From the 27th June to the 2nd of July, I was privileged to be invited to attend the Viking World Conference 2016, hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Viking-age, at the University of Nottingham.
As part of my invitation as well as being a full delegate at the plenary conference, I also would be manning a stall before and after lectures, and also during the breaks and lunch hour. This would contain both reproductions of original objects I had made, as well as a small display on some of the experimental and investigative work I had done into craft techniques, and objects use and function.
I have found previously that there is often a reluctance from professionals and academia to engage with a display such as this, particularly as until they spoke to me, most did not know I was also a professional within the field, however, whilst there was still a little of this, my overwhelming impression was that of interest, enthusiasm, and support, from the cast majority of delegates, often from places I was not expecting it.
This is particularly the case from the conferences two organisers; Professor Judith Jesch and Associate Professor Christina Lee, who not only put in an amazing amount of effort to organise and run the conference, but also showed a lot of personal support and interest in the unusual work I do. Both brilliant scholars, and lovely people.
The programme for the conference was very varied and wide-ranging, with speakers from all over the viking world, from the Americas to Azerbaijan. There are far too many topics to recount here, but you can see from the programme, just how much was covered.
Things that stood out for me particularly were a talk by Charlotta Lindblom from Vejle Museum on the evolving story of the monumental landscape at Jelling; the sheer scale of the monuments was astounding to me. There were also a number of talks dealing with the local level networks of outland management by Andreas Hennius, who put forward the evidence for outland exploitation in the Viking-age, particularly tar pits, but which also got me thinking about other related industries, such as charcoal manufacture, honey and beeswax collection/farming, amongst many others. This notion of a complex and layered landscape exploitation tradition as part of a symbiotic relationship with larger towns and trading centres, made a lot of sense to me, and is a much neglected area of study. Ryan Fosters talk about Shieling naming in Northern Britain,brought out through the use of naming variations, a similar suggestion of a variation in activities and identities.
In addition different talks by Vusala Afandiyeva, Þórir Hraundal, and Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, really brought home the huge influence and activities of the Rus, both down the Rivers of Eastern Europe and modern-day Russia, and in around the Caspian Sea, and a compelling case for a more robust trade route to Asia. It is an aspect of Viking studies I had always been aware of but the scale and significance of it, I think, has really begun to emerge (like the Jelling monument) as far greater than previously appreciated.
A subject very close to home was the talk from Eleanor Rye (from the University of Nottingham) who discussed placename construction in Cumbria and the Wirral, which owe a lot to West Norse influence, which reinforced my observations within my own field of interest; material culture, which I feel shows similar patterns.
Kerstin Näverskölds talk on Shields as objects and symbols, and Leszek Gardeƚas discussion of pendants and amulaic objects in Poland, as symbols of belief and identity, brought home the nuance between a physical and functional object, and its personal significance and symbolism, and also a cautionary tale of how our beliefs and desire can taint identification and understanding of an object.
I shall have to stop here, completely unfairly, because the temptation is to just run down the list of many outstanding papers given, some of personal pet subjects too, and this blog post would never end. Needless to say, it was an outstanding collection of work and material presented, and enough to overstimulated my brain even now, a week later!
All in all, the conference, perhaps accented for me by the few talks I mentioned, brought home the scale and influence of the viking world, the significance and sophistication of its infrastructures and networks, and social systems, and the vast array of cultural variation and complexity of identities and belief structures. Diversity and Change indeed.