The twenty-fifth of April saw the annual gathering of those Viking- and Midlands-minded for the annual galore of shared interests which is know as the ‘Midlands Viking Symposium‘. This year the symposium was held at the University of Leicester, which received a sizeable delegation in one of their basement conference suites. The symposium, as is the wont of symposia, started with an introduction and welcome speech by Dr Philip Shaw, acting head of the School of English in Leicester and the organising wizard behind the symposium. First up was the panel on ‘Migration, Space and Place’, which first featured a paper by Mark Jobling, who is part of the scientific component of the Diaspora Project at Leicester, and guided us through the scientific methods of proving that everyone’s ancestors are likely Vikings (at least in part).
He was followed by Katherine Whitehouse from Nottingham, who made a strong case for a culturally mixed border region where North meets South at the bottom of Northumbria, South of the river Humber. The final paper before lunch was by Oliver Harris, University of Leicester, who discussed the details of the beautifully rich Ardnamurchan boat burial, and accused the Vikings of meddling with historical evidence. After an excellent lunch and a look at the popular bookstall manned by Professor Judith Jesch selling the booklets from the Language, Myths and Finds project, the symposium continued at two o’clock.
Pragya Vohra from Leicester set the pace by sketching the portrait of King Cnut and discussing his history and the perception of his persona in the Middle Ages as well as explaining some of the common ideas about this well-known king in the present day. This was followed by a paper by Alaric Hall, University of Leeds, entitled ‘Sagas, Terrorists, and the 2008 Financial Crisis’, which was a fascinating discussion of the way in which Icelanders have used their Old Norse past in the twenty-first century during troubled times and in the media. Then, after a caffeine and cake refuel, it was time for the panel on ‘Ancient and Modern Runes’. Martin Findell, University of Leicester, gave the first paper of this panel, looking at runes and medievalism. Martin described the different ways in which runes are used outside of an academic context and the Middle Ages. Finally came my own paper, which was a discussion of the Canterbury Runic Charm and the different ways in which this material, and runes in manuscripts more generally, can be contextualised.
This was my first time at the Midlands Viking Symposium and I was very impressed indeed by the enthusiasm and the variety of people attending the symposium. The group of (mostly Midlands-based) academics mingled seamlessly with the more general public, who gave up their Saturday to learn more about their one-time ancestors (at least in part) and added further to the symposium with a wealth of questions and comments. This was something that I personally had not anticipated and the slight fear of having a too boring, too detailed and too academic paper crept up, but I need not have worried, for both academics and non-academics were comfortable and keen to ask questions and give comments.
The symposium, as is also the wont of good symposia, ended with a trip to the pub where further discussion was undertaken. What impressed me most about the Midlands Viking Symposium was the relaxed and jovial atmosphere throughout, which is something I hope it will retain next year, despite being absorbed by the ‘The Viking World: Diversity and Change’ conference in Nottingham. That said, I am all on board for doubling the Viking jubilations!
Aya Van Renterghem is a teaching fellow and second-year PhD student at the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age at the University of Nottingham, studying the phenomenon of Runica Manuscripta and medieval perceptions of runes.