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New Medieval Books: The Vanished Settlers of Greenland

The Vanished Settlers of Greenland: In Search of a Legend and Its Legacy

By Robert W. Rix

Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 978-1-009-35947-4

There was a small Norse colony in Greenland during the Middle Ages. Centuries later, Danes and other Europeans came to this region to search for what happened to these people, leading to new encounters with the Inuit and much speculation about the fate of this colony.


The book is organised thematically but unfolds roughly chronologically. The first three chapters are concerned with how Greenland was constructed in European texts until the end of the eighteenth century, as I examine the rhetorical strategies and textual practices of the period’s key writings. From Chapter 4, the book shifts focus primarily to British and American material, taking its starting point in the important year of 1818. There are also other transitions. In the first part of the nineteenth century literary writers began to take an interest in the vanished settlers. Literary imaginings reached their peak towards the end of the century. These literary adventure tales consciously mimicked the style and genre of the Arctic exploration account as it had been written for centuries. In this way they made the yearned-for discovery of the ‘lost colony’ come true, if only imaginatively.


Who is this book for?

While a few pages detail the history of the Norse settlements on Greenland, the bulk of this book deals with events between the 18th and 20th centuries, when Europeans came to this region to learn what had happened to this colony. It is an interesting study of how medieval events factored into modern history, and should find an audience among those interested in medievalism and how the Middle Ages related to colonialism. Those who research Norse society, and specifically the story of the Norse in Greenland, will definitely want to read it.

The author:

Robert W. Rix is Associate Professor and Director of Research at the University of Copenhagen, where he focuses on 18th and 19th-century history. You can listen to him talk about the book on Gone Medieval.


See also: The search for the lost Norse of Greenland detailed in new book

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