kilger, C. (2011) 'Hack-Silver, Weights and Coinage: the Anglo-Saxion Bullion Coinages and their Use in Late Viking-Age Society', In Graham-Campbell, J., Sindbæk, S.M. & Williams, G. (eds.) Silver Economies, Monetisation and Society in Scandinavia AD 800-1100. Aarhus, Aarhus University Press, pp. 259-81.
Woolf, A. (2007) From Pictland to Alba 789-1070. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. (Online access via DiscoverEd)
Kruse, A. (2007), 'Fashion, Limitation and Nostalgia: Scandinavian Place-Names Abroad', in Kruse, A. & Graves, P. (eds.) Images and Imaginations: Perspectives on Britain and Scandinavia. Edinburgh, Lockharton Press, pp. 3-33.
Graham Campbell, J. & Batey, C. (1998) Vikings in Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Harrison, S. (2013) 'Beyond Longphuirt? Life and Death in Early Viking-Age Ireland', in ten Harkel, L. & Hadley, D. (eds.) Everyday Life in Viking-Age Towns: Social Approaches to Towns in England and Ireland, c. 800-1100. Oxford, Oxbow Books, pp. 61-72.
Wawn, A. (2000) The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Ninteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge, D.S. Brewer.
Benson, A. B. (1926) 'A List of the English Translations of the Frithjofs Saga. A Retrospect at the Centenary' in The Germanic Review, Vol.1, pp.142=167
Cederlund, C.O. (2011) 'The Modern Myth of the Viking', in Journal of Maritime Archaeology, Vol. 6, No. 1 (October 2011), pp. 5-35.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills As an outcome of having studied this course, students will benefit from having developed a range of personal and professional skills commensurate with the range of SCQF Level 11 characteristics:

Knowledge and understanding: students will have had the opportunity to demonstrate a critical understanding of a range of the specialised theories and concepts in relation to their reading and discussion of the course material;

Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: in their work for class discussion, and formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to use a range of specialised skills, techniques, practices and/or materials that are at the forefront of, or informed by forefront developments;

Generic Cognitive Skills: in completing assessed essays, students will have practiced identifying, conceptualising and defining new and abstract problems and issues germane to the discipline;

Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists;

Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and practise in ways which draw on critical reflection on own and others¿
Special Arrangements Collaborative course, please see previous information.
Course organiserDr Alan MacNiven
Tel: (0131 6)50 3279
Course secretaryMrs Lina Gordyshevskaya
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