Remediating Viking Origins: Genetic Code as Archival Memory of the Remote Past

Remediating Viking Origins: Genetic Code as Archival Memory of the Remote Past

By Marc Scully, Turi King and Steven D Brown

Sociology, Vol.47:921 (2013)


Abstract: This article introduces some early data from the Leverhulme Trust-funded research programme, ‘The Impact of the Diasporas on the Making of Britain: evidence, memories, inventions’. One of the interdisciplinary foci of the programme, which incorporates insights from genetics, history, archaeology, linguistics and social psychology, is to investigate how genetic evidence of ancestry is incorporated into identity narratives. In particular, we investigate how ‘applied genetic history’ shapes individual and familial narratives, which are then situated within macro-narratives of the nation and collective memories of immigration and indigenism. It is argued that the construction of genetic evidence as a ‘gold standard’ about ‘where you really come from’ involves a remediation of cultural and archival memory, in the construction of a ‘usable past’. This article is based on initial questionnaire data from a preliminary study of those attending DNA collection sessions in northern England. It presents some early indicators of the perceived importance of being of Viking descent among participants, notes some emerging patterns and considers the implications for contemporary debates on migration, belonging and local and national identity.

Introduction: A sense of national or regional identity is a complex achievement, which draws upon multiple sets of relations such as kinship, ethnicity, social role, place and ideas of civic citizenship. Many of these are located in the present or the recent past, such as ‘where I live’, ‘where I was born’, ‘who my parents are’. But some stand in a relationship to an imagined ‘remote past’, stretching back over several hundreds of years. For many people this relationship is limited in scope, consisting perhaps of a diffuse image of the past based on images from popular history books, school education, museum visits or broadcast media sources. However, there are occasions when the relationship to the remote past can become suddenly animated. The remote past can take on extraordinary relevance for an everyday sense of national and regional identity when it coalesces around a new and vivid material form.

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