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Medieval Iceland in Scotland

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

The following is from a Guest Blogger, Tiffany White.

I didn’t plan on studying medieval Iceland; it somewhat happened on accident. I also had never thought I would study medieval Iceland in Scotland—but here I am, more deeply and happily engulfed in my studies than ever before, getting ready to move to the UK to start a graduate program in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen. I was drawn deeper into the study of medieval Scandinavia while taking a course entitled “Vikings!” at Yale University. While completing my MA in Religion, I became enchanted with the odd, out-of-the-box literary depictions of pre-Christian, and even early Christian Scandinavia. Trolls, dragons, monsters and magic: exciting! My previous interest in medieval Germanic Christianity soon shifted specifically to Scandinavia, and then more narrowly to medieval Iceland. The hints of the old religion in the new have a rather captivating effect.

I visited Iceland for the first time that summer, and fell in love with everything stereotypical: beautiful landscapes, great music, and friendly people. I am now forever allured by both modern and medieval. I have since been back several times, for Iceland Airwaves and to take part in the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies Manuscript Summer School. Every time I go back, I discover something new. I will return this summer to further my studies of Modern Icelandic.

My evening visit to Jökulsárlón in 2012

I have spent the past academic year in the Icelandic Department at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, studying Modern Icelandic. This past year on the prairies has taught me a lot about Icelandic culture, past and present, old and new, and eventually sparked my interest in the use of the sagas in literature of the Western Icelanders—a topic I plan to explore further.

So, why Scotland? The University of Aberdeen has been very active in research on medieval Iceland, including an archaeological field school in Vatnsfjörður. The Centre also has one of the highest concentrations of scholars who focus on early Scandinavia. You could say it’s a bit of a hidden gem, tucked away up in the north (sound familiar?)

I have started a fundraising campaign for this new journey to Scotland, and hope that you will join the rest of the community in supporting the study of Iceland. In the spirit of giving back, for a donation of £25, you will receive a reusable book bag with your choice of word(s) in Viking Age runes (made by me!), but of course donations in all denominations are welcome. The fundraiser ends on June 22nd, 2014.

Reads: “Tiffany”

(Please note: the fundraiser is in British Pounds, but donations can be made with any major credit card, regardless of country. )

This intertwining of the old and the new is the focus of my graduate studies. More specifically, how did medieval Christianity in Iceland absorb ideas about the past, and how did writers choose to reflect these ideas in the sagas? This interplay between the old and the new is not a single phenomenon that occurred during and directly after the Christianization of Iceland, but something that has lived on and been reoccurring. For example, what role did the sagas play in influencing a narrative for the settlement in New Iceland? The intertwining of the old and new has been a highlight of the identity of Icelandic communities in North America.

The study of the intersection between old and new has always been a passion of mine, but I am rather pleased that I accidentally fell in love with Iceland, a place that continually amazes me.

Here is an online video to tell more about me.

-Tiffany White

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