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Viking researchers help British Museum translate Norse culture

The first major exhibition on Vikings at the British Museum for over 30 years which opened on 6 March in London highlights a new research project by Viking experts at The University of Nottingham.

Vikings - Life and Legend

Professor Judith Jesch 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 will also be taking part in ‘Vikings Live’ from the British Museum to be streamed in cinemas across the UK on 24 April 2014.

Now, thanks to a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), 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.

Vikings – Life and Legend, showcases archaeological discoveries new and old, 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 has just been 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 are now travelling 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. During the week-long visits the teams will work with teachers, schoolchildren and tourism and heritage industry professionals to tailor the booklets to local needs and interests.

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 that on our forthcoming trips to the five research locations we will be able to 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 placenames like Loftus, but where nowadays the Scandinavian story isn’t really told. We are going Viking hunting in Cleveland and will produce a booklet on our findings. 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 in real life. 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.”

Curator at the British Museum, Gareth Williams, said: “The Vikings remain a popular subject, both at university level and with the general public. One of the factors behind that is the strong connection which many people feel with the Viking past. The sense of Viking heritage both in parts of Britain and elsewhere underpins much of our approach in the BP Exhibition Vikings: life and legend, and in the associated public programme and publications. We are very happy to have facilitated the Languages, Myths and Finds project in working with our exhibition, and wish the project’s students every success in their engagement with five regions.”

A two-day conference on the AHRC Languages, Myths and Finds will be held at The University of Nottingham on 28-29 June 2014 to bring academics and non-academic stakeholders together to hear and discuss the results of the project.

Vikings: life and legend’ at the British Museum runs until 22 June 2014.

Source: University of Nottingham

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