July 16, 2014

Conference 1st day

Today the 19th Biennial Congress of the New Chaucer Society kicked off in full swing with a series of very exciting panels setting up the key themes and threads for the weeks discussions. This was, of course, after my meeting with Sif Rikhardsdottir yesterday, during which we discussed the influence of Icelandic identity on the preparations for the Congress and on some of the key threads that are linking together topics across the week. More on this later. Today began, for myself, with a fascinating panel on the theory of ice, organised by Jeffrey Cohen. Those giving papers had been on a glacier trek yesterday, and this certainly informed their papers and the discussions which followed, which focused on the temporarily of ice and the fragility of this mysterious substance. Following this, a plenary lecture was given by Guðrún Nordal from the Árni Magnússon Institute of Iceland, on medieval manuscripts and Icelandic manuscript culture during the Middle Ages. This was a brilliant talk, with a large scope but excellently delivered, providing some access for scholars to begin thinking about how Icelandic material fits into a broader picture of manuscript culture and production and vice-versa. Following this, Alaistair Minnis chaired a discussion between Paul Strohm and Ardis Butterfield, both of whom have recently written or are writing biographies of Chaucer. Their discussion mainly focused on the difficulties in writing biography and the choice that a biographer has to make. Both, of course, differed greatly in their approach, which lead to a fruitful and inspiring hour and a half of discussion, question-and-answer session, and conclusion. Finally, all delegates were invited to the City hall in Reykjavík for a reception, at which an Icelander and member of the University of Iceland gave a short speech which reinforced the impact of Icelandic identity on the conference. She stressed the importance of the sagas for the Icelanders, and also their rich medieval history upon which so much of their national identity is constructed. Overall, I am convinced that threads such as 'North: Texts and Contexts' and 'Scandinavia and Europe', Translation and Literacy', will prove especially fruitful to follow for the purpose of this project. Many differs academics are coming together this week to pool ideas on a Northern-ness and Northern identity during the Middle Ages, which also reflect important values of Northern identity today.

July 13, 2014


I've just arrived in Iceland and had a short exploration of the centre of Reykjavík, managing to find the University of Iceland, which is tucked a way on the outskirts of the town centre. It's the evening but still quite light and everyone's watching football. The conference begins in a few days and in the mean time I have a few potential interviews to organise and some gathering to attend, including a student evening organised for the NCS conference; maybe I can get some students opinions about the congress and the effect it will have on by their studies.

July 10, 2014

The sagas and national identity

In an article on 'Interpreting the Nordic Past: Icelandic Medieval Manuscripts and the Construction of a Modern Nation' , Guðmundur Hálfdanarson, professor of History at the University of Iceland, explores how the debate of 'ownership' of the saga manuscripts created in Iceland during the Middle Ages has fed into and developed ideas of national identity in both Iceland and Denmark. Interestingly, the Congress of the new Chaucer Society is also organising exhibitions of medieval manuscripts in collaboration with the Árni Magnusson Institute. It remains to be seen what manuscripts will be on display, and this could be a good starting point for exploring how Icelandic identity is still being crafted in academe today. More to follow on this...

June 19, 2014

Exploring Icelandic identity… from afar

At that the pastor rose and came over to me and patted me on the cheek and said, "That's just the thing, me dear: we believe in the land which God has given us; in the district where our people have lived for a thousand years; we believe in the function of country districts in the national life of Iceland, we believe in the green hillside where Life lives.' - Halldór Laxness, The Atom Station (1948)

This first post starts a blog where I am going to collate me thoughts for the project Chaucer in Iceland: A Study of the Impact of Scandinavian Identity on Contemporary Medieval Studies. This project will culminate in my visit to Iceland (July 2014) to attend the Biennial International Congress of the New Chaucer Society, to be held at the University of Iceland.

One of the most significant aspects of Icelandic identity, which Halldór Laxness explores in The Atom Station, is the connection to an ever-changing, 'living' landscape. This is an issue that is at the heart of much contemporary Icelandic fiction, but which also significantly affects the political sphere in Iceland (the Althing). Recently, Lucy Siegle wrote an article in The Observer in which she interviewed the musician Björk on her efforts to save the Iceandic countryside from urbanisation and industrialisation through foreign investment, to protect 'one of Europe's last remaining pristine wildernesses.'

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