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Medieval PhD Dissertation turned into comic

A doctoral student at the University of Iceland has recreated his dissertation in a novel way – by making it into a comic.

Yoav Tirosh has uploaded to his Academia.edu page a version of his dissertation On the Receiving End The Role of Scholarship, Memory, and Genre in Constructing Ljósvetninga saga. It examines this Icelandic saga, most likely written in the thirteenth century, and how multiple versions of this text exist. While previous scholarship has often focused on which version is the earliest, Tirosh is more interested in how the reception of Ljósvetninga saga influenced its construction.

Tirosh explains that his previous work on making comics based on the Icelandic sagas influenced his decision to turn his dissertation into one. “I liked the challenge of trying to interpret visually something that is very text-based like a PhD thesis, and initially even intended it to be incorporated into the thesis itself,” he says. “This, however, would have delayed my submission in at least a month and time was pressing, so I decided to do it during my post-submission “vacation”. It was super fun to make, and my girlfriend Natalia Soler Huici gave me a lot of good ideas of how to frame things visually – which is why she is credited as the graphic editor.

“The plot itself – a fictional me meeting the ghost of Guðmundr inn ríki in the toilet of the Saga Hotel during a meeting with my PhD supervisor Ármann Jakobsson – is based on Steblin-Kamenskii’s The Saga Mind, where he summarizes his book’s main points through a dialogue with a ghost of a saga writer who appears to him as he watches the sunset in the Saga Hotel in Reykjavík. I was living quite nearby the hotel when reading it, and am properly afraid of ghosts, so this really freaked me out. Ever since I read that book I dreamed of finishing my thesis with such a dialogue; and I thought that the toilets at the bottom of the hotel are also a nice wink to Þorsteins þáttr skelks, where a follower of king Ólafr Tryggvason defies his command not to go to the outhouse alone, and when he defies that, meets a dangerous demon on the loo.”

The dissertation hopes to explain how scholarly preconceptions guided the reception of Ljósvetninga saga, and how sagas and other medieval literature is constantly changing and unstable, both in their preservation, and in the ways they are presented to the general public and scholarly community. Tirosh plans to defend his dissertation next month, after which he will be starting a year-long post-doctoral program at the Disability before Disability project at the University of Iceland.

“My plans for the future are twofold,” he adds. “First, to continue and investigate various Old Norse genres, and especially how they intersect with late medieval history (the 15th century is a really under-researched period in the study of saga literature), as part of this I would obviously love to find a permanent position in the field of medieval studies; second, I hope to make a general introduction to Old Norse literature in comic form. This comic was kind of an experiment towards such an immense undertaking, and hopefully I’ll find a publisher willing to help me bring this to life: it would certainly be an amazing project to achieve. In the meantime, this comic is something fun to be proud of.”

You can read his comic – The Ljósvetninga Saga Mind on Academia.edu or follow his tweets @RealMundiRiki

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